If you were a doctor in the early 2000s, you quickly came to loathe the new phrase that was increasingly making its way into our collective vocabulary: “Well WebMD said that I had . . . .”
From the doctor’s office to the sales office, the internet reset the balance of power by making available an unprecedented amount of information. A more informed and empowered populace has been born in recent decades. But digital never slows down, so what’s next?
Intriguing and somewhat paradoxical undercurrents are pushing know-it-alls to the next level. Advancements in technology like AI and conversational experiences have consumers and buyers feeling as though they are not just informed, but actually more self-reliant. But truth-be-told, we will actually become more reliant over time on this very same technology.
With the IPO of fashion darling Stitch Fix, the world of on-demand personal styling took another leap forward in 2017. But what you may have missed was the launch of the self-reliant personal shopper, Amazon's Echo Look: an AI-powered camera that turns your closet into a runway, doles out fashion advice, and allows you to make purchases on the spot with free one-day shipping.
Here is the key: Stitch Fix and the Echo Look are not actually selling clothes, they are selling self-confidence. Amazon has been taking its time rolling out “The Look” because, let’s be honest, giving out fashion advice is no easy task for man or machine, but, if they can nail this service, it will be quite easy to see how a technology company can inspire the masses to walk around thinking they are Marc Jacobs.
For all its hype, the loudest criticism of the quantified self-movement to date is that we have collected far more data than we have actually changed our behaviors. Much like the Big Data movement, we are quickly realizing that quantity means far less than actionability.
Alas, not all is lost. From diabetes to heart conditions to genetics testing, we are on the cusp of coupling the massive troves of health data that we have been conditioned to collect (see our Pavlovian trend) for the last decade with technology that will actually allow us to take meaningful actions.
The B2B world is far from immune to this self-reliance mandate. Before the internet, prospective B2B buyers spent 20 percent of the sales cycle researching potential partners. Today, 60 to 80 percent of buyers’ journeys are often complete before a prospect feels the need to speak with a human. Tomorrow, buyers will expect self-service throughout the journey from research to reorder.
Those B2B organizations who have only made minimal investments in “random acts of digital” over the years, because they have operated in insulated industries or to avoid channel conflicts, will find themselves working to quickly make accessible large amounts of customer data and product and service information. Conversely, those organizations that have spent years making significant digital investments, which have resulted in an impressive number of individual digital properties, will need to ensure a seamless handoff between experiences, divisions, and customer portals.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his famous essay Self-Reliance, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” 2018 will be a year in which digital technologies help us become better versions of ourselves.
The best experiences will leverage conversational, automated, and self-service experiences to go beyond mere task completion, leaving us feeling like we are meaningfully connecting the dots, improving ourselves, and, in the process, climbing ever higher on Maslow’s hierarchy.