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We need to talk about conversations... How Technology can bring relationships back to business

Have you ever received an offer from a brand that was completely irrelevant, and way out of context? Have you ever been pushed on a product that didn’t fit your needs? 

I know that despite it not being nice, it is not terrible either…. 

But maybe it is.  If you happen to be the brand that just lost a valuable opportunity, it is indeed a tremendous mishap. 

In a world of unlimited information and zillions of broadcast stimuli, getting someone's attention is a real gift. And it is a terrible shame for anyone, and mostly for brands, to waste big opportunities in the deep abyss of irrelevance, and unimportance.

Such experiences can leave customers wondering whether the brand paid attention to the conversation - if there was any to begin with. This experience can leave customers with lukewarm feelings that their time, money and effort have gone unappreciated. And, if they’ve been a long-time customer, such experiences can lead them to wonder why they should even care about a certain brand if the company doesn’t really listen or even care about them.

This is also (or even more) true when it comes to relationships between mom & pop store owners and major CPGs companies. The reality is that business relations go beyond transactions because of the lasting impression they create, one that can be hard to shake off. The importance of business relationships has been referenced millions of times and diligently explained in Dale Carnegie’s timeless bestseller “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and the concept continues to endure in spite of the vastly changed world from when this book was first published. 

But what if business relationships were really about something else?

What’s that something else?

30 years ago one entrepreneur and future US President published ‘The Art of the Deal’.  I think that today it’s more about the art of the relationship.    

There have never been more options, and alternatives, for customers to choose from – basing a business purely on the ‘transaction’ has never made less sense. Relationships are about the long term; about shared interests; and empathy.  

And relationships mean business; leading to loyalty, high volumes of repeat business, better sales mix, much better brand execution, a lower cost of sales, and reduced levels of client attrition. Yes! Relationships mean that and a lot more, as all things being equal, the relationship will beat the deal every time!

But relationships require investment, time and attention.  When businesses care and demonstrate a genuine interest in their customers, resulting transactions represent an emotional commitment; one which can add 23% to the top line, according to some estimates!

It only takes us to go out on a sales route with any good CPG sales rep, to sense the value of human interactions. The vernacular, trusted, caring and consultative relationship established between the rep and the store owner shows its value right on the first store visit. This relationship is what made big CPGs genuinely big and omnipresent over the past century. 

Technology didn’t kill the conversational star

At the heart of relationships – and, therefore, business – is the conversation. That distinctly human interaction based on mutual interests and engagement; not necessarily for any other purpose than comfort, company and amusement. 

Contrary to the Buggles hit, technology didn’t kill the conversation star; quite the opposite. This is why messaging apps are consistently the most downloaded apps on the mobile. 

Putting relationships back into business – in the Internet age – is about applying relevant technology, in a way that removes barriers and reduces friction, rather than the opposite.  

Conversational commerce is just that; based on popular messaging apps that people are accustomed to and familiar with. The same apps that they already use to chat to their friends, follow their sports teams, share their weekend adventures, organize their nights out... this is the true art of conversation – unplanned, sincere, and deeply meaningful – that fuels relationships.  

Conversational commerce is bringing conversations back to business, with the advantage of data, unlimited contextuality and scale. 

Don’t be that person…

Brands need to be careful. The ease with which brands and companies can communicate – or, rather, broadcast – has blinded them to the importance of listening and finding areas of mutual interest with their audiences.  

In many cases, the biggest barrier to the relationship is actually the transaction itself; brands which obsess about the deal (ahead of the relationship) will soon be found out. 

Just like the noisy, self centered, and self important colleague who obsesses about his/her own needs and takes little interest in others.  Don’t be that person! Such behavior is unlikely to represent the basis for a long term friendship.

If a brand wants to keep a close relationship with their customers; if a major CPG wants to nourish a close bond with its traditional trade stores, and positively drive healthy business for both, then it needs to listen. It needs to establish a conversation, and leveraged by technology it has to aim to replicate at large scale the close trusted and caring relationship that made it big and relevant in the first place. 

Are you listening to those conversations? 

Make sure you do.

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