Do you feel like you have too little information at hand before a purchase? Probably not. And the same is true for your clients. The problem is not usually that we have too little information, but rather that it is difficult to make the right purchasing decisions despite the availability of information. More information does not necessarily mean being better informed. We need better and more well-developed filters for sorting through information.
It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure. | Clay Shirky, New York University
We see a growing need for guiding customers through the ever more voluminous selection of increasingly complex products and services. The need to make complicated business decisions can often be time consuming and can be experienced as stressful. Even if the client has a clear picture of what they are looking for, the selection is often too large for them to form a complete and comprehensive big picture. Therefore, there is a growing need for a new role, a digital lighthouse, that guides customers that are trying to stay afloat on a sea of information. Progressively more companies are claiming to be digital lighthouses: publishers, price comparison sites, search engines, social media, consultants, and various platforms.
This phenomenon was established long ago in the B2C community, with many fast-growing players. The price-comparison site Pricerunner.com, for example, has increased its influence over the past ten years. But even within the B2B community we are seeing such actors introduce new layers between buyers and sellers. One example is G2 Crowd, which is a service intended to make it easier for companies investing in software and new business systems. As is well known, this market is a jungle, with hundreds of actors even within small areas such as mobile marketing, e-signatures, and analysis of sales statistics. G2 Crowd compares different actors side by side, and combines user reviews with their own algorithms that calculate market penetration and customer satisfaction. They provide their users with one place to turn, to gain a quick market overview to support decision making.
A digital lighthouse can be described as an actor that helps the customer to sort through the overflow of information, news, and offers that they face constantly. The actor becomes an intermediary between suppliers and customers. Instead of determining the selection and offering forced flows, they fulfill an advisory role comprised of sorting, reviews comments, recommendations, discussion fora, personal adaptation, etc. A digital lighthouse doesn’t make choices for the customer, but rather makes it easier for the customer to make their own choices. The relationship is usually digital, in that it is a website that is the actual interface.
Lighthouses are often – but not always – independent third-party actors, which means that they are perceived as objective and less biased. Their task is not to sell something to users per se, but to help them to make better purchasing decisions. For B2B actors this means that they must be aware of and address such lighthouses and the eventual power positions that they are creating. For customers that have tired of marketing campaigns and endless meetings with boring PowerPoint presentations, the opportunity to turn to digital lighthouses, which are perceived as more trustworthy advisors, is growing.
New forms of lighthouses are appearing within the B2C sphere that function essentially as personal butlers. Companies like Magic and Operator assist private customers that have lots of money but too little time. Operator works as a form of servant that takes care of tasks that a customer doesn’t have time for or doesn’t consider important enough to deal with themselves. Help in the form of concrete advice and tips is provided for reserving tickets and providing ideas for presents and furnishing recommendations. It is a way of delegating decision making and purchases to a trusted third party, to the extent that they are deemed to add significant value to such transactions. If this practice becomes prevalent in B2B, new interfaces will arise. They can become centralized hubs, for which new sales efforts will need to be targeted.
If digital lighthouses are perceived as independent and continuously put the customer’s needs first, it is likely that they will become the point of entry for many future transactions. In the end it boils down to trustworthiness – those who convey something meaningful will win the customer’s trust, which is the first step toward sealing a deal.