• Last night I had the rare pleasure of attending dinner with one of the industry’s true visionaries – Michael Saylor, founder of MicroStrategy who captivated an audience of CIOs talking about why his business is investing millions of dollars into the mobile environment and spelling out some of the implications of the iPad.

      One of the most interesting aspects was hearing the CIOs talk about how they are changing their whole operational models to switch to these low-cost always-on devices and the sorts of quite radical changes to their business processes that these devices are driving.

      Not the least of these, by a very long chalk, is the way that people are changing the way they buy things. Although the web has been with us for a while, it’s only now that people can access whatever content they want 24×7 in any sitting position they fancy, that it is starting to deliver on the promises of the 1950’s Sci-fi writers.

      They foresaw a wholly interconnected world where the entire accumulated knowledge of the human race sits just two clicks away, and no we can actually see it as a reality.

      From a marketing perspective, this is a genuine paradigm shift –  instead of creating sales we are now expected to be continually one step ahead of the customer, so that when they do decide to buy, it us to whom they come to facilitate their purchases.

      Hold that thought for a second, and it starts to lead you down the road of wondering whether all that money we’ve been throwing at Telemarketing, often for a sub 1% Return on Investment, is actually worthwhile.

      It also leads you into a whole new world of lead evaluation, where the numbers game just no longer adds up.

      If you want to get an idea of how radically, and rapidly, things can change, bear in mind we’ve only had IPads for about seven months, and in that time Apple has overturned Google and Microsoft’s market leadership in the e-ad space.

      From nothing a year ago, Apple now has a 22% share of online advertising revenue in the US.

      At the same time we’re seeing Microsoft Shares – and even Google – starting to lose favour as people realise the implications of Apple having effectively created not just a platform, but an entirely new way of enabling communication and interaction.

      So this raises a lot of questions – especially for the B2B sector as we watch the big consumer brands fall head over heels to ‘engage’ their customers, which is turning all the traditional ‘One-to-Many’ rules of publicity on their head. Even brands like Coke are engaging directly with their connected customers.

      The massive rise in electronic communications means that whereas ten years ago your prospect might have avidly read this week’s edition of Tractors Weekly, or sector equivalent, now he/she is so busy catching up with emails/ Twitter/ LinkedIn, buying tickets for concerts, downloading iTunes or  social networking, that you represent a very real intrusion into their ever-diminishing time.

      If your intrusion isn’t actively sought, you’re not going to get their face time – as we can see from the fact that today it takes an average of 15 calls to get through to an unknown contact, compared to just 4, only ten years ago.

      Today when people do want to buy something, they use the web to research – extensively – and for many purchases have their minds 90% made up before you ever get to engaging with them. The role of the salesperson is coming down to little more than a hopefully-pleasant order-taker and form filler.

      Already we can make major purchases for our domestic lives, from TVs to houses, without the need to interact with a human being, and in many cases these are better-informed decisions than hitherto.

      When you’re selling B2B you’re selling to the same people who download from Napster, Skype their relatives in far-off lands, and catch up with X-Factor on YouTube, so why should they react differently just because you’re selling them something from work?

      There are straws in the wind that suggest the B2B sales environment is in for a massive change, and it’s going to throw many of the established beliefs and practices out the window.

      Here’s a sobering thought. In the UK we have nine different mobile comms brands, and unlike the US they all have to compete quite keenly. Three years ago O2 was #3, having fallen from grace, and set about returning to growth.

      In that time it has reclaimed pole position, without any extra contract length, or tarriff slashing, and most notably without outbound telemarketing to prospects.

      Makes you think doesn’t it.