Customer Relationships Feed

Why It Pays to Put Existing Accounts at the Top of Your Priority List

ByronMatthewsToday's blog post is by Byron Matthews, president and general manager of MHI Global, a consulting firm that helps companies and their business leaders around the world build and sustain customer-focused, high-performance organizations to drive profitable revenue and predictable top-line growth.

So much of what we hear these days is about winning new business. Perhaps that explains why “capture new accounts” is perennially number one on sales leaders’ lists of top priorities. Recently, sales leaders were surveyed by sales effectiveness research and benchmarking firm CSO Insights, a division of MHI Global, regarding the top objectives for their sales organizations in 2015. Unsurprisingly, “capture new accounts” topped the list at number one (at 58.1 percent), followed by:

  • “Increase sales effectiveness” (44.7 percent)
  • “Optimize lead generation” and “increase penetration into accounts” (tied at 36 percent)

This desire seems natural given the reality that most companies are losing between 6 percent and 30 percent of their existing business every year. Further, roughly 80 percent of business annually is coming from existing accounts.

So, why is “new accounts” always the funnel-filling go-to, when study after study have shown that cultivating business from existing accounts is more profitable and efficient? I have had more conversations with clients than I can recall centered on rebalancing priorities around protecting and growing your current customers and clients with a healthy balance of new business. And what I find is this: There is a lot of excitement and activity focused on how to go after new business – a feeling of “if we are THIS busy, we have got to be doing the right thing.” In some cases, sales leaders feel like new accounts is the area where they exert the largest amount of influence – the lever they can control most. Unfortunately, this flurry of activity most often comes at the expense of ignoring the gold mine of untapped potential within existing accounts.

So, to sales leaders, I would humbly suggest the addendum of “retaining existing accounts” to “capturing new accounts” as top-of-mind objectives.

For some clients, that pendulum is shifting. We are spending more time with clients these days on finding a healthier balance. And I’ve found that the best, most sound approach to protecting and growing your client base issitting down with your customers and having an honest discussion about the relationship (how they view you, how you view them) that has nothing to do with the sales opportunity – that’s not tied to selling them anything. It’s a powerful concept. It’s also just common sense, but rarely is it common practice.

I believe our approach in how we think about methodology is more relevant today than it ever has been, and it’s grounded in our number-one principle: Understand your client, understand your customer. And, if you follow and live by that principle, the top objectives of what sales leaders are looking to accomplish will be met – including “capturing new accounts while retaining current accounts.”

 

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How to Shift to a Demand Creation Culture

LaVonKoener_smToday's post is by LaVon Koerner, chief revenue officer of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm. 

 

Traditional selling is based on a simple premise – a customer has a problem and a vendor has a potential solution. It's the vendor's responsibility to capture the preexisting demand surrounding the customer's problem. I call this approach demand capture. It's all about out-strategizing, out-positioning, and out-smarting the competition. All good stuff as long as the customer has real demand that needs to be captured.

This is what traditional selling has been all about for years and years. In fact, your existing sales lexicon is most likely jam-packed with demand capture language. Consider all the times you've been told to solve the customer's pain or ask questions like "what keeps you up at night?"

According to the International Monetary Fund, the economy is only going to be growing around 4% this coming year. Yet most organizations have growth targets of 7-10%. So how are you going to make up that difference, beat your hungry competitors, and hit your numbers? Simply stated, what happens when there is not enough demand in your marketplace?

The Shift from Demand Capture to Demand Creation

This is the time for you and your sales organization to switch to demand creation. You need to go from finding customers to making customers. So instead of talking about a known problem, you'll need to start identifying unknown opportunities or gains. It's all about creating demand where there isn't any. That means generating budgets, producing new vision, and stimulating new thinking. 

This is transformational for the sales profession, which has remained relatively unchanged since the 1960s when Thomas Watson first rolled out the IBM typewriter. With the recent convergence of a number of emerging trends, we simply have no choice but to move away from our current over-dependency on traditional demand capture to demand creation. It's no longer about just selling better; rather, it's about selling differently. Let technology and lower cost resources like call centers handle your demand capture needs.

How to Transition Your Team to Demand Creation

To make the transition to demand creation selling, we need some fairly dramatic changes.

Change #1: Update and upgrade your product messaging and sales conversations.

Product marketing messages need to be upgraded and focus on trends and your industry innovation. Instead of demand capture sales conversations like "Here is our offering, and here is what it can do," your conversations should be more substantive and sophisticated. A demand creation conversation might sound like "Here are the unique things you are not doing but could do with our assistance." These types of conversations also need to happen with higher titles within your customer’s organization. 

Change #2: Ask sales managers to revamp their approach to coaching, incentives, and funnel/pipeline management.

From a more logistical standpoint, Management needs to have increased visibility into the funnel earlier in the buying process so they can have visibility in the demand being created and can offer support. Sales tools need to be more than just template-based checklists; they need to include built-in intelligence and coaching guidance for measuring the amount and quality of demand being created. Reward structures and sales incentives also need to be changed to encourage salespeople to stop relying on RFPs and take proactive actions outside of existing procurement plans.

Change #3: Ask salespeople to leave their comfort zone.

But perhaps the most significant and far-reaching change is the new type of sales professional needed. Although rarely discussed, most of today's sales professionals have a tendency to hide behind the caliber of their product offerings, their pricing, or their company. They won't be able to do that with demand creation. They must leave their comfort zone and differentiate themselves by how they sell.

Without a doubt, this new type of selling is now with us to stay. The only remaining question is will you change now because you want to or later when you have to. If you choose to change later, just make sure you aren't too late.

 

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Three Tips to Deepen Customer Relationships

JeffSeeleyToday’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of Carew International Inc.

 

 

The single biggest void in professional sales today is the skill needed to cultivate meaningful customer relationships. Ironically, making customer connections has never been easier, thanks to social media, email, and texting. But, because our ability to connect is never more than a few keystrokes away, we have a false sense of our position with customers and prospects.                     

Making Connections via Technology Is Not a Relationship

As I told Selling Power publisher Gerhard Gschwandtner in the video interview below, we often confuse a voicemail, email, or one-way texting with productive progression in a customer relationship. This level of engagement may or may not help us get or stay on our customers’ radar, but it does not create opportunities for problem-solving conversations and needs assessment. Nor do these connections drive purchase decisions, displace competitors, or facilitate influence. For these outcomes, you need a bona fide relationship with a degree of influence with your customer. Such relationships are based on trust, credibility, rapport, and respect; all four are the building blocks to a long-term, productive, and profitable relationship.

How do you move your position from remote engagement to a deeper relationship, such as trusted resource and advisor? Consider these tips.

  1. Create Curiosity.

    Make yourself interesting and valuable to your customers and prospects by giving them information related to them and their interests. This information includes competitive information, industry-specific insights or news, or general business information.

    These materials may have no direct connection to your products or services; they may not always have a direct connection to the customer’s business, but they must provide new insights of interest. Be a strategic resource: you should provide detail and thoughts on why the information impacts their organization and market. Research articles related to industry trends or concerns specific to your customer. Share insights from blogs, articles, or the latest business/leadership books – these can be leveraged across all of your customers and prospects. Customers often miss published coverage about their own company, and are appreciative when it is shared. Even when the subject matter isn’t of direct interest to your customer, you are demonstrating your insight and that you have your finger on the pulse of current events and thinking in business. You are positioning yourself as a credible information resource with insights that can help achieve their business objectives.

  2. Be Curious

    The best sales professionals always have an authentic interest in their customers and the business reality in which their customers live and compete. It is often surprising how little sales professionals know about their customers' worlds. In our everyday struggle to become more networked, we have to be interested to gain and keep access to the higher levels of an organization. Cultivate your own intellectual curiosity. Understand more than is required to hold your own in discussions with customers. Doing so will not only improve your insights and progress your position with customers, it will make your professional life more interesting and fulfilling.

  3. Create Opportunities to Listen, Not Talk.

    This perspective is often counter-intuitive to sales professionals, but it is the time spent listening, not talking, that deepens our relationship with customers. Think about the most significant relationships in your personal life. These were not cultivated with one-way conversations in which you continually talk about yourself, your assets, and your strengths. They are the culmination of reciprocal contributions and emotional investment.

    Customer relationships are different only in that the investment may not be reciprocal at the outset; initially, you need to do the lion’s share of the work. Invest in the relationship. Stay focused on the customer. Nothing is more disingenuous than listening for advantage to launch into your own agenda. This is a one-way ticket to the exit. Every meeting or conversation in which you learn more about your customer – his/her competitors, concerns, goals, and personal interests – is a meeting in which you have increased the depth of that relationship and improved your position with the customer.

Don’t make the mistake of considering unanswered voicemails, emails, or even text messages as evidence of quality interactions, or assume  that customers are just busy and will get back to you when they have time. Although these  conversations of good intent get shared with sales leadership and added to the CRM as customer contact, no real progress was made in developing the relationship.

Scroll through your “connections” or “friends” lists. For each name, ask yourself what you know about the individual. Do you really know this person at all? The answer will help you understand your own professional gap and provide the starting point for deepening your customer relationships.

 

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The State of the Sales Profession: My Insights from the Sales 2.0 Conference

RichBlakeman

Today’s post is by Rich Blakeman of AchieveGlobal, An MHI Global Company

 

 

In April I spoke at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Here are two of the key thoughts that stuck in my mind after the event.

#1: Put Customers at the Center of Your Sales Efforts

We’ve emphasized this at MHI Global for many years. But, listening to conversations and presentations take place at the event, it struck me that this is the first year that nearly everyone spoke about the importance of helping customers achieve their goals. We've been talking about putting customers at the core of your sales efforts for a long time. In other words, I heard a ringing endorsement for the need to have a sales culture that’s oriented around the customer.

This is a major shift – and I’m in a position to know, because I've attended six or seven Sales 2.0 Conferences since their inception nine years ago. And I’ve been a speaker at three of these events.

As I recall, many of the conversations at those events were focused on us. We talked about:

  • Sales techniques and selling skills,
  • how we could close more sales, and
  • which latest and greatest tech tools we should be using. 

We were very “me” focused in those years. And it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to attend a sales conference and discover these topics still dominating the discussion. Yet, at this event, the customer was getting all the attention. I couldn’t be happier about this shift, and I think we should consider calling this movement Sales 2.5 (at least!).

#2: Your Intention Matters

What’s the other interesting thing I learned? I heard from some of the attendees that they felt there was a clear separation between speakers who were there simply to speak, and speakers who were there as fellow members of the sales profession.

In other words, a speaker who shows up to an event to get some stage time and jet off to the next engagement is not truly a member of the community – and people can sense that. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless their intention is to make an authentic connection with attendees at a peer level.

Personally, I feel that I am a member of the sales profession, and, as such, I truly wanted to be at the event to listen, learn, and connect. That meant taking time to sit and listen to presentations and chat with fellow attendees in addition to my stage time.

It was a great feeling to hear that validation from attendees. And I should not be so surprised, because I always try to live by the edict of one of our founders, Bob Miller. He used to say that it’s incumbent on us to “be the best examples of what we represent.” I am committed to promoting, enhancing, and developing the profession of sales so we can all live up to our fullest potential.

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Stop Using Low Price as a Sales Crutch

DaveKurlanToday's post is by Dave Kurlan, founder and CEO of Objective Management Group Inc. and Kurlan & Associates, and author of Mindless Selling and Baseline Selling: How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know About the Game of Baseball

 

Recently, I spoke to an audience of sales leaders at the EcSell Institute’s Spring Coaching Summit. My topic, as it has been many times this year, was “The 4 Keys to Selling Value.” My presentation was filled with snafus. My movie clip didn’t play, my slides only showed the graphics but not the bullet points, and I fell off the stage (landed on my feet, but still!). Because of the technical issues (thank you, Office 2016 for Mac Preview – you suck!), my audience was more engaged, and more appreciative, than I could have expected. Thank you, everybody!

The interesting part for me came at the end, when I asked the audience, “How many of you believe that your salespeople are doing a good job selling value?” One hand went up. This despite the fact that exactly none of these companies sell on price. Low price leaders almost never attend conferences like these because they could send chimpanzees out to do their bidding. On the other hand, companies that are attempting to sell value need their salespeople to be effective.

Next, I asked them whether they thought the reason was because of:

  • Sales processes that don’t support value selling
  • Sales tactics that aren’t the best choices for value selling
  • Sales strategies that don’t support value selling

This time, I had a few hands for each choice – but most of the 100 or so hands did not go up.  

Why?

They aren’t sure what the real reason or combination of reasons might be.

The problem is that – as ill suited as many salespeople are for selling value – their sales managers and sales leaders are even more unprepared to identify the issues and help. That leaves us with a scenario similar to a drought. If we don’t have enough water, and no relief is in sight, we must begin to make compromises. We can’t water lawns, wash cars, or water flowers.  

In selling, lack of understanding around value means we can’t depend on reps to sell value, uphold pricing, and maintain margins. So, when a great opportunity presents itself and the prospect needs better pricing to choose us, we make an exception.

What’s wrong with that?

It violates the first rule of strategy for selling value – no exceptions. When you make an exception, a number of things occur:

  • You show the prospect or customer that you will drop the price
  • You show your salespeople that, when push comes to shove, you will drop the price
  • You get used to using price as a crutch to land deals
  • You develop a reputation for coming through with the required pricing

It’s one thing to state that you want your salespeople to sell value, but, if you can’t help them become value sellers, you don’t recruit salespeople who have value selling capabilities in their sales DNA, and you make exceptions to the number-one strategy rule of value selling, it’s all a farce. You aren’t really a value provider at all. You’re just like everyone else, and are using price as a crutch.

To learn more about value-based selling, watch my video interview with Gerhard Gschwandtner, CEO of Selling Power.

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Three New Facts You Need to Know about Your Buyer’s Journey

Alison Murdock headshotToday’s post is by Alison Murdock, VP of Marketing at 6sense. Join 6sense at the INMarket conference in San Francisco on July 8 to learn more about innovations for B2B sales and marketing teams. Register here and use code BLOG for a special 25 percent discount.

 

If you’ve been paying attention to trends in the B2B sales profession for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed the term “buyer’s journey” slowly overtaking what used to be called “the sales cycle.”

That’s not to say the sales cycle no longer exists. But, since B2B buyers have moved online en masse to research offerings and make purchases, the language of the sales profession has shifted to reflect the fact that buyers have taken control of the sales cycle. Salespeople do not control access to information the way they used to. The buyer is now in the driver’s seat. Thus, we now talk about the buyer’s journey – not the sales cycle.

Has this rendered salespeople irrelevant? Much ink has been spilled debating this idea, and many thought leaders, analysts, and experts have cited a single statistic that originated with SiriusDecisions research: 67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally. Although SiriusDecisions never explicitly announced that salespeople were becoming obsolete (nor was that their underlying intent), many people misinterpreted their research.

How do I know this? I attended the recent SiriusDecisions Summit, where analysts Jennifer Ross and Marisa Kopec discussed results from the firm’s new survey, which was intended to expand on their original findings and clarify their position. Their research reflected responses from 1,000 B2B executives who had been involved in a significant B2B purchase decision within the previous six months. The data represents an estimated half-billion dollars in B2B purchases across North America and Europe.

I outlined six key takeaways from the survey in a separate post (“Yes, Sales Reps Still Matter to B2B Buyers: 6 Takeaways from #SDSummit 2015”). But one of the most interesting points that I want to highlight for sales leaders is that a single buyer’s journey does not exist. According to Ross and Kopec, there are actually three distinct buying scenarios. Here are the characteristics of each one.

Buying Scenario #1: Committee

  • phased, hierarchical, and tiered

  • typically involves a six-month sales cycle

  • purchase price is greater than $500K

Buying Scenario #2: Consensus

  • team based or cross functional

  • purchase cycle takes less than six months

  • purchase price is anywhere from $50K to $500K

Buying Scenario #3: Independent

  • does not rely on a committee

  • deals close in days or weeks

  • transactional in nature

  • purchase price is around $50K or less

It’s probably easy to see which category your offering falls into, but the further revelations from Ross and Kopec are what is truly interesting: each buying scenario has implications for whether – and when – you should pursue non-human (digital) interactions, or human-to-human (salespeople) interactions. According to their research, as price increases, human interactions become more important.

The implication is clear. Companies need a mix of digital and human interactions with their buyers, and they need to carefully consider which method they deploy based on their typical buying scenario.

Buyers today leave a rich digital footprint of what they want and need. Sales tools have evolved accordingly. Specifically, predictive intelligence tools can help you predict which customers are highly likely to buy; who is in the buying committee; what products they want and need; and when they are likely to buy. In other words, predictive intelligence tells you which of your prospects are “in market” – whatever their buying stage may be. Are they just beginning their research or leaning in to make a purchase in the next 90 days?

These are some fascinating trends and times for B2B. And we’ll be diving right into those at the upcoming INMarket conference, hosted by 6sense, in San Francisco on July 8. Executives from such companies as Box, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Cisco, Xactly, and Forrester will be speaking. We invite you to join us. Register here and use code BLOG for a special 25 percent discount.

Which buyer’s scenario best fits your offering? Share your thoughts in the comments section or tweet using the hashtag #InMarket15.


4 Ideas to Help You Build Rapport and Relationships with Clients

LaVon Koener 2 (1)Today's post is by LaVon Koerner, chief revenue officer of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm. Join LaVon and Selling Power for this Webinar on June 3rd, "How to Accurately Qualify Opportunities." 

 

What’s the best way for sellers to build relationships and rapport with prospects and customers these days? 

Back in the golden era of selling, you’d walk into a client’s office and desperately search for something on their walls or desk to talk about. The goal was to find something that mattered to them and connect on a more personal level. If you weren’t thrown out, you’d quickly leverage one of your tried-and-true relationship weapons – lunch, golf, dinner, a gift, or even the occasional ride on the corporate jet. 

Boy, how things have changed! Besides the governance policies that most companies employ today – where accepting even a coffee mug with your logo on it is a violation – admiring the stuffed swordfish on the wall and asking, “What keeps you up at night?” isn’t going to cut it. The old rules of selling simply no longer apply.

The fact is, today’s business relationships – and all relationships, really – are built on value. Executives want to know what’s in it for them before they will consider investing time in you.

Most executives aren’t interested in golf games or idle chatter that leads to you showing them a 100-plus-slide capabilities presentation. Nor do executives want to train you on their company and issues so you can turn around and try to sell them something.

But don’t lose heart. There are potentially many ways you can deliver value. Consider the following four ideas.

  1. Provide thought leadership around how you might help them improve results or attain certain goals.

  2. Help them achieve recognition in their organization or industry for something they are doing or something you can help them do.

  3. Make key connections and introductions for them.

  4. Support events, programs, committees, or charitable/community organizations that are important to them.  

The most successful sales professionals understand that individual human beings – not companies – make decisions to buy. Relationship development is an intentional process that requires you to invest time doing careful research before walking through the door to determine the potential value you can offer. Additionally, it requires continued nurturing. You need to continually ask yourself, “what have I done for them lately?”  

Most importantly, building successful relationships requires you to take risks and work outside your comfort zone. Instead of “safe” discussions around your products, features, price, and company, you have to be savvy and brave enough to earn the right to have discussions around personal agendas, what they really want, and the personal motivations that are driving them. Only then can you begin to create bonds based on mutual trust, value, and success.

Business relationships today are oftentimes situational and temporary. They exist as long as the other party believes you still deliver value. Keep in mind that business relationships do not necessarily equal friendships. Just because someone “likes” you, doesn’t mean they will buy from you. Sure, everyone knows your name and smiles when you visit, but when was the last time your “friends” actually bought something from you?  

The next time you have an important meeting, think of it as a first date. Don’t make the critical error of talking about yourself, your company, or your products. The harsh reality is that no one cares about you until they understand what you can do for them. Do your homework, leave the logoed mug and your capabilities presentation at home, and (whatever you do) don’t ask about the stuffed fish on the wall!

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Three Ways You Can Sell More to Existing Accounts

JenniferStanley_2Today’s guest post is by Jennifer Stanley, expert associate principal (marketing and sales practice) at McKinsey & Company.

 

 

 

There is a long-standing belief that salespeople are naturally “hunters” or “farmers,” but what do you do in a mature market where there seems to be little to hunt and no new fertile ground?

The key is finding pockets of profitable, micro growth opportunities to explore. It takes some effort and analytics, but it’s worth it. Companies whose sales forces routinely excel at finding latent demand, among other strategies for sales growth, tend to grow revenue almost 50 percent more than their peers.

Here are three steps you should take to build the insight needed to grow your business with existing customers. 

1. “De-average” customer sales trends.

An account’s historical growth rate is useless information. What you need to know is exactly where there could be growth tomorrow, and you need to know it at the micro level. There are two methods I regularly see succeed in all industries, though they are by no means the only ones to try:

  • First, map tiny territories inside your larger sales territory. For multilocation customers, know in which zip/post codes their business is growing. Measure your share with those customers in those tiny territories, and go after growth where you are underpenetrated (versus your average share across the territory).

  • Second, keep an eye on each customer’s plants or distribution points. Regularly ask where your customer plans to add capacity or more salespeople, and prioritize your new proposals there.  

2. Know the next product to buy.

Sometimes business-to-business sellers are so accustomed to exacting requests for proposals (RFPs) that they don’t prioritize bringing new ideas to customers. Take a page out of the consumer retailer’s handbook. One easy analysis that can come out of any customer relationship management system is the basket of products customers similar to yours are buying. Again, go micro: check to see which individual products or services are missing from your customer’s basket. Outside the RFP process, talk with your customer about new options. It could be a rich source of profitable growth, possibly up to 20 percent.

3. Investigate SKU swaps or repricing.

At an even more micro level, SKU swapping and repricing can lead to 3 to 5 percent improved account profitability. When customers are buying highly specified products, getting them to switch or pay a little more may seem an impossible task – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. I spend a lot of time in the chemicals industry, where producing to a detailed spec is a basic requirement. There are always a few customers, however, who have been willing to explore switching or have accepted a revised price when sellers present compelling data, such as the following:

  • Your company is losing money on that specific SKU to that specific customer. If you are consistently unprofitable, that’s clearly not good for you, but it is also not good for your customer who may need security of supply. If another SKU is available with appropriate specifications, see if it’s possible to switch. If not, work to obtain a net price that is fair for both of you, or agree to strip out extra services the customer may not value.

  • Your customer isn’t buying a SKU that its own customers may value more. Is there a profitable product you have that could provide incremental benefits down the value chain? If so, bring it to your customer’s attention, and calculate for the customer what it could do for his or her profit.

In today’s world of flattening or low average growth rates, salespeople should embrace “hunting on the farm” as the new normal.

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Yes, Buyers Still Need Sellers!

Joanne BlackToday's post is by Joanne Black, America’s top referral sales expert. Visit www.nomorecoldcalling.com for more articles, tips, and free resources. You can also find Joanne on Twitter @ReferralSales.

 

There’s a new myth being circulated in the sales community. According to some “experts,” buyers know everything they need to know about our companies, products, and solutions before they ever speak to sellers.

They suggest that buyers don’t really need salespeople anymore, that the proliferation of information and the automation of sales have made sellers irrelevant. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Salespeople still have a role to play -- an important one. In fact, buyers might just need us now more than ever.

Computers Cannot Replace Me

Word-class salespeople know and care about their clients. We understand their most pressing business issues and greatest challenges. We know about developments in their industry and competitive landscape. We know what works and what doesn’t.

Buyers don’t need just information. They need help uncovering the best solutions to strengthen their business, and this is help comes, not from a “Click Here” link, but from an experienced salesperson who knows how to ask the right questions.

The Personal Touch Means More Than Ever

The more technology-driven this world gets, the more we appreciate the personal touch: real recognition, in-person communication, and actually getting to work with people. As John Naisbitt writes in High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning, “The more high tech, the more high touch we desire.”

Yes, there are certain things we’d rather do for ourselves online, but at the end of the day, we also want to do business with people. For example, when you travel by airplane, you no longer need a person to provide you with a flight schedule, sell you a ticket, or issue your boarding pass. Once you board that plane, however, I bet you want a flight attendant to greet you and serve refreshments, and you sure as heck want a human pilot in the cockpit.

It’s the same in sales: many customers would rather get information online, but when they have questions, they want quick, thoughtful responses from real, live, experienced salespeople. Before they’re going to sign on any dotted lines, they want to know they’re working with people they can trust. These types of connections are built through referral introductions and in-person communication, not through social networking.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

For the record, I am not technophobic, a Luddite, or afraid of change. As our world and culture change, so will sales –- and that’s OK. What doesn’t change is that our community is made up of people, and people need interaction. So step up and make a difference in your buyers’ lives and businesses. Help them succeed by being a top-notch, high-touch sales professional. Be a resource, a cheerleader, and a sounding board. Be part of the solution.

For more on how to leverage technology and relationships for sales success, get your copy of Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal.

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Is “Virtual Distance” Getting in the Way of Our Customer Connections?

Jeff Seeley Today’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of Carew International Inc.

 

 

 

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that sales professionals and customers are more “connected” than ever before.

To prepare for the future of selling, we must contend with the fact that we have access to exponentially more information than we had just a decade ago. Companies are investing billions of dollars in sales technologies, such as customer relationship and sales force management systems (CRM and SFA, respectively), to increase the sales team’s insight on customer and prospect demographics and behavior; however, organizations are not realizing a return in sales performance improvement. In fact, just the opposite is true.

According to Accenture’s latest report, “Powering Profitable Sales Growth – Five Imperatives,” the number of representatives achieving their sales goals has declined from 67 percent in 2013 to 50 percent in 2014 (even with sales quotas generally lower in 2014 than in 2013), and revenue target achievement is down by more than 5 percent.

How is it possible that, in the face of this new insight and our extraordinary investment in performance technology, global sales performance is dropping? Because information does not ensure understanding, insight does not equal connection, and CRM is not a customer relationship.

It is time to consider that we have become overly dependent on technology and perhaps unrealistic in our expectations of its role in our sales performance. The result is an overly complicated, multitasking sales environment with a higher focus on technology and less on customer diagnostics, engagement, and experience. Neglecting the customer relationship undermines the influence and collaboration essential to a productive sales process.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Subtle Ways Our Screens Are Pushing Us Apart,” Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski introduces the phrase “virtual distance” to explain the dynamic of substituting screen intelligence for human connection. She writes, “Virtual distance is a sense of psychological and emotional detachment that begins to grow little by little and unconsciously when most encounters and experiences are mediated by screens on smart devices.”

Keyboard-tapping sales professionals who dive deep into data without proportional customer engagement and exploratory conversations will lack context that reveals who their customers are, their attitudes, and their motivations. Sobel-Lojeski observes:

…today’s workforce has more than enough tools to send information back and forth to people all over the world. But those tools – and the use of them – do not necessarily constitute collaboration… Genuine collaboration is achieved through ongoing meaningful exchanges between people who share a passion and respect for one another… Ultimately, new innovations and critical problem solving are realized through relationships.

The impact of technological improvements is dramatic and profound; at this juncture, not having the insight provided by CRM/SFA tools would put any sales organization at a perilous disadvantage. The key understanding, however, is that sales technology is not a substitute for the foundational role of the sales professional.

Technology cannot develop customer relationships nor interpret data to identify the strongest business-development opportunities and most valuable insight and solutions for customers. Savvy sales leaders will view sales technologies as tools to facilitate customer engagement, not as a substitute for customer engagement.

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