Cool Hand Luke – What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate
"We live in an age of communication. Communication is the problem and the opportunity," says Adrian Chen. No one would argue the benefits of email for innovation, instant communication and efficiency. However, when it comes to how email has dramatically affected and impacted the relevancy and value of sales people, the discussion becomes far more serious and dire.
I would argue nothing comes close in the last century to having such a challenging impact on sales people's ability to truly connect with their customers than email. Selling is a very personal interaction. Like communication in general, selling is highly social, interpersonal and requires a lot of emotional intelligence. Email has dramatically affected sales people's ability to have meaningful conversations with their customers on the phone and in face-to-face meetings. Email is great for transferring information conveniently and quickly. It is not a tool to replace human contact.
This is where the problem lies. My educated guess is email has made it 30 – 40% more difficult to get someone on the phone and meet someone face-to-face. That means sales people have to dramatically increase their output and effectiveness to just get to square one.
Customers hide behind email. Because it is so quick and easy it requires no emotional energy. Because customers feel pulled in so many directions, email is the only sanctuary where they do not have to invest intimacy, personal energy and precious bandwidth. Customers prefer to keep sales people at a distance. They minimize relationships and unwanted influenced by keeping sales people at arms length. Email is perfect for this. To be fair and balanced, the reason customers do this is because of their perception of manipulative sales tactics, and overzealous sales people who will waste their time.
If you do happen to get a customer on the phone, they are just as likely also in a meeting, texting someone, surfing the web and handling another call on their mobile all at the same time. They are hyper-connected and yet not connected at all.
Technology has taken the personal out of communication. This will be the biggest challenge in the profession of sales in the years ahead, because without personal communication and influence, sales functions can be easily replaced by low-paying clerks, or even thru lower costs of technology. Sales people have to rise above these hurdles to provide value and insight. This will be a challenge for many conventional sales people who simply provide information that is easily accessible elsewhere.
In-box to in-box is fine for transmitting content, but is terrible for transmitting context. Because customers are swimming in content the true remaining value sales people have to provide is personal context, perspective and insight. This can only be accomplished by using old technology; real-time personal communication, preferably in person.
In today's market, more personal interaction is required to have influence, and sellers should minimize technological interface as much as humanly possible when they want to really leverage trust, credibility and personal communication. The following are some examples of additional personal communication challenges sales people will face:
- Customers will rely more on social media to get recommendations from their peers. For sales people who are not well-connected this could deter their own direct influence.
- The selling profession by nature attracts upbeat, social, verbal, enthusiastic constituents who use the aforementioned traits to transfer information to maximize influence and persuasion. This is not the ideal communication style for the information economy where customers do not value animated talking websites.
- Customers are spending unprecedented amounts of time online and doing the bulk of their communication on inanimate devices. They will work very hard to depersonalize the sales process as much as possible, and because the new generation is so comfortable with online communication (it is so convenient and easy), they will tend to default to the path of least resistance which is an off-line interaction. Too bad the easy way is the hard way. In a nutshell, clients are more isolated, protected and difficult to emotionally engage. So the most viable form of true, effective communication that will have real emotional influence is face time.
- Another trend that can be damaging to sales people is the fact that customers bring sales people into the sales process much later on in their buying process. They do a lot more of their due diligence, research and homework to the point where they know more about your company and offering, than you know about their company and their challenges.
- Caller ID, voicemail, do not call lists, security measures preventing walk in sales calls, electronic phone screeners and inaccessibility to personnel directories are making direct human contact increasingly more difficult.
- "Technology is rational by design, and in use, it rationalizes human activity. Human communication and interaction, however, are neither rational or designed," says Adrian Chen. Selling is an emotional activity where both logic and rationale play a minor role. Effective selling is a visceral experience that requires personal connection.
Technology has certainly raised the bar for the prerequisite interpersonal skill sets to succeed in the information economy. More so than ever sales people will have to be better in building trust quickly, and getting customers to share information; sensitive and proprietary. Trust is the new currency in the information economy because of the accelerated rate of change and disruption in this chaotic era. Today and in the future, customers will have less time to entrust traditional sales people with their sensitive issues.
Selling is a one-on-one game. It is highly participatory, emotional and interactive. And to be useful it will rely more and more on context, insight and perspective. Classic sellers who believe it is all about content will find their days numbered, short-lived and extremely frustrating.