You are Now Entering the E-Commerce Zone; Buckle Up
Today we have more ways than ever to connect interpersonally. We truly live in the communication era, yet customers often will do everything possible to be impersonal and remote. I see more sales transactions where customers race not to meet. It is like current day dating on steroids. They would like to "e-commerce" the sales relationship to an artificial and superficial interaction. They prefer typeface over interface. Too many non-interactions are faceless and voiceless.
Technology has dramatically reduced the cost of interpersonal communication, and at the same time makes it so much harder to accomplish. To add insult to injury, it gives sellers a false sense of security that they are connecting and communicating. In this information economy I have to constantly emphasize with my clients that selling is a contact sport. Without human connection and contact you are dead in the water. Too many tech savvy sales people hide behind blogging, social media, email, voice mail, texting and instant messaging thinking they are making progress on a relationship.
"Technology such as email and PowerPoint and other tools has decreased the amount of personal contact we make with our colleagues and our face-to-face skills have suffered as a result," says Paul Cummings. We need to have a high touch approach in a world that is getting further and further away from that; too much screen time and not enough real time. Non-communicative customers want you to now non-communicate in "no time," instead of real time.
Unfortunately for many, efficiency rules today. Customers are voting with their keyboard that efficiency takes precedence over personal connections. It is why we see the sidewalks and the roads littered with texters who know that what they lose in personal connection will be outweighed by efficiency gains they make in communicating without communicating.
So the point is if customers do not want to meet you, or talk to you, you are basically toast, or a commodity play. We all know it is harder and harder to get face time with customers. Often the only face they want to see is the one on your profile on LinkedIn or Facebook. Sales people have to be so much more skilled and versed in emotional intelligence today. What used to be considered a nice to have soft skill; trust and personal connection, is now considered a prerequisite necessary hard skill for strategic sellers.
Tony Travisano and Bill Brooks did groundbreaking research on selling and found that you did not have to satisfy people's wants, needs and requirements to be awarded sales. It was often enough that you connected; that customers felt important, listened to and understood, that someone got who they were. The mastery was not contingent on a superior offering, persistence, charming personality, it really was in understanding another human being very well. It means you do not have to be a super influencer, persuader and master convincer, all you need to be is a master at understanding others. "Customers are eager to buy what they need from sales people who understand what they want," said Bill Brooks.
The customer's need to be understood takes precedence over their physical need to find a solution. They often buy the sales person, and then justify it through buying the product. The opening connection to the sales person is where the sale is made, the closing is just where it is executed. If customers are not willing to get personal and let you gain access to their space, then you are entering the commodity zone.
Sales people frequently operate on the extremes of being too personal in their communication, where they assume too friendly and casual of a role, or they are too impersonal where they really do not personally connect with customers due to their lack of not understanding the customer's business and problems. The nicest way to describe traditional sales people's disregard for the customer's agenda and goals is benign neglect. They not only are shortcoming the customer, but themselves.
Few sales people follow the Golden Rule of selling; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How many sales people sell in the exact opposite way that they would want someone to sell to them? Interestingly enough, the Golden Rule changes when it comes to personal communication style in sales. It is human nature to communicate with others in the way you would like others to communicate with you. This is a big problem because everyone has different preferences. The key is to communicate in the way others like to communicate.
Conventional sales people make the mistake of leading with persuasion, instead of trust. For most people it is hard to be persuasive without being trustworthy. I have seminar participants constantly complaining that my selling strategies do not exude enough confidence because I downplay product/company claims of superiority. Confidence has to be earned. The best way is through trust, not just sounding confident, and making confident claims of product leadership.
Choosing the right solution is not as hard for customers as to choosing who they trust, and who will really take the time to understand them. "People don't believe your assertions. It's far worse if they feel you're exaggerating. The way to gain trust isn't through assertions, it's through demonstration of trust," says David Maister.
If the customer trusts you they will give you all the information you need. As a general rule, the more information you give the less you will get, and the more at risk you are for the customer to not trust you. A lot of customers perceive sales people as not selling in good faith...surprise, surprise. They realize you have far greater ulterior motives to fulfill.
"In a world that commands efficiency and focuses on self-promotion, people increasingly forget what it means to put oneself in other people's shoes and to interact with the external world. Our lives are heavy with social media, but we are losing our social skills," says Sophia Lee. The key is to be very interested in building a trusting relationship around superior understanding, and at the same time be a disinterested party with respect to outcome. Once you are perceived as having a lot riding on the sale you lose trust. "Customers have to believe that your best interests are reserved by their best interests," says Charles Green.