Sales | by Tom Woodcock | 03/29/2008
I'm not overly old school or anti-technology by any means, so don't write me off before hearing me out. I must say though, there is a trend taking place that gives a false sense of sales effectiveness. The emergence of e-commerce, personnel automation and use of e-mail as a primary communication tool gives the impression that face-to-face human contact isn't necessary any longer. I say, "You're nuts!"
First, the cell phone began to replace face-to-face contact and now e-mail has even replaced voice-to-voice communication. The trend is developing a generation of sales people that have difficulty with personal meeting scenarios. More and more contractors use their Blackberries, laptops and fax machines as primary forms of communication. Now don't get me wrong, these are all viable communication sources in a support role. I just don't agree with using them as your lead form of communication with a client or customer.
How many times have you had an e-mail misinterpreted? Have you ever been questioned or confronted through e-mail? Ever had an e-mail forwarded without your consent? Are you faxing all your bids or price quotes? How about those automated receptionists? Tired of pressing 1 for "English"? Lastly, do you enjoy calling Pakistan to find out why your PS3 is malfunctioning?
Get ready folks. The backlash is coming. I'm running into contractors all over the country that are stepping back in time to get the competitive edge. They're delivering their most desirable bids face to face; calling clients when it isn't related to a project just to say "Hi"; getting a true human receptionist to greet their calling customers; making time to pull away from their computers to get amongst their customer base. This is the wave of the future. I remember the day! Yes, the day when this was status quo. You cannot remove the human element from the sales process. Machines do not invoke loyalty. Technology neutralizes you as a source and pushes the issue towards price. Your fax machine cannot handle objections.
Contractors across the country whine about pricing pressure. When you eliminate your uniqueness, when all bidders are faxing or e-mailing in quotes and you do business with people who can't pick you out in a police line up, what do you expect? You bring far more to the sales decision than you think. Have you ever bought a product because of a relationship? Yup! How about your doctor, lawyer, barber, mechanic or even restaurateur? Firms pushing for more of a personal touch will begin to unseat the price hawks driving prices down.
I recently had a conversation with the president of a computer technologies firm. He couldn't understand why he was getting so much heat for his customer service reps. He wanted me to consider training them. I was obviously interested and he said he could set up a webinar. A webinar! Why a webinar? He stated that all his customer service reps were based in India. No wonder he was getting flack. Who likes calling overseas to talk to someone reading off a script. Some of you may not agree with me because you've cut costs so much going to automation. Hmmmm, how are those profit margins? Any decrease since you went techno? Lose any long-term customers in the last year? It usually takes that long before a good client gives up. Nope, all this technology is wonderful, except it was primarily developed by people who sit in a cubicle all day and never see the sun shine. Construction, of all industries, is as outdoors as it gets. Technology can blind you to weaknesses.
I'm sure you love your website. Websites do play a role in directing your customers to your sales effort. The problem is they can't sell for you. You may say, "We had 10 orders off our site this month!" Well, how many people chose not to do business with you after going to your site? No idea eh? They may not find exactly what they're looking for there and move on. Hey, my job is to make you think and evaluate if you're doing the best you can to reach your client base. How often are your sales contact people sitting in front of their computers? There's face time right there. If you really want customer loyalty, higher margins, and new clients, put your sales people's faces in front of clients. Simply because technology progresses does not automatically warrant dispatch of traditional methodologies. If you incorporate true face-to-face contact in conjunction with technological support, the results will be staggering. Take one step back to make two steps forward or press "4" if you're losing customers.