Creating differentiated, personalized customer experiences is a top business initiative for most organizations. Executives know that when exceptional experiences are delivered, they distance themselves from their competitors. The reverse is also true. When things don’t go well, the negative brand impact on your company has greater potential for damage that goes far beyond losing a sale or a current customer.
Every interaction someone has with your company matters. That is especially true when it is your salespeople.
The term “customer experience” is misleading. The use of the word customer suggests that your experience strategy begins once someone becomes a paying customer. But that’s not the case at all. The experience begins with the very first interaction someone has with your company. It could be a marketing interaction, and more often, that first touch starts with someone on the front lines of your sales organization. That touch could be a phone call, email, an in-person meeting at a business event or a LinkedIn connection request.
When companies are designing their experience strategy, that strategy must include the salesforce.
To me, that seems an obvious suggestion; however, I don’t believe that organizations are doing enough analysis to understand how ALL buyer interactions with their salespeople – starting with the first ones – are either helping or hurting pipeline and revenue objectives.
Gartner has defined Customer Experience Management as “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.”
I would revise Gartner’s definition slightly to say, “designing and reacting to prospect and customer interactions to meet or exceed their expectations and, thus, increase pipeline, revenue, satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.”
So, let’s talk about “aligning to the buyers’ journey”.
The most common strategy to engage new prospects starts with content. A lot of it. The idea is to deliver the right articles, white papers, case studies, videos or webinars at the right time in the buyers’ decision-making process.
Conventional wisdom says provide educational content that informs during stages when buyers are looking for products to solve their problems. Or, use content to provide insights into problems buyers’ may not know they have yet but are bound too, and they are more likely to book a sales meeting. Unfortunately, that may no longer be the case.
Content overload is creating a backlash to the buying experience.
Analyst reports indicate that buyers are inundated with so much content that the information overload is leading to the exact opposite reaction companies want. Rather than creating an experience that inspires buyers to more quickly engage with sales, they are opting to do nothing!
In a recent report from Gartner about how sellers can help buyers “make sense” of the overwhelming availability of high quality content; albeit, often with conflicting points of view, authors Neha Ahuja and Benjamin Hooker confirm that “when customers encounter too much information — even trustworthy, evidence-based information — they may stop learning. In such a scenario, customers reach a point of information saturation after which they can’t process new information.”
This leads to a point of diminishing return in the perceived value that information has to purchasing decisions. Rather than decisions being based on “quality data”, decision making becomes reminiscent of the days before the internet with buyers’ making decisions based on best guesses and gut feelings as opposed to rational, fact-based choices.
Which brings me back to the sales force. The people paid to sell to your products.
Information overload is causing problems. But so are salespeople with their messaging and approach, whether meaning too or not. Your sales team members are typically the first human exposure that someone has with your company.
What do you know about the experience those interactions are creating?
Unless what you sell requires little more than an order taker to seal the deal, evaluating what’s happening throughout the selling cycle when those interpersonal – people to people – sales interactions are taking place is a must. Often your salespeople are losing out on sales opportunities with the message they convey in the first email they send or phone call they make.
Another day we can debate why sales organizations spend an inordinate amount of time and money constantly chasing new logos. The reality is that they do. Empty pipeline phobia puts more pressure on salespeople to surface new sales opportunities any way that they can often without enough training and coaching to help them succeed.
Leaders own the fault here. When the default command is to do “more activity” to try and meet objectives, quality is bound to suffer and it does.
Banish magical thinking.
As I often do, I recently wrote another LinkedIn article about the need for salespeople and sales leaders to banish magical thinking and stop looking for short-cuts to engaging buyers. Cheap tricks in the form of subject lines, break up emails and other such nonsense simply reinforces that buyers don’t need sellers to help them in their purchasing decisions at all. There is a reason why 90% of the time buyers simply hit delete to rid themselves of constant deluge of sales spam.
Put yourself in the buyers’ shoes. Do you know what it is like to try and buy from you?
Go through every step of the journey as a buyer would. Download white papers or attend a webinar, and then experience what it feels like to be hounded by a salesperson through email, phone calls or LinkedIn connection requests. Evaluate the messaging that salespeople are using to try to book sales meetings. Are the messages focused on the issues relevant to the buyer or simply another attempt to sell with your product pitch? Engage directly with a salesperson and experience what it feels like to have features, benefits and a product demo pushed on you. Record sales calls and listen carefully to how your salespeople are representing your offering.
It is easy to toss around phrases like “improve the customer experience” or map your processes to the “buyers’ journey”, but in truth, the effort to transform existing processes isn’t easy.
But that doesn’t mean the transformation effort shouldn’t be undertaken. In fact, I believe it must be a strategic imperative!
We are about to enter the 4th and final sales quarter for most companies, and I can guarantee that the “do more” mantra will reach a fevered pitch with the end result being largely the same. As it has been for the past decade, roughly half of all sales teams will still not meet quota goals. Same activity = same results. Denial doesn’t change reality!