The Battle Between Offline and Online Relationships
For sales people in the Digital Age it is not a brave new world, it is a hard new world. It is truly becoming harder for sales people to truly connect with customers in the virtual world of instant communication, or as I like to call it non-communication.
We live in the greatest era of communication where few are really connecting personally. Because sales people can be a neurotic lot, they tend to overcompensate for this by over communicating, forcing customers to in turn under communicate their message and story. It does not take a rocket scientist to see who loses out in this equation.
Customers are silently screaming for sales people to tell them something they do not already know, but they cannot be heard over the product screaming. They want sales people to bring unique business skills to the table, problem solving aptitude and valuable insight, yet customers are getting little of this, or if they are, they are not trusting the messenger or the message.
In the Digital Age it is becoming more common for customers to prefer e-commerce (no sales person intervention), because they do not have to subject themselves to the hassles of dealing with a self-serving human being. Convenience over personal connection is becoming the new mantra for those who see little value with sales people.
In sales there is a battle for offline versus online relationships. Similar to the bygone years of bricks and mortars versus e-commerce. It is the same phenomenon. In the sales profession it is crystal clear that offline is where personal influence still happens for those with the savy to make it happen. However, customers will do everything possible to keep it online for as long as possible to minimize time, inconvenience, incompetence and lack of objectivity. Customers are exhausted and spent emotionally, so one less personal interaction with a sales person is more than fine for them.
Out of frustration and lack of time I sometimes feel we live in a world of impersonal non-communication. It is a business world of inbox to inbox, instead of face to face. There are less surprises and more control for customers to have virtual connections over real time communication that is personal. Even sales people out of laziness can be guilty of this. Communication can be very drawn out today; a Linkedin invite to a customer, then a customer goes to the web to research the sales person's company, then there is an email exchange, then maybe a phone conversation, then more emails, at last God willing an honest to God personal meeting. All these filters and distance between the sales person and their prospect virtually guarantees more defensive behavior, less relevancy and less influence for sales people.
Technology has obviously created a very fragmented manner in how sales people communicate with their customers. Cyberspace is no place to build trust, connection and relationships. Yet sales people are being relegated to this position where their value is being questioned because of the redundant nature of their information. Technology is pushing out the human touch in the sales profession and customers are rejoicing because of the ease and convenience. Without human touch (phone or in person) and personal communication, the livelihood of a sales person is at risk.
Today you really have to earn the customer's trust to allow you to enter their cherished personal space. More often than not they look at sales people as a pesky pop-up (an unnecessary evil) on their computer screen where they can easily have you deleted from their existence.
Traditional personality sellers think relationship selling is all about sociability and like-ability, which they more than exceed at to make up for what they fall short of; trust and true personal connection. The days of ingratiating oneself and using forced friendship as a major tool to acquire business is all but over. Personality sellers are great at making friends, but at the end of the day they often have just expanded their rooster of Facebook and Linkedin contacts. Torturing customers with charm and esprit de corps just causes customers to return the favor, killing sales people with kindness and "yesing" them to death. "Trusting relationships take time to build and can be destroyed by a single violation," says Scott McKain.
"Remember the term feel-good grew out of the drug culture. First it was feel-good doctors dispensing amphetamines, then feel-good films dispensing formulaic good cheer and surefire happy endings," says Joe Morganstern. Let us not forget feel-good sales people who combine the best of the worst; good cheer, surefire happy endings with their solution, and formulaic irrelevant sales calls. However, customers yearn to be engaged by real sales people who are honest, forthcoming, objective, insightful and authentic. It is just so hard to find. "There is real power and rarity in authenticity. The world is desperate for authenticity. We crave it I think because it is in short supply. Consequently, when we see it we really connect with it," says Mike Rowe host of Dirty Jobs on The Discovery Channel.
You have to be real honest with yourself to get customers to be hoest with themselves, and you. "Honesty is the magic bullet. The most surprising thing I discovered is that most of the best sales people are totally honest in their work. They are honest with their prospects and customers, and they are honest with themselves. Through intuition and experience, they have learned that deception, including self-deception, is the enemy of sales success," says Jacques Werth.
The message always needs to be aligned with the messenger. If not it is incompatible. Sales people try to prematurely create credibility and trust with their message before they are able to be viewed as credible and trustworthy. The two are not mutually exclusive as many sales people believe. Conventional sales people are basically saying with their message, do not do as we do, do as we say. Yet in sales you have to lead by example. You have to be perceived as being honest for customers to feel compelled to reciprocate it.
"How we sell is now part of what we sell. Forget product. Think integrity. Think trust. The product is less important than the integrity of the sales person," says Lynn Upshaw. Your value is your level of trust.