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Is Technology Replacing The Handshake In Sales?

New Study Reveals How Buyers Would Like to Work with Salespeople

Sales is a communication process and communication is a basic human experience. But with the pervasiveness of technology and the instant access to information, buyer behavior is being driven by a relentless need for knowledge and buyers can get much further down the decision-making path before ever speaking with a sales person. However, buyers can’t learn everything digitally; they do need to interact with salespeople at some point.

With these types of changes in the buying process, how can sales reps humanize their sales processes and successfully engage their buyers?

New Research on the Buyer’s Perspective

To examine business-to-business (B2B) sales transactions from the buyers’ perspectives in greater detail, ValueSelling Associates, Inc. and Training Industry, Inc. surveyed over 200 U.S. managers and executives in a wide variety of industries ranging from technology and banking to health care and manufacturing. The research report, “Sales from the Buyer’s Perspective,” sheds insight on how buyers really feel about their vendor sales relationships and how they would like to work with salespeople.

According to the research findings, busy executives prefer to interact with salespeople using technology and virtual communications at any point across the spectrum of stages in the buying process—from identifying a need to concluding a purchase. Here are some of the highlights from the research, and how sales people can increase their effectiveness and technology prowess.

Complex B2B Sales Has Become A Team Selling Activity

As technology continues to transform the workplace, there has been increasing attention to the changing nature of the role of the salesperson. There has been a shift from salespeople meeting with potential customers face-to-face and traveling in the field (outside sales) to salespeople working from a home office and communicating with potential customers through technology (inside sales).

Today a sales interaction has become a “team selling” exercise. Although a buyer often has a single point-of-contact sales representative from a vendor company, a buyer’s impression of the vendor is shaped by multiple touchpoints with employees across the vendor company. The study revealed that the people buyers want to talk with most, 68%, are a vendor company’s subject matter experts (SMEs). Next in line are account executives/managers (67%), outside sales (64%), inside sales (63%) and coordinators who show demos (62%).

The questions that vendor companies need to start asking themselves are: “How strong is the entire sales team?” “How can we scale our SMEs and make them more accessible online?” “How can we augment SMEs by enabling the sales force?” and “How can we seamlessly integrate our online, offline, and people-based interactions?”

Buyers Prefer to be Contacted by Sales via Technology

The study confirmed what many sales reps intuitively know; today, buyers prefer to interact with salespeople through virtual means. Buyers just don’t have the time or the tolerance to meet with people just for the sake of meeting.

Since only 1 of 4 buyers rated salespeople as “always effective” at communicating via virtual means, there is a specific need for salespeople to develop stronger communication and technology-related skills.

So, how can salespeople be heard in a noisy marketplace? To break through the clutter, sales reps need a strategically choreographed cadence across multiple communication channels to engage with prospective buyers. Here are the statistics on how buyers prefer sales to contact them:

  • Email (81%)
  • Phone/VOIP (63%)
  • Text messaging (38%)
  • Social media (35%)
  • In-person meetings (27%)
  • Industry/networking events (23%)

Although the majority of buyers want sales to contact them through informal virtual channels, the handshake is not dead. Roughly a quarter of buyers included in-person meetings and industry/networking events among their preferences for interacting with salespeople. At some point in the process, especially if the deal size is large, buyers will typically want to engage with their sales rep face-to-face.

Buyers Value Virtual Communication Skills That Govern Modern Business

With the emphasis in sales organizations shifting from outside to inside sales, the ability to use common virtual technologies has become increasingly important. The study results unveil some disquieting insights. Less than one-third of buyers rated salespeople as “always effective” in their ability to navigate virtual communication and presentation technologies:

  • PowerPoint proficiency (28%)
  • Use of screen-sharing and video conferencing (25%)
  • Informal written communication quality such as email and social media (26%)
  • Formal written communication quality such as proposals and contracts (25%)

If the majority of buyers prefer to communicate via informal written means, such as email and text, the quality of interaction through those channels becomes critically important for sales to cultivate.

Similarly, the quality of formal proposals and contracts should be a point of emphasis for vendors’ sales teams. Many buyers may abandon vendors that are ignoring this skill area. Don’t allow revenue to be potentially left on the table because of poorly written communication.

What’s alarming about these specific statistics is that buyers perceive salespeople as not being effective communicators. And, sales is all about communicating. The comprehensive communication skills including questioning, speaking, listening, engaging, and writing are all critical for a sales rep in today’s sales environment.

To improve the sales communication process in the digital age, we recommend implementing these three strategies:

  • Listen carefully to the emotion of the buyer. Remember that communication is more than words. Using virtual communication puts sales reps at risk for effective communication because the physical non-verbal cues are lost. This means salespeople need to listen much closer to the speed, volume and tone of the buyer. For instance, when you ask someone, “How are you?” and they shout, “I’m fine,” do you believe the emotion and the tone, or do you believe the actual words? The emotion behind the words is typically the truth.With the absence of those physical non-verbal cues, sales reps tend to fill in the gaps and make assumptions about what’s going on in the mind of the buyer. There is a very good chance that the guessing and assumptions are wrong.
  • Keep calls and virtual presentations short and concise. Attention spans are short and there are distractions all around us. Long phone conversations and virtual meetings tend to be a challenge for the sales rep to keep the buyer engaged. The biggest mistake is to give buyers way too much information in the given timeframe. Remember that people can only digest so much information.
  • Combine virtual, spoken and written communication. Only one-quarter of buyers say that the quality of written communication is effective. By improving the salesperson’s written skills and surrounding the buyer with effective oral and written communication you will maximize the effectiveness of educating, influencing and connecting with the potential buyer.