I’m a great fan of much of many sales technologies. There are tools that dramatically improve efficiency. These allow us to get more accomplished, more easily and in less time. There are tools that give us greater insight into the customer—both the enterprise and individual. We can leverage customer searches of our sites, the materials they have downloaded, and communications they may have had to give us better insight into their interests.
AI and related tools deepen those insights and help us better determine the timing of when a customer might be interested in a conversation. These tools can even help us think about the issues most critical to the customer at the moment. We can “micro-target” and be immediately relevant to our customers and prospects.
But, all of this gets us only so far.
At some point, we actually have to have a conversation with the customer.
We have to translate all this data and insight into actually engaging, person to person.
And that’s where things break down, both for us and for the customer.
Customers need these conversations, but dread them, trying to push them as late in their buying cycle as possible, leveraging other sources of information and research (remember, similar tools exist for our customers).
But at some point we’re “forced” to actually engage each other—voice to voice, face to face, eyeball to eyeball.
We have to engage another human being.
Each of us has our own hopes, dreams, fears, desires. Each of us has differing behavioral and communication styles. Each has differing levels of knowledge, interest, attitudes, and opinions.
The messy, sloppy part of buying and selling is all about human interaction.
But if we, and our customers, are to be successful, it’s this part of the process that’s most important in achieving our goals.
The fundamentals of this process are always the same, but the actual execution will vary person by person, with each interaction.
The fundamentals start with understanding, empathy, caring.
Questioning, listening, probing help us in engaging our customers to learn and to help them learn.
Curiosity plays a role—they drive our probing and discovery, they drive the ability of the customer to learn.
We are helped in this by our knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge in relevant/impactful ways—sometimes called creating value. In doing this, we have to remember it’s something we don’t do to or for the customer, but with the customer.
As happens when at least two human beings get together, we bring baggage, per-conceived ideas, mistaken impressions, lack of knowledge, and many other things which impact our abilities to connect with each other. Masterful sales people know how to navigate these with the customer, their teams, and others.
Ultimately, complex buying and selling comes down to human to human interaction and how effectively we engage each other.
Ironically, we seem to spend more time on all the other parts, often doing everything we can to minimize and avoid this human to human interaction.
Some will argue, that much of this interaction can be eliminated—and it should be. There are many transactional or very simple buying decisions. But this isn’t new, it’s existed at least since the very first catalog was ever mailed to a customer (RIP Sears Roebuck). The tools enabling each of us to do this keep reaching new levels. Increasing numbers of transactions will be done through technology enabled channels–perhaps our bot talking to the customers’ bots.
But there is always the challenge of the complex buying decisions. Whenever more than one person is involved in the process—whether multiple buyers reaching consensus, or sales people seeking to engage with them.
The messiest part of buying/selling is that human to human interaction.
And this seems to be the area that too few look to master.
Afterword: Thanks to my friends Charlie Greene and Andy Paul for stimulating this post. Charlie wrote a great post on the same theme, Seduced by Tools and Processes.