Buyers today are more empowered than ever. Sellers find themselves grappling with how to handle these informed buyers in a landscape that's rapidly changing, thanks to social media, mobile technology, and other forms of digital media. Tying together a prospect's activity across emerging and established channels requires technology and processes that most sales and marketing teams don't yet have in place.
"The big thing that jumps out at me is that customers are already halfway through their evaluation process the first time a salesperson has a meeting with them," says Jason Angelos, a managing director in Accenture's Sales and Customer Service practice. Today's buyers do their own research first, instead of starting with a salesperson. The purchase process is already 57 percent complete by the time a buyer contacts a seller, according to a study done last year by the CEB Marketing Leadership Council.
For some salespeople, more educated buyers could mean a quicker close. But it can also mean that some companies are ruled out before salespeople even have an opportunity to educate prospects about their product. As a result, reaching and educating potential buyers requires a more coordinated effort. "Most of what we see is companies that are kind of one foot in and one foot out, still executing the old sales playbook," Angelos says. To succeed in today's environment, sellers and marketers must take an omnichannel approach, connecting interactions with their customers across channels even before they reach out to the company. Email, mobile, phone, social media, digital advertising, and old-fashioned face-to-face interactions must work in concert.
Lesson 1: Know Their Preferred Channel
In today's digitally connected environment, sales teams must "meet the customer where the customer wants to be met," Angelos advises. We all have our preferred channels, depending on what information we're after. Maybe we prefer email newsletters to keep us posted on a company's news and social media to learn about its reputation. Or maybe we really only trust what we're told face to face.
"If you've already conceded to [prospects'] preference in communication, you start the relationship on a positive note," states Robert Killory, chief customer officer for 3CLogic, a cloud contact center software company. "The more comfortable they are with the communication, the more likely your success." If a customer starts talking to you over the phone, Killory advises using that channel for further communications unless he indicates otherwise.
The challenge is when a company requires a multichannel approach. A Web site can help a potential customer assess if a product is a fit, but it's rare for a highly considered purchase to start and end in that channel. Closing a sale often means moving that customer to another channel, be it an email introduction, a phone call, or a face-to-face meeting. Understanding what channel customers prefer, and when they prefer it, will help sellers master omnichannel communication.
Angelos offers an example from the insurance industry, where two-thirds of consumers prefer to purchase their insurance through an agent. But the lead-up process includes interacting with the prospect across multiple channels. A pop-up chat window on an insurer's Web site enables agents to follow up with a customer who asked for a quote but hasn't yet purchased. People can be