As technology advances it becomes a more critical and integral part of the everyday sales process. The power of e-communication, most of which can be managed using CRM systems, can never be underestimated. Businesses that don't have CRM systems are at a significant disadvantage. To be effective, however, the relationship with the customer must exist before it can be managed. This seems straightforward, but often businesses are so busy trying to populate their CRM systems that they forget to manage or address the needs of the customer standing right in front of them.
There are tremendous advantages to e-communication, for example, availability, timing, the ability to span great distances instantly and to reach a greater audience, and more. There is a time and place for email, IMs, social networks, online posting and chats, and text messaging; however, salespeople must remember that these tools are most effective when it comes to managing relationships, not building them.
Businesses must integrate e-communication and CRM into a clearly defined sales process that starts with building rapport, establishing a relationship, and helping customers select the product or service that meets their specific needs, wants, and desires. This is and always will be a salesperson's primary responsibility. Salespeople must earn the right to gather the information needed to build a list and use e-communications by first getting to know a customer in a face-to-face, interactive environment. CRM, customer relationship management as its name implies, is based on the fact that salespeople already have the relationship; after all, if you don't have it, you can't manage it.
Are the days of "voice" communication over? No, personal communication is and will always be the most effective tool any salesperson has. Unfortunately, some salespeople are so accustomed to e-communication in their personal lives that they almost forget why building a personal relationship in a face-to-face environment is a crucial first step. They forget to follow the sales process even though it's been proven to work time after time. Think about your last trip on an airplane. The airline pilot who most likely has flown hundreds if not thousands of hours always starts by reviewing a checklist every time. The pilot follows the process because it works, no matter how advanced technology becomes. He knows that his job is not simply to fly a plane, but to take the 200 people behind him to their destination safely. So, on every flight he consistently goes through the same steps.
Similarly, when a sales process is followed, business thrives. Consider this process that builds and extends a relationship using a combination of personal and e-interaction:
- Build rapport and establish a relationship.
- Help customers select and purchase the exact product that meets their specific needs, wants, and desires.
- Capture the information needed for the CRM system.
- Write a personal thank you card and send via snail mail.
- Schedule follow up actions and dates in the CRM system, some automated and some as reminders for personal interaction.
- Call to follow-up and find out how well the purchase is working for them.
- Friend them on social networks.
- Send an email with news or product updates.
- Text the customer with birthday wishes or send a social network birthday greeting.
- Send out the company newsflash or newsletter.
- Pick up the phone and call to schedule a visit where you can extend the relationship, get a referral, and perhaps upsell.
There are certain things that can never be replaced and the value of a personal, face-to-face interaction is one of them. There is no substitute for being in the same room across from someone actively engaged in conversation. Communication involves so much more than words and emoticons: body language, voice inflection, eye contact, physical appearance, intuition, and more, all of which is completely missed in e-communication.
Consider what overreliance on e-communication tells customers about a business. Does it say that the salespeople don't have time to meet in person or to pick up the phone to make a call? Does it say the salesperson's time with our customers is less important and relegated to whenever it's convenient? Does it say salespeople are fearful of dealing with their concerns, issues, or requests? Or perhaps, it simply says salespeople are using technology because they have no other way of contacting them. Perhaps it's time once again for salespeople to extend their hand in welcome, to reach out and pick up the phone to schedule a meeting, or to take up a pen and hand-write a thank you card or note.
There is no question that e-communication and CRM are essential in today's sales environment. When used in moderation after the relationship is established CRM systems and e-communication are very effective. Salespeople must remember, however, that personal communication is always most effective. If they do, sooner or later, they will be extending a hand to a customer who is about to sign a contract, shaking a new customer's hand in congratulations, or high-fiving a colleague after closing the sale.
And believe me, there is no app for that!
Richard F. Libin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of APB-Automotive Profit Builders, Inc., a firm with more than 42 years of experience working with both sales and service on customer satisfaction and maximizing gross profits through personnel development and technology.