As technology advances, it becomes a more critical and integral part of the everyday sales process. The power of electronic communication (e-communication), most of which can be managed using CRM systems, never can 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 too 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 postings 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 a customer select the product or service that meets her specific needs, wants and desires. This is, and will remain, 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, 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 pilot, who probably has flown hundreds if not thousands of hours, starts by reviewing a checklist, every time. He 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:
1. Build rapport and establish a relationship.
2. Help the customer select and buy the exact product that meets his needs and desires.
3. Capture the information needed for the CRM system.
4. Write a personal thank you card and send it snail mail.
5. Schedule follow-up actions and dates in the CRM system—some automated and some as reminders for personal interaction.
6. Call to follow up and find out how well the purchase is working for the customer.
7. Friend the customer on social networks.
8. Send an email with news or product updates.
9. Text with birthday wishes or send a social network birthday greeting.
10. Send out the company newsflash or newsletter.
11. Pick up the phone and call to schedule a visit where you can extend the relationship, get a referral and perhaps up-sell.
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 are missed in e-communication.
Consider what over-reliance 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 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.
There is no question that e-communication and CRM are essential in today’s sales environment. When used in moderation after a relationship has been established, CRM systems and e-communication are 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!
About the Author
Richard F. Libin is president of APB-Automotive Profit Builders, Inc., a firm with more than 42 years’ experience working with both sales and service on customer satisfaction and maximizing gross profits through personnel development and technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-626-9200.
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