Online sales is beating offline sales; here’s how ‘feet on the street’ can get their mojo back.
The traditional role of offline sales is pushing the profession closer to extinction — Roy, cliff watcher
It’s interesting to observe the evolution of sales over the past several years.
Technology affecting the online marketing and sales function has evolved at a blistering pace over the past 5 years. Artificial Intelligence and web personalization tools allow organizations to track what individuals have researched and purchased and to present them with an array of buying options during their subsequent browsing sessions, and much more.
All under the guise of improving the customer online experience by making the suggested choice more relevant based on their past behaviour.
I personally find the experience anything but pleasant. Irrelevant ads pop up when I’m browsing and despite the claim from marketers that the digital tools they use are improving the customer experience, I find the process intrusive, annoying and frustrating. My reading experience is diminished with advertisers disrupting me with totally irrelevant product offers.
Notwithstanding the fact that the objective of enhancing the online customer experience is being met with varying degrees of success, this aspect of online sales is ahead of its offline cousin by an order of magnitude.
The online salesperson is nothing more than an algorithm devoid of emotion and ego; the offline one has all those constraints — Roy, Spock rules
How can offline sales morph to what online sales is trying to achieve?
It’s all about context. Online sales is trying to improve the customer experience, and be more effective in anticipating products and services an individual might be interested in buying, so why doesn’t the offline sales world attempt the same?
I know offline sales aspire to build deep meaningful relationships with customers, but when you look at what motivates them it’s hard to believe.
My observation is that offline sales remains in the doldrums, holding on to its traditional role, motivated by:
— improving conversion rates;
— managing the sales funnel more effectively;
— get the sale;
— keeping the pressure on and don’t let the person say ‘no’;
— getting (and staying in) the faces of potential buyers;
— terminating the customer meeting if it looks like no sale is in the offing;
— pushing the product and make it fit what the customer wants;
— improving how to make a cold call;
— achieving quota;
— outperforming colleagues;
— winning the annual sales contest;
— earning salesperson of the year award.
With these motivating factors, it’s not believable when they say that relationships matter; their behaviour speaks otherwise. And certainly, without a strong relationship-building bias, the ability to anticipate customer purchasing behaviour is restricted.
So, what’s the solution? How can offline sales be better than their algorithmic online sales cousin?
We need to redefine the function as ‘un-sales’ and describe it as the folks that don’t sell; taking the focus off selling and putting it on building relationships. And change the way sales is compensated — Roy, undone
To get started, here are the rules for offline sales that must be put in place to build better relationships and experiences with the customer.
Pay people for relationships — If sales aren’t paid to exhibit the behaviours necessary to build relationships and create better experiences for their ‘target’ they won’t do it. Period.
So if leadership aspires to get closer to their customers but don’t put in place the infrastructure to enable it, nothing progressive will happen and the aspiration becomes an unfulfilled dream. And online sales keeps winning.
Stress (and micromanage) the conversation — Relationships and experiences get better when conversations between people are ingratiating and serve the needs of both parties.
Get rid of the one-way sales pitch. Make offliners the best listeners on the planet. Set a performance rule that the customer must occupy 80% of the conversation airtime. Have ego purging classes; strip dysfunctional ego-drive that prevents a productive two-way conversation (or remove the salesperson who can’t comply).
Make note-taking a compulsory part of the sales kit bag; it’s a vital element of giving someone a relevant, meaningful experience. No act shows that the salesperson cares about what the other person is saying than committing what is heard to paper. The act implies that one has been heard and that follow up is promised along with further action.
Find human insights — For the offline salesperson, behind every productive conversation (defined as a deeper relationship and a pleasant experience) is an objective; a specific intended outcome.
And for offline sales, the endgame of every customer engagement is to discover an insight on the other person that is useful in feeding the buying process. Further, if the insight is a rare find that no one else — i.e. the competition — knows, it’s a strategic gem that has the potential to achieve and maintain strategic advantage of the organization.
Knowledge is strategic power, and the offline salesperson is key in the process of learning what people desire and converting this knowledge into economic benefits for the firm — Roy, desire is power
Develop a serving culture — amazing long term relationships and memories can only be created by offline salespeople who like putting the needs of others before their own; they like serving people.
There are serving salespeople out there but in my experience they are rare because of the traditional role sales played and because of past hiring practices that reflected traditional sales values. Servants weren’t coveted; those with aggressive, pushy, and domineering attributes were given the priority.
As a start, how about devoting equal time to product and serving training? Teach the offliners what serving (to gather strategic insights) ‘looks like’ and why it’s critical to the future of the organization.
And, as an aside, if a serving culture were successfully created, offline sales would forever outpace online sales which depend on algorithms and predictive models produced by people who know the digital tool world, not people.
Follow up. Follow up. Follow up — Perhaps this might be viewed as a small thing, but it’s HUGE in terms of influencing experiences and relationships. If someone promises you something and you don’t hear from them for 2 weeks, how do you feel and what’s your conclusion? Most people would conclude that they lied to you and they really don’t care about your needs.
This is the one activity offline sales has the advantage. Yes, Amazon can inform us of the status of our delivery but it doesn’t fulfill any other follow up function. For example they don’t enquire on how we liked the purchase (relying on us to advise them if we were dissatisfied) and other more qualitative aspects of the buying process. Humans, only humans, do this the way it needs to be done.
Advocate for the customer — Wage battle for the customer inside your company. There is nothing worse for a customer than having to battle the bureaucracy of an organization when they need something or when something has gone wrong and their expectations haven’t been met.
They are literally on their own to fight the rules and policies and other restrictions that make the experience extremely unpleasant and in many cases annoying.
The salesperson needs to put themselves on the line among their peers and bosses on the inside to represent the best interests of their customer.
Online sales cannot do this; only offline sales can. And it’s critically important to an experience and relationship. When a customer has an issue with their order and they have to deal with the ‘inside world’ of an organization, they feel alone. The offline salesperson can be their advocate to take the pain and suffering away; the organization is rewarded with loyalty and referrals.
Online selling has captured center stage because of the plethora of new digital tools available. But they have limitations that can only be remedied by offline sales.
The successful sales organization will learn how to balance online vs offline to optimize the strategic benefits of both channels.