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Great Customer Experiences Start With Sales

By Christopher J. Bucholtz
Nov 23, 2015 4:00 PM PT

The term "customer experience" flows from the lips of business people so smoothly these days. It's very clearly the business jargon du jour; its importance has been trending upward for the last decade, and according to Gartner, by 2018 more than half of all businesses will implement significant business model changes in their efforts to improve customer experience.

Great Customer Experiences Start With Sales

How will they do this? Many times, those experience improvements are on made on websites, in service departments and in personalized marketing efforts. Those are all great -- but they miss one critical aspect of experience.

As millennials mature into the majority of the workforce, companies don't have the luxury of building great experiences over time. They need to deliver the customer experience buyers need immediately, from the very first contact.

Perhaps it's unfair to lay this at the feet of millennials. The reality is that almost all buyers now expect this thanks to the technology we all use; millennials are simply the first people who have never known a world without it.

Sales Pressure

In any case, the scenario is a stark one, especially for business-to-business sellers: Get the experience right immediately, or the buyer will seek out someone who can.

That reality puts new pressure on the seller -- but not on the marketing or support departments initially. It will hit the sales team first, and it will change what salespeople need to do to be successful.

To deliver the right experience, sales needs to be able to deliver what customers need -- information, demos, data sheets and other content, reference customers -- from the start of the interaction with a prospective buyer. Since buyers now complete much of the buying journey on their own, they come to the discussion with sales armed with more knowledge and more specific questions than ever before.

There's no need for sales to explain the problem, or even the solution in a general sense. Doing so is a waste of time. Salespeople need to deliver what buyers need at the time of contact, and they must realize that the conversation started long before they became a part of it.

Creating salespeople who can deliver what the B2B buyer wants -- and thus deliver the right customer experience -- doesn't mean finding people with encyclopedic memories. It means having tools in place to help salespeople be truly responsive.

When a buyer wants to talk price, the salesperson should be able to deliver a proposal at the speed of the conversation. In all but the simplest deals, that requires configure, price and quote software.

If buyers want data sheets or other materials to educate their decision, the salesperson should be able to provide the right content right away. That requires a robust sales enablement system. If buyers want reference customers or a demo or anything else that will be crucial to a decision, the salesperson needs to be able to provide it as quickly as possible by aligning with marketing and product management.

With B2B buyers increasingly pressed for time, telling them that you'll get back to them with these things no longer works -- and it's disrespectful of the time they've already given you. Making buyers wait is not a component of a great buying experience. It also indicates that your business isn't organized sufficiently to have its own processes in order, which further damages your prospects of closing a deal.

Tech Tools Are Key

In recent years, we've heard a lot about relationship selling. Relationships become truly important after the initial sale in driving repeat business.

To land new customers, however, sales needs an arsenal of tools at its disposal and the right mentality to use them properly. Salespeople who were resistant to CRM in years past need to set aside their excuses for not adopting technology; without it, in an accelerated sales environment, they're going to fail.

If you can create this selling environment, the payoff can be enormous. Sixty-two percent of companies reported improved business performance as a result of their customer experience initiatives, according to a study by CustomerThink and InMoment. Sixty-four percent of respondents cited improved employee engagement, which suggests the other great benefit of creating a quick-reaction structure for sales: It enables businesses to retain and attract top sales talent.

This is important for two reasons. The most obvious reason is that trained, motivated salespeople who deliver on their numbers make a concrete contribution to your results. The hidden reason is that their departure means massive opportunity costs as well as costs for their replacements.

Companies with an inability to deliver a satisfactory experience to customers also are delivering an unsatisfactory experience to sales staff, and it's costing them a lot of money as a result.

The buzzwords "customer experience" are giving way to a realistic view of what experience really means. It's no longer about "enchanting" or "delighting" customers -- it's really about being competitive and surviving in an era of changed customer and employee expectations, and it needs to start in sales.


CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director, content marketing, for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.


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