A common lament from many sales people these days is the difficulty that they have in getting their customers to call them back or answer emails. This applies to prospects and even regular customers. Sales people worry that if they call too much they will be perceived as a pest or as unprofessional or, even worse, as a stalker.
This is a real dilemma and it seems to have gotten worse over the last few years. I think that there are many contributing factors, most of which you have already heard about. The factors include technology, the increased sophistication of buyers, and the re-engineering of the work day in the new millennium.
One more factor to consider: it is not their job to call you back. It is your job to call them. Let’s address this first. Selling is a dance and it is the sales person’s job to lead. Don’t expect them to call you back….ever. It is your job to call them, to inform them, and to serve them. Remember, it is all about them and not about you.
Let’s return to the other factors that have made things harder for sales people. Obviously technology has made the sales person’s job tougher; this includes voice mail, the use of cell phones, BlackBerries, laptops, and caller ID. Busy customers have figured out how to screen their calls and hide from sales people thanks to technology. Caller ID may be biggest culprit since your buyer can hide from you if they want to and many do. One way to handle this issue is use your cell phone’s “block caller ID feature”, which will keep them guessing who is calling.
With increased information available to buyers in the form of wikis, forums, and websites, buyers are relying less on sales people to keep them updated about products and services. Candidly, this works against the buyer since they are not benefiting from the sales person’s superior knowledge. Think about it. You sell the same product day in and day out; when it comes to your product and how it works, you are one of the world’s top experts. Meanwhile, the buyer buys your products occasionally (at best) and by definition knows far less than you do. What is wrong with this picture? To quote Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does”. You have what the buyer needs; be sure to remember that.
I think the solution to this quandary is to position your self as a “knowledge broker” rather than as a sales person. Help your customer get as much information as possible about their problems and issues, along with the possible solutions (I.E. your offering). Keep them updated on other information resources such wikis and forums; become a source of knowledge and insight about their issues. This information will give you power.
The change in the workday and workplace has been huge. Because of technology, people are working longer days and spend less time in the office. Nowadays the new 24/7 work schedule allows people to work from home on their laptops away from the office phones. Many people prefer cell phones over land lines; in this case, take their cue and don’t call them at the office and instead call them on their cell. If this is problem, they will tell you.
How often should you call a customer while praying for a returned call? If I had to give you a ratio of your calls to theirs, a 5 to 1 ratio is a good; I had a sales trainer tell me that once and it made sense at the time. After all, we don’t want to overstep our boundaries. Or, do we?
Maybe a smarter answer is don’t keep score at all. Remember customers get dozens and sometimes hundreds of emails a day; your email can easily get lost in the milieu. The same applies to the voice messages that you have left. You can’t expect them to leap for the phone when you call or even remember your last call with them. They don’t keep score, so why should you?
A good strategy might be to mix up your approach. Try a blend of land line calls with cell phone calls, along with a few email messages. Text messaging works too. See what works best. When you are desperate to connect, try unconventional means such as sending a FedEx envelope; everyone opens the FedEx package. Call the operator at their work and have them paged; this one is surprising effective. Send a a fax; people respond to faxes since so few faxes are now sent compared to ten years ago. Or, send flowers or a gift if budget allows; this will get their attention.
Remember, it is your job to call them.
John Bradley Jackson
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