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Our Customers Are Voting With Their Time

by David Brock on July 10th, 2019

Several years ago, Gartner research on how customers allocate their time in the buying process indicated about 17% of their time is meeting with sales people—all sales people, not just us. We just get a fraction of that 17%. (I’d be interested in seeing an update to that research, I suspect it will be less than 17%.)

Customers are looking for, and finding, answers in other places. In part, this makes huge sense, if they can more efficiently find the answers they need through digital research, then they are more efficient (perhaps not more effective) in their buying process.

But a good part of this small time allocation for sales people is that sales people aren’t providing the help they need, in a way that’s most helpful.

The same research shows that customers are relatively indifferent about the channel through which they research and learn. They don’t necessarily prefer one over the other, they will tend to leverage multiple channels ( a little over 3), simultaneously. But they aren’t unwilling to see sales people, they are just investing their time where they learn most, most effectively, and most efficiently.

Hmmmmm, so what’s this say about sales?

Customers are investing 83% of their time in alternative channels because they get greater value from those channels. They get what they want, when they want, more efficiently.

Our answer to this seems less focused on increasing the value we create–incenting them to invest more time with us. Instead, we ramp up the volume, velocity machines.

If we aren’t getting enough ear/face time, with current efforts, let’s just double what we do. Twice as many calls, twice as many emails, twice as many social outreaches…… And when that doesn’t work, we double it again.

At the same time, there are more alternatives for customers to choose, each competing for ear/face time. Each raising the volume (figuratively and literally).

Yet we ignore the customer response–or lack of response. We don’t recognize they are voting through their lack of response and through their decreasing allocation of their time in meeting with us.

Instead of trying to learn what we could do to change this, how we can motivate customers to change their votes, we persist with more of the same thing.

As part of our work, we get the privilege of talking to our customers’ customers. We ask, “What would cause you to want to meet with a sales person? What would cause you to invest a larger portion of your time in meeting with sales people? What do great experiences with sales people look like? (As I re-read that sentence, it seems a bit like an oxymoron.)

Don’t expect any great “Aha’s” or insights from what we learn in those discussions. We have known them for years, if not decades.

  • We don’t want sales people to waste our time.
  • We want sales people who know us, understand our business, our markets, our challenges.
  • We want sales people that know their products and how we get the greatest value from implementing them.
  • We want sales people who care about us and what we want to achieve, not just the PO.
  • We want sales people who can help us with the buying process. To help us think about things we may be overlooking or may not know.
  • We value those sales people that give us new ideas or help us think about our businesses differently.

It’s almost comical, if it weren’t so sad. What the customer wants has been obvious for decades. It’s not new, it hasn’t changed.

Yet since we fail to deliver what they want, they invest their time in other places, where they can get the help they want, more effectively and efficiently.

We can earn more time from customers. The answer is simple, we just give them the “selling experience” they value as part of their “buying experience.”

Our customers vote based on how they allocate their time. We know what we need to do to get them to vote for us, but that probably means doing a lot less of what we currently do, as well.

Go get your customers’ votes! You will set yourself apart from everyone else.

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