Both the data an our experiences show this, customers are spending less time with salespeople. Seller reactions are what we might expect. We read of customers, in a buying process, spending no more than 17% of their time with all sales people–us and our competitors. We see customers choosing, increasingly, rep-free buying experiences.
These have created a frenzy of activity on the part of sellers, how do we get the customers to spend more time with us? We are driven for more meetings, more pitches, more demos—even though much of that customers can get more effectively through other means.
I get it, but at the same time I don’t.
Forgive me, but this post may be a little rambling, I just wanted to think out loud about the issue of time spent with customers.
Part of me thinks, “Why should customers be spending time with sales people?” They are continuing to buy, and they are getting the information they need to make decisions. We have whole strategies oriented around “sales free,” or minimal sales involvement with things like PLG strategies in certain categories of SaaS. If the customers are getting the information they need and are buying, why do we care about the time spent with sellers? It might even suggest we need fewer sellers to accomplish the same thing? (Just file this away for a moment, I’ll come back later.)
I always am intrigued about our reactions to the fact that customers are choosing to spend less time with sellers. Our reaction is to do more of what we have been doing in the past. But if those activities are no longer important to customers, how does a response to up the volume of outreaches change the fact that customers no longer find those meetings with sales people necessary? If anything, it might provoke a more negative reaction. Thinking like a customer, one might say, “Why do they keep bothering me, I already have what I need…….”
We seem driven to measure our potential success by the amount of time we spend with each customer making a buying decision. We seem to think, the more time a customer spends with us is an indicator of their interest in us. And we do have supporting research indicating that customers tend to spend more time with their preferred vendor than the others.
But maximizing the amount of time we spend with each customer in a buying situation should not be the real objective. Instead, we should be focused on maximizing the impact of each interaction we have with our customers. How do we maximize the experience and value we create with each interaction?
The time customers spend with sellers should be focused on things they cannot get through any other channel or source. For example, translating the general information they might get digitally, to specific impact on the customer and what they are trying to achieve. Or translating general risks/issues to specific things they should be concerned about and how they should manage them.
Some years ago, our company started a concerted effort to reduce the amount of time we spent with each customer/opportunity. We took a design thinking approach to determining how we worked with customers. Could we provide customers the information they needed, directly or indirectly, to help them learn the things they needed to know. Perhaps we could have them talk to other people, perhaps we could provide materials, research, or other things that would help them.
We chose to focus our time on doing the things that customers could not do without meeting with us. We, also, redesigned our approach to each meeting with the customer, maximizing what both the customer and we achieved in that meeting. Part of this was to collaborate with the customer in a way that made us each much more purposeful in each meeting.
Customers loved this–and it increased our success in engaging them. We, each, were using our time much more effectively. We, mutually, found we could get more accomplished in less time, freeing them to do other things. This also freed us to chase more opportunities with each customer.
Counter to what we may have been taught, or may believe, the amount of time we spend with customers is not the most critical issue. We want to make sure our customers can get the information they need, the guidance they need to make a great decision–whether it comes from us or through digital sources. We want to help make them as efficient and effective as possible. Where we want to focus our efforts is on the things they can only get through well designed interactions with sellers. It’s less the hours or number of meetings we invest, but the impact of that time the customer invests with us.
We need to shift our mindsets around the time customers invest with us:
- Maximizing the impact we have for each hour the customer chooses to spend with us, is far more important than the hours the customer spends.
- Addressing issues that only sales people can address, that customers cannot understand through any other channel than with sales people, is our best use of our customers’ time. (Implicit in this is very deep understanding of the customer, their business priorities, challenges, what they are trying to achieve, and the specific risks to achieving those things.
Doing this well, enable us to invest the “right amount of time,” with each customer and frees us up to pursue more opportunities with others.