Bringing Back the Art of the Customer Conversation

In today’s automated world, what can sales and support leaders do to bring back the art of the 1-to-1 conversation? During her keynote at Opentalk 2016, Emmanuelle Skala, VP of Sales at Influitive, suggested five steps support and sales leaders take to help rebuild the meaning of personal customer conversations.

1. Treat everyone like a customer from the first touch

“I believe that a sales professional needs to treat everyone like a customer on the first touch. Not a prospect, nobody wants to be ‘prospected.’ People want to feel valued and so they need to act as if it was already a paying customer.

The first thing that you can do to achieve this is to change your sales process into a buying process. We tend to use words in sales, like a ‘close plan’ and ‘negotiation’ and ‘discovery.’ These are very self-serving words, words that we, as salespeople, care about. I suggest that you flip them. So instead of talking about a ‘close plan’ talk about a ‘success plan,’ instead of ‘discovery’ call it ‘learning.’ As a buyer, I don’t feel like I’m in discovery, I feel like I’m learning. As a buyer, I don’t feel like I want a demo, I want to better understand what my other options are. So simply changing the language, it’ll force your reps to think more like buyers.”

2. Co-create your solution with the customer pre-sale

“This is something I feel really passionate [sic] about, and it means that in sales, we actually need to start being part sales and part customer support. We actually have to start co-creating our solution or the vision before they become a paying customer. As an example, something that my team at Influitive does, we create advocate marketing programs. We help businesses get all of their customers to become raving fans so they can get some movement and create a buzz in the marketplace. Some of the things that we do pre-sale, we come up with a name for the program, we come up with types of campaigns that they could run. We actually do that pre-sale, even though that’s a post-sale activity. But when you co-create pre-sale, you are creating the environment of successful customers right from the beginning.

Another idea, as a sales leader, is going to the support team and saying ‘give me your content!’ and asking ‘what are you telling our customers post-sale?’ As a sales leader, I need to weave that into the sales process much more up front. Again, because we own that experience and that customer lifetime value.”

3. Pick up the phone

“I can’t even tell you how many times I have to tell my reps just to pick up the phone. Stop the email, stop the Slack, stop the texting! I actually had a rep tell me he was closing a deal over text and I responded, ‘Oh that’s great, but there’s things you’re not going to be able to learn about the process over text.’ It is absolutely critical that we bring back the phone.

As leaders, we have to do that and honestly, the best way to do that is to change the metrics. We as sales organizations have become so email-centric, because there’s so many new technologies out there to automate every email you could possibly send. I have reps who spend an hour crafting the perfect email when A.) who’s going to read it? and B.) You can have any kind of conversation, you can’t learn from an email. So you have to change your metrics. You have to start measuring number of dials, talk time, especially the new generation, you have to force them to use the phone. But you also have to remember, this is a skill that is not well honed. Because they haven’t been taught as kids to use the phone.”

4. Focus on the quality of the conversation

“It’s not just important to have more conversations and have more dials, it’s also important to focus on the quality of those conversations. And the great thing about technology is that we can record calls, we can give comments on calls, we can annotate and use our training to do that. We can actually use video calls and try and create a little bit of a more personalized environment from that.

So there is technology that is gonna help us to really leverage the quality of those conversations. So I really urge you to not only invest in the technology that allows you to have those conversations, but spend the time investing on enhancing that conversations. If you’re not already listening to recorded calls or have the ability for people to dial in and listen remotely, if you’re not using that data for feedback instantly and teaching them how to get better, you have to make an investment in it. Remember, a generation of people who are starting in our workforces have not been trained on how to have phone calls, it is not innate. Our workforces don’t know how to. As businesses, we have to invest in training them. It sounds silly, but I invest in training my reps on phone calls. You have to go as far as training them on those first few words that they say, you have to record, listen, and make that investment.”

5. Compensate for customer loyalty/growth/advocacy

“Sales professionals are compensated on the win, on the closed deal. I’m challenging you to ask your sales leaders and ask them to compensate your sales reps on things that are measurable for the long term. Not that short term win, not the drive by. Things that are going to show long term customer value. That might be loyalty, or growth, or customer advocacy, or something that shows long term. I believe that the sales professional needs to be focused not on the short term, but the long term.

At Influitive, we do advocate marketing, we create advocates, so obviously we believe in this. But, I comp my reps on advocacy. When a rep closes a deal, they have a very long tail of things that they get compensated for that show advocacy. Every time a customer is an advocate, and we have a lot of ways of measuring this, they get compensated on that. It’s a radical departure from just compensating reps on closed business, but it allows them to think about the importance of the long term value of the customer relationship rather than the short term.”

Progressive sales and support leaders use Lessonly to encourage and enable best practices around topics like the customer conversation. If you’re headed down the path toward a better customer journey, take the next step with a self-guided tour of Lessonly’s team learning software today.

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