Technology is changing sales and marketing for the better. However, as Eric Bicknase explains, to fully realize these improvements, salespeople must determine the best ways to use these technologies in terms of communication, information, automation and personalization.
What does technology herald for the future of sales and marketing? Is it a tool for productivity or a digital wall separating salespeople from the customers they service? One thing is certain, short of apocalyptic outcomes, the pace of technological change will only move in one direction. Any effective sales strategy must assess its impact carefully, both in terms of technologies on the shelf today and what will be available in the next few years.
Technology should not cause sales and marketing teams to question their relevance. It should invite them to consider where they can add value, particularly as custodians of a company’s brand promise. It is also important to step back and appraise how technology may refocus salespeople and marketers and the overall contribution they make.
With technology comes great opportunities for automation, but as it becomes faster, easier and less expensive to contact customers, technology also introduces the risk that a clear articulation of value proposition may be diluted. As we integrate new technologies, equipment finance professionals must ask several questions.
How frequently should we communicate with clients and vendors?
This is a topic of never-ending debate. Some marketing departments and sales personnel feel it is important to continually push out content, whatever it may be, in hopes of staying “connected” with their audience. Others use electronic communication sparingly — only pushing out information of high value. Whatever your personal philosophy, it doesn’t hurt to stay faithful to the old adage “the customer is always right,” particularly when it comes to how they receive information.
Since there are many ways to contact a customer, it is important to reach out via their preferred method of communication. Some may favor an e-mail or phone call, while others like to be contacted through social media or web-based platforms. A customer is not compelled to do business with you, and in a world defined by choice, you only hurt yourself by denying them a voice in how you interact with them. That does not relieve you of the responsibility to initiate communication in a way that makes sense, however, and that requires fully understanding which audience you are communicating with.
For example, are you communicating with a customer or vendor? These are two very different categories. A mass e-mail focused solely on one may miss the mark and prove frustrating to the party with which you are attempting to connect. Luckily, most marketing automation tools allow you to pinpoint the messaging and timing and allow for further segmentation of communication to provide information of value to your intended audience. This tailoring capability is an example of successful technological integration with marketing and sales functions, but it is still not a substitute for human interaction.
How much information do we give clients and vendors?
Access to information is an area in which technology can be of great benefit to a company and its customers; however, there is a distinction between making information accessible and understandable. Before technology, the scarcity and expense of media drove a natural discipline in how each word or number was selected — newspapers were painstakingly edited and television advertising was expensive. The trick is to make information not only easy and fast to access, but also relevant, meaning the focus must be on controlling the company’s business needs — equipment finance is not a hobby.
When faithful to these principles, technology becomes a complement to — not a substitute for — sales, providing a level of speed and responsiveness which busy sales personnel are often unable to offer between running to meetings and catching up on correspondence. Having a robust system in place for quick access to relevant information will ultimately improve any relationship.
There is a final caveat here. Be careful not to use these systems to offload too much work on your customer. People do want convenience, but if they end up doing most of the tasks, they may begin to question the value of the business relationship.
Be a “cookie cutter” finance company or something different?
It is ironic that technology, while making us more digitally integrated, can also make customers feel personally disconnected. If we only communicate through automated e-mail or texts, or have systems in place in which a customer or vendor bypasses a sales manager, we lose the space to build rapport, understanding and trust. This leads to missing out on future business opportunities. Additionally, we may miss out on the chance to help educate a customer on new products or services or learn more to fully understand their needs. While the technological systems of today are highly efficient at taking and processing orders, they cannot replace the human connection — at least not yet.
It seems that we are nearing a fork in the road and we need to make some important decisions. Do we simply sit back and let technology take over, or do we work with it to help improve our efficiencies while still maintaining all that is good and enjoyable about business — personal interaction and relationships?
If you go into a McDonald’s, you will see it gives its customers several options for interaction and ordering. You can go to the counter, speak with a cashier and place your order, or you can use touchscreens and completely bypass the cashier. However, for all the newness and efficiency of the technology, McDonald’s still understands the value of the human connection. Even if you use a touchscreen, you take a number and your meal will be delivered to your table. This approach provides ease, speed and control for the customer, while also providing McDonald’s with the opportunity to personally interact with its customers. McDonald’s is introducing and blending technology into its business model perfectly while letting the customer choose what works best for them.
Over the last few years, human-to-human marketing (or H2H) has been gaining traction. With thousands of marketing and sales software solutions at our disposal, there has been a decided shift back to the days of one-on-one personalization. People have always bought from other people and this movement is simply a reminder that whether selling or buying, there is a human on the other side of the equation. By returning a focus to the human aspect of business, we can accomplish certain things that technology cannot.
As we continue to integrate technology into the marketing and sales space, it is important not to lose sight of why we are here in the first place — to successfully serve our customers’ needs, and in doing so, earn their repeat business. Technology has made the lives of sales personnel easier by taking over many of the basic processes including taking orders, providing information and effectively communicating to multiple audiences quickly. What it has yet to accomplish is the actual process of nurturing and maintaining relationships — building social connections.
By having human interaction, we build mutual trust and respect for one another. When people trust each other, they openly share ideas and needs without reservation — this is key to developing successful business relationships. In such a relationship, the customer benefits by having an avenue to successfully express business needs, while the salesperson benefits by having an opportunity to present the customer with solutions and programs which match those needs.
By listening to our customers, we as sales personnel can also help educate customers. We can help them understand how to leverage various forms of financing to successfully grow their business or improve their bottom line. This includes showing a customer how to conserve much needed capital for other business purposes and explaining how different finance programs can affect tax exposure. A close business relationship also uncovers potential additional equipment sales, which can lead to further financing opportunities.
Technology is, without a doubt, more integrated than ever in the sales profession and that is welcome considering the many benefits of automation. Perhaps in the future we will see new technologies, such as AI, begin to take on more of a supporting role in relationship building. However, the challenge for sales professionals and marketers is not that technology will replace us, but rather that it will exact new expectations on us to master new tools and ensure that we never lose sight of the customer need, company value proposition and brand promise. At the end of the day, it will always be people selling to, and buying from, other people.