The relationship between sales and customers has changed dramatically. As a result, customer conversations are getting harder to manage. The salesperson was once in control, sharing exactly what the product/service could do for the customer without really asking about needs or wants. He or she got the customer to purchase the product and that was that.
Thanks to the information and technology we have at our fingertips, a customer-centric relationship has emerged, with customers recognizing they are in control.
Interactions now start with your customers long before the sales department ever gets involved. You have customers doing extensive research, discussing options with multiple decision makers, and determining whether your product or service matches with their company values and goals. What was once a few touch points has changed to a collaboration with the customer over months or even years. The linear open-and-closed transactional sale has evolved into a multidimensional, ongoing connection.
This changing dynamic has affected how sales conversations are conducted. Just like customer relationships, sales conversations used to seem pretty simple: a slap on the back, a round of golf, a martini lunch, and boom — a handshake. These conversations are now spread out across channels and departments.
Use a customer-centric CRM
With customer conversations happening everywhere, problems, such as the following, can arise if you use a traditional communication process:
- Scattered, unorganized conversations across channels
- Missing key information that was discussed with customers in other departments
- Inefficient use of time spent on finding emails, responding, etc.
When customer conversations aren't streamlined, it's more difficult to build quality relationships — the cornerstone for customer acquisition and retention.
Ditch the outdated database CRM (customer relationship management). Instead, choose a customer-centric CRM that has a conversational interface built for modern customer relationships. Look for features such as automatic recorded activity, automated prospecting, and email intelligence to allow you to organize, analyze past interactions, and quickly respond to conversations.
Use your CRM with the following four strategies to effectively manage the customer conversation and create quality relationships:
1. Have customer conversations on the right channels
Everyone uses a variety of channels to communicate with one another — according to a Loudhouse report, 63% of customers expect it from businesses, too. We also now expect nearly immediate responses thanks to social media. Using the right channels helps with both prospecting and customer nurturing.
To make it easy for customers to reach you, be available on multiple channels:
- Live chat
- Social media
Different types of interactions will require different channels. To choose the best modes of communication for your business, consider audience demographics, the complexity of your product or service, and the number of time-sensitive requests you receive. With this information, you can determine where your customers feel most comfortable chatting.
If your customers consistently use email, make sure you are collecting and analyzing all email conversations. With Sell, all lead and contact-related messages are automatically logged and recorded, regardless of whether they’re sent via your inbox or the Sell platform. You can also analyze email behaviors to see what messages customers are opening and responding to.
When possible, each channel should each be integrated on one platform so you have a holistic view of the customer. Be aware of what's going on across channels to help exceed customer expectations and increases customer satisfaction.
2. Engage in customer conversations proactively
Customers like to feel valued. If they have to remind you about a question or wait a long time just to receive a reply, the relationship is going to be in jeopardy.
Think of it this way: Don't make the customer reach out to you (reactive). Reach out to them. Use social media to answer common industry questions or respond to a comment made in an email. Track customer activity and provide quick, quality responses to conversations. Sure, don't be creepy with your efforts (“Hi, I saw you were looking at our dashboard page for 10 minutes. Can I help you?”), but use conversations as a way to proactively reach out.
For example, social media is a way to proactively interact both with current customers and with prospects. Consider Twitter. Customers consistently take to this platform to talk either positively or negatively about products or services. If they are talking negatively about your company, ask how you can help, or offer problem-solving resources.
If a potential customer is on Twitter asking questions about a topic in your industry, start a conversation. Show you're listening. Offer quality answers and resources to solve their pain points. If the customer follows you, send a private DM to share contact info. Don't make a hard sell, but create a positive experience right out of the gate to hopefully convert them later on.
3. Balance automation with human touch
Ah, automation. It has made our lives so much easier; we can now quickly perform mundane tasks (e.g., collecting data) that once took significant time to complete.
But automation should complement human interaction, not eliminate it. Automated communication can often feel impersonal to the customer. In fact, according to the PwC Future of Customer Experience Survey, 75% of customers in all countries actually want more human interaction.
Particularly when dealing with difficult problems, customers want to talk with a real person and receive empathy. Use this desire to your advantage. Create a communication strategy around automation and the human touch. Automate tasks that waste time and won't affect the customer relationship:
- Sorting emails
- Setting up appointments
- Basic FAQ
Next, look at areas where customers often get stuck or need consultation. Skip the automation at these points, and ensure that your reps are there to offer personal assistance.
Take AI chatbots as an example. AI chatbots can be automated until the customer reaches a certain question. Maybe the customer has a question about your company's dashboard. He or she asks for help through the bot, which directs the customer to the right FAQ page. But if the customer then asks how they can upgrade, the chatbot directs to a rep who receives a notice and jumps in to offer personalized answers.
Your goal should be to create a communication strategy that is efficient and creates an amazing customer experience.
4. Focus on current customer conversations
Customer conversations are going on across departments, including marketing and support. And according to the Loudhouse report, 50% of respondents expected their service rep to have knowledge of their previous interactions with the company.
It's your job to know what's being said, even outside the sales department. Your CRM should track conversations across channels and departments, allowing you to identify opportunities for customer retention and upsells through current conversations.
Not having a pulse on what's being discussed can result in lost opportunities to help and to impress the customer. You also give the customer the impression that messaging is not aligned. In fact, according to a LinkedIn State of Sales survey of 1,009 salespeople and buyers, nearly half reported often or always experiencing different messaging from sales and marketing teams.
Let's say that your customer service rep receives a question about your corporate purchasing program.
The support rep may not know who to send the request to in the sales department. Or maybe it gets lost amid a stack of emails. Whatever the case, you have now missed an opportunity to start a conversation that could have led to a purchase.
By using a system that integrates support tickets with sales, you ensure that no opportunities to prospect or close a deal are missed. You also ensure that communication is seamless for the customer. Sales knows what support is saying, and vice versa.
Put your customers first in conversations
The relationship between sales and customer has changed — you should too. The transaction is no longer open and shut, but an ongoing conversation between the customer, sales, marketing, and support.
If you are using an outdated process, choose a CRM and strategies that focus on the customer. After all, they are the most important part of your business. As you have meaningful, quality conversations with the customer, you create strong customer relationships and provide a competitive advantage for your company.