The New Customer: Your Evolving Role In Web Sales

Salespeople are used to being in the driver’s seat in their customer relationships. No more.

If you’re a sales professional (or your job involves selling at all), you’re used to holding the keys to the castle: product or service information, and referrals/testimonials. You may have had a stack of phone messages to return from prospects, and you were in demand at trade shows and other industry meeting.

But something happened, and that “something” was the advent of the internet. Email. Social media. Blogs and other message forums.

Unless you’re brand new to the profession, you’ve probably already sensed this. Prospects and customers alike come to you with a different set of questions. Instead of:

What are the safety ratings for this vehicle?

What kinds of documents is this printer appropriate for?

What can you tell me about the neighborhood where this house is located?

…you’re getting:

Your competitor’s vehicle has a higher safety rating, and there have been numerous complaints. What can you tell me about that?

I’ve narrowed my decision down to three options, and your reviews have been mixed on two of them. Some users say that the speed tests on the third – the one I want – have not been represented accurately. Are there benefits that would outweigh that?

We’re interested in this house, but two other houses you’re selling are going for less, and their square footage is more. Why is that? And why has this house been on the market for 72 days?

You get the idea. People are talking, and for the most part, they’re being brutally honest about their experiences with your products or services.

You need a new approach with today’s savvy customers. They’ve already been to your website to learn about what you’re selling. They’ve checked your Twitter feed and consulted search engines to look for complaints. Your blog is effective enough that you get lots of comments (some of which may be the result of uninformed or impatient consumers or businesses), and your prospects have read them.

Facebook – well, Facebook is Facebook. It’s not usually the best venue for product information, so your prospects don’t usually turn to it for technical specifications or other product fact sheets, but your name may come up if someone has had a particularly good or bad experience.

So how do you function successfully in the wake of all of this good and bad, true and untrue information that’s out there for everyone to see?

  • Beat your online visitors to the punch. This may mean getting up a half hour earlier some days just to visit online sites that may mention you. Search frequently for your own company name and/or set up Google Alerts with a variety of keywords to track down. Add the words “complaints” and “reviews” to your company name to see if there’s a storm brewing. Know what you might be walking into before you encounter customers.
  • Focus on benefits. Your prospects already know the “what.” Be ready to tell them about the “why.”
  • Give them something to talk about. Keep your online presence fresh, lively, and informative. Signal your interest in their feedback, and provide how-to’s and other helpful content to reduce the negative comments.
  • Be human. Put a face – or several – on your company. People respond to openness and honesty.

Forewarned is forearmed, indeed, when you’re dealing with 2014’s well-informed customer.