Modern sales organizations are investing a large sum of time and resources in sales enablement and customer experience. Essentially, these two trending sales priorities represent the art and science of sales. Sales enablement focuses on sales growth and process improvement through system-driven efficiencies. Customer experience addresses the value, ROI and emotional satisfaction we deliver to customers. It is important to recognize the distinction. While sales enablement software and platforms have a supporting role in improving the customer experience, expecting sales enablement alone to drive exceptional customer experience is a recipe for failure. Soft skills (such as communication and relationship-building skills) and the delivery of benefits (as defined by the customer) are the essential ingredients of sales and the foundation upon which we build exceptional customer experiences.
There is a significant gap between what will positively drive your customer experience and the benefits you seek from technology-driven sales enablement. Technology can provide valuable data for road maps to success. It can improve efficiency and response time, which certainly impact the customer experience. But the customer experience is about more than improved efficiency. It is about the total package you deliver. It includes how you make the customer feel, the degree to which you drive success and ROI for the client, and the amount of trust and confidence you cultivate in the process. None of these results are possible without extensive insight and a strong relationship with the customer. Ultimately, sales professionals and their soft skills will drive the customer experience – or not.
Consider Thomas Keller’s upscale Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry. The establishment boasts a three-star Michelin rating and an average dinner price of $350 per person, excluding wine. You’d better believe this business is all about the customer experience. What experience warrants this price point? Quality and rarity of the food and wine, exemplary service, exceptional atmosphere, and exclusive clientele. A shortcoming in any of these areas would undermine the entire customer experience and the perceived value.
What if you splurged on dinner at The French Laundry and your server was uninformed about the food and wine offerings, ill-mannered, uncommunicative, or indifferent to your satisfaction? How much would you enjoy the experience or tolerate the price tag? This void in the value proposition would ruin your customer experience. Yet, in B2B sales, companies and sales professionals often do not understand the impact that these soft skills can have on their customer experience and their business. While an extreme example like The French Laundry helps illustrate the point, exemplary communication and relationship-building skills are imperative if sales professionals are to rise above the competition to deliver full value and an optimal customer experience.
At the other end of the customer experience spectrum, contact marketing is causing a great deal of counterproductive noise. Email has become the new cold call and junk mail, all rolled into one. The average professional receives 121 emails daily and considers almost 50% of them to be spam. In addition, 86% of professionals prefer email for communication, and the average person sends about 40 emails per day. While email has its place in conducting business, it is not a means to cultivate customer relationships or to differentiate ourselves and our solutions to customers.
Companies are increasingly realizing the strategic value of differentiating themselves with superior customer experiences and are putting in place resources, skills and processes to facilitate success on this front. They cannot deliver a superior customer experience without a strong and productive relationship with the customer.
What does that kind of relationship look like? It starts with communication – first and foremost to understand and, later, to share insight, educate and influence. It includes collaboration with customers to develop the best solutions as well as the ability to hold high-level conversations and be interesting. It is a relationship that features trust, credibility, rapport and respect. Also important is likability; even in a digital and automated world, people still buy from people they like. These kinds of relationships are built with interpersonal soft skills, which need to be part of the skill set of every individual on your team.