Every decent salesman or woman believes that given enough time, he or she can sell anything to anyone. But it may soon be a lost art. The problem now is they just don’t have enough time. Years ago, many marketing departments were little more than sales support for an army of reps who knocked on doors, traveled state to state, wined, dined, golfed and entertained. Today, sales force numbers are a fraction of what they once were at many companies, with marketing, branding and digital tools replacing face-to-face contact. One study estimates that we now have 95% less human interaction in business than we had 30 years ago.
Perhaps the single greatest myth about social media marketing is that it replaces actual human contact with more effective virtual communication. After all, 27 Likes on my post last month must mean something, right? It might, but customer relationships measured by Like buttons are tenuous at best.
The growth of digital communication and devices have dramatically broadened the reach of marketers. Face-to-face meetings and one-to-one phone calls have been substantially replaced with email blasts, blog posts, and tweets. Traditional direct mail is declining, but still prevalent, and advertising dollars are growing slowly and are shifting to the digital realm. But actual human interaction is at an all time low.
So the Internet does indeed allow us to spin our own world wide web, but while our reach has been significantly expanded, in many cases the depth of our interactions is much shallower than ever. Ironically, the digitization of salesmanship has made building a strong brand more important than ever. Business relationships that were once defined by the Willy Lomans of the world are now defined by relationships with the brand, which contain a much smaller measure of human interaction than in the past, and a much higher number of brand “touches,” often of the digital variety.
None of this is meant to be a lament for days of yore. There is a new formula for selling that is dependent on new tools and less person-to person. But the balance is still critical. Here are some suggestions to maximize the value of your customer and prospect relationships using the newest tools and some of the oldest.
1. Count your emails. Most marketers I encounter can’t answer this simple question: How many mass emails does a typical customer or prospect receive from you in a year? They don’t know because it’s a lot, it’s decentralized, and there is no comprehensive planning for who is sending what. There’s a better than average chance that your company doesn’t need to send more email to be effective; you might be better off sending fewer that are more carefully planned around your brand message and sales goals.
2. Make your human interactions count. Where are the places that people still have contact with people in your business? Are your employees who have this contact trained to deliver the brand experience that you want your customers to have? This goes far beyond the basics of being polite and helpful. It means delivering on a brand promise that may have been built up over dozens of web visits and emails. Real human moments have become precious. Be sure to make the most of them.
3. Take a page from the Apple playbook. Is it just a coincidence that Apple’s tremendous growth in the last decade is directly correlated with the growth of their branded retail outlets? Even if you not an admirer of the Apple brand, visit one of their stores and look at the tremendous engagement people have with the products and with the Apple Associates who are highly trained to deliver a positive experience. Apple has dramatically increased their human interaction, which includes easy access to real people before you buy their products as well as afterwards when you are learning how to use them more effectively. At a time when most companies are spending less face time, and more Facebook time, Apple is going the other way. So is it ironic that Apple has no Twitter account and only a bare minimum of a Facebook presence? Or is it just smart? Are you listening, Zuck?
At a time when our personal and professional lives are being filled with clicks and bytes, reply alls and bandwidth, delivering a powerful brand experience is more important than ever. And while human interaction plays a diminished role, it can still be a powerful tool in building a brand and making the sale. At the same time, manage your digital outreach for quality, not quantity, and your customer relationships will benefit.