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Stop Buying Digital Snake Oil for Your Account Based Sales Team

Has digital communication killed traditional sales techniques?

A sales VP was frustrated with her account based sales team, as they relied almost exclusively on technology for generating sales leads. Their outreach took too long. They spent plenty of time on social media and sent tons of emails, but they rarely reached actual decision-makers. She finally asked her team: “Did you ever close business over email?” Well, that was a splash of cold water.

A colleague of mine in Europe needed the same splash of cold water. He complained to me that his prospect in Paris had arranged a meeting with all the key decision-makers, but the prospect had only given him four days’ notice. My colleague thought it was rather presumptuous of the prospect to ask him to drop everything and hop on a plane. Plus, the cost of last-minute airfare was astronomical.

I had heard enough. I told him to buy the damn ticket … immediately. The chance to get all the decision-makers in one room was worth the inconvenience and the extra money. He went, and as you might have guessed, he closed the business. He also built powerful new relationships.

No matter how advanced and “intelligent” communications technology becomes, nothing replaces the original communication medium—in person. Today, many account based sales teams depend on email, texts, and social media for generating sales leads. It’s easier and faster than old-school sales techniques. But is it as effective? Nope! In fact, new research shows it’s not even close.

Email vs. Face Time? No Contest 

According to new research from Cornell University and Western University, a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email ask. One of the researchers, Vanessa K. Bohns, summarizes their findings in a recent Harvard Business Review article. She writes: 

Imagine you need people to donate to a cause you care about. How do you get as many people as possible to donate? You could send an email to 200 of your friends, family members, and acquaintances. Or you could ask a few of the people you encounter in a typical day—face-to-face—to donate. Which method would mobilize more people for your cause? 

Despite the reach of email, asking in person is the significantly more effective approach; you need to ask six people in person to equal the power of a 200-recipient email blast. Still, most people tend to think the email ask will be more effective.

In research Mahdi Roghanizad of Western University and I conducted, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we have found that people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication. (Read the rest of the article.) 

There you have it. Whether account based sales reps are asking for referrals or persuading prospects to become clients, face time is crucial. At the very least, salespeople should pick up the damn phone or jump on a video call. The key is to be talking, not typing.

Get Back to Basics

Has selling really changed in the last decade? Well, sure. Social media, marketing automation, and sales technology have cast doubt on traditional sales techniques and made all our connections digital. A whole generation of salespeople have entered the workforce, many of whom only know how to communicate with prospects through mass mailings, tweets, and status updates.

I’m here to tell you that kind of thinking is fatally flawed. As much as sales has changed, closing deals hasn’t changed one bit. People still do business with people. Relationships still rule in sales. And face time still matters as much as it ever did.

I don’t care how many connections your salespeople have on LinkedIn or how many prospecting emails they send. They will keep spinning their wheels until they learn that real connections are what count in sales. That means developing the skills or proficiency to engage clients in real sales conversations and then making the effort to stop typing and start talking.

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