Are you creating an experience that drives revenue and referrals?

“How much did you say that cost?” I asked the barista. I knew I heard him correctly, but I still couldn’t believe it was $5.50 for a cup of coffee—not a mocha, not a latte, not a cappuccino, just coffee. He told me that with a straight face—no smile, no welcome. In fact, he was rather rude. I just wanted a damn cup of black coffee. I walked.

This lackluster customer experience was in stark contrast to my recent experience flying with Delta. It was my first Delta flight in recent years. Usually, major airlines treat you like a number—unless you’ve flown zillions of miles with them—but this time, they made me feel like a real person.

I was racing to catch a connecting flight and arrived breathless at the gate. When I handed over my boarding pass, the woman said, “Welcome to Delta.” That’s just a little thing, but it made all the difference to me. Most travelers are rushed and harried. They’re running to gates and talking on their phones. This gate attendant knew the state of mind of her passengers and created a different experience. Most major airlines and other consumer businesses don’t recognize the power of a smile and a welcome.

Customer experience is the combination of people and product. You may love a product, but if the salesperson is pushy and in-your-face, didn’t understand what you needed, and never bothered to follow up, forget it. You can easily find a similar product elsewhere—just as I did with my coffee.

So, how do we translate that consumer smile to B2B sales? How do we welcome our clients and ensure they have a stellar experience? It’s called relationship selling.

Clients Will Pay for a Better Customer Experience

Tiffani Bova discussed the power of relationships in a powerful keynote presentation called “Customer Experience Is the New Battleground.” She explained that customers will remember the experience they had with a brand (or person) much longer than the price they paid.

My favorite quote from the presentation: “We need to get to the future before our customers do and welcome them when they arrive.”

Tiffani reminded us that growth is getting harder and customers are smarter. That’s even more true than it was when she gave the presentation in 2018. Back then, we weren’t in a pandemic-induced global recession.

Now more than ever, what differentiates us is creating a compelling experience that buyers will remember. It’s delivering the moment of “wow.” You do that when you commit to relationship selling—which means you care about your customers first and foremost. You learn about them personally and professionally. Your #1 goal is to ensure their experience is seamless through the entire sales process.

Need proof that customer experience is the great competitive differentiator? Check out this slide from Tiffani’s presentation and you’ll understand why relationship selling works. Bottom line: Customers appreciate it when you put people first and product second.

Everything and Nothing Has Changed

Tiffani reminded us that we don’t have a product problem. We have people and process problems. We’re not engaging clients today through every single step of the sales process. We need to change the paradigm to be more engagement-driven.

These remarks got me thinking. Have customers really changed? Are they truly smarter? I don’t think so, at least not in the traditional sense. But they’re certainly more informed, and that has changed much about selling.

Customers now have access to all kinds of software tools, online demos, predictive analytics, and social media platforms. For the most part, they have access to the same information that we do. After all, when was the last time you needed (or wanted) a salesperson to walk you through all the details about a product?

In my book, Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal, I discuss why everything and nothing has changed in the digital age. Everything has changed, except for the most important sales principle of all—people still buy from people. The customer experience is still #1.

For those of us who sell services or more complex business solutions, our buyers need more from us. They don’t need demos, but they do need real, live, experienced salespeople to help them wade through all the options and information and find the right product or solution for their businesses. They need choices and direction.

This means that we, as salespeople, must get to know our clients—not just their demographics and how they spend money online, but what they actually want and need from us.

(Image source: Tiffani Bova, “Future of Sales” report, Salesforce 2018)

It’s our job to ensure customers get the correct solutions for their business challenges. Great salespeople embrace relationship selling and know how to uncover the core issues plaguing clients so they can make the best recommendations. Clients want our points of view. They want to learn best practices, and they want to hear what doesn’t work.

Sales organizations that provide a relationship selling experience don’t have to worry about losing out to competitors. And salespeople who are trusted experts don’t have to worry about losing their jobs to AI anytime soon. In fact, demand for these folks will grow 10 percent or more in the coming years, according to Forrester.

But the demo-givers and ticket-takers might need to find a new line of work before long.

Give the People What They Want

People want the same great experience in their business as they have as a consumer. If we agree that the experience is what matters, then the buyer hasn’t changed. We’re the ones who must change.

(Image source: Tiffani Bova, “Future of Sales” report, Salesforce 2018)

Sure, you might have the perfect solution, but if you’re pitchy and pushy, forget it. Beyond that, you must deliver insights to clients, involve them in crafting solutions, advise them on what works and what doesn’t, and ensure you’re meeting their expectations every step of the way during the sales process. Then, you must ensure your implementation team and customer service teams are delivering the same exceptional customer experience.

That sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but that’s what it takes to create the kinds of experiences that modern buyers want and expect. When you can deliver that, you’ll have loyal clients who do more and more business with you, and provide business referrals to other great clients just like themselves.

In my book, that’s worth the effort. How about you?

Learn how referrals improve the customer experience and fill your pipeline with hot leads in my Q2 Virtual Referral Workshop Series.

This post was originally published on April 18, 2019 and updated May 7, 2020.