Technology doesn’t close deals. Relationships do.

Rachel, a sales VP at a large technology company, was frustrated with her sales team. They weren’t even close to making quota. In fact, they were lagging by 27 percent. She knew 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, and you can guess the answer.

A sales leader in Europe needed the same splash of cold water. He complained 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.

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No matter how advanced and “intelligent” communications technology becomes, nothing replaces the original communication medium—face-to-face conversations. Yet, far too many 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? Not even close!

Your Relationships Are Your Competitive Advantage

Technology has improved many aspects of the sales process. It can help us research prospects, identify mutual connections (i.e., referral sources), and nurture our networks with relevant content. But it doesn’t close deals. To convert B2B prospects into customers, we must have conversations, ask smart questions, share valuable insights, and make meaningful connections.

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CEOs and sales leaders across industries tell me that their people routinely email and send text messages to clients, and then complain that they can’t reach their contacts. After all, they’ve followed up several times via email. Yet, when sales leaders tell these struggling reps to pick up the phone and have real conversations with prospects, they don’t do it.

That’s a problem, because buying decisions are still based on personal relationships. When I worked for a global consulting and training firm, we had an excellent system for debriefing sales situations and learning why clients decided to work with us. The number one reason was because they liked us. Multimillion dollar decisions were made because we developed relationships with our customers. 

There’s a saying among salespeople that customers buy with emotion and justify with fact. If prospects don’t like us or feel comfortable with us, they won’t buy from us. Research shows that you must get people to start liking you within the first few seconds of your relationship. An email won’t make that happen, but a trusted referral and a personal connection will. 

Clients Buy You

There’s no denying that today’s buyers are armed with plenty of information, and this has certainly changed the dynamic of client relationships. But information isn’t knowledge. Knowledge comes with wisdom, experience, and a clear vision of the big picture—not just the immediate problem at hand, which is often all our clients can see. They know they need “something,” but do they really know what that is? Not always. In fact, not usually. That’s why they need us. 

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

The challenge, then, is to balance the high-tech innovation that drives today’s business world with personal, high-touch relationships. It’s not technology versus humanity, and it’s not either/or. Consumers today want both. We’re not changing the need for humanity, just some of the requirements.

Message to Sales Leaders: Teach Them, Don’t Leave Them

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. But salespeople are only as good as their networks, and while you can make connections online, you can’t turn them into real relationships without conversations. I don’t care how many LinkedIn connections your salespeople have or how many prospecting emails they send. They will keep spinning their wheels until they learn how to engage clients in real sales conversations, until they stop typing and start talking.

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It’s not complicated to teach your salespeople how your products and services work. Teaching them how to conduct business conversations is more complex. It takes building skills, lots of practice, joint calling, feedback, coaching, and reinforcement. If you want your team to reach and exceed quota, you must invest time in teaching them how to build customer relationships, have valuable conversations with clients, and prospect through referrals. Then you reinforce that learning by demonstrating it for them. After all, as a sales leader, your biggest responsibility (and greatest measure of success) is making your reps into superstars.

Pick Up the Damn Phone Already

Salespeople must step out from behind the technology curtain, have real-world conversations, build networks of people who trust them and will help fill their pipelines with hot referral leads. It’s never too soon (or too late) to ask for referrals, to help someone, to contribute, to say thanks, or just to catch up. 

Whether you’re trying to close a deal or get a referral, pick up the damn phone and have a real conversation! Or better yet, catch a plane, train, or automobile and meet in person. If you don’t, someone else will. 

Note: This article was originally published in Top Sales Magazine. Download the February 2023 issue to read this article and more.

(Featured image attribution: Pixabay)