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Why sales people are right about human contact

I work with a lot of big companies to help them adopt or expand Internet marketing practices, and one group is often decidedly less enthusiastic than the others: the sales team. Sure, some of the other groups are nervous and possibly unsure of whether they can do it, but the in-person sales team is usually downright gloomy. Sales people often see the Internet as a direct threat to their livelihood. They often say that sales people are the human face that the company needs to keep its customer relationships strong. I want to talk to you today about how the sales team has the right instincts on this issue.


That might sound odd, coming from me, the big Internet marketing advocate, but hear me out. Rather than those of us who “get” the Internet looking down on those anachronistic flesh-pressing sales people, why can’t we try to understand what they know and learn from it?
Good sales people know something that many of us forget. Most customers don’t get very excited about buying from some faceless monolith with a logo stamped on the 40th floor of its glass corporate tower. Sure, we all buy from such companies all the time—that’s how they can afford the heating bill on that tower—but we don’t feel good about it.
And, in fact, if we look at that big company as just a pile of stock, we can very easily be persuaded to buy from someone else. In other words, the lack of human contact and the lack of real relationships erode customer loyalty. It takes very little to break the bond when there are no people involved.
On the other hand, customers often stick out tough times in a relationship just because they know that their sales rep is doing everything she can to fix what’s wrong. They are not loyal to Monolith Inc., they are loyal to Sheila because “she has always taken care of us.”
So, when you explain how the low-cost Internet sales channel will raise profits, lower customer frustration, and cure halitosis, sales people are understandably skeptical, because they can remember vividly how many times they saved the big account in a situation that no computer could handle.
It doesn’t have to be a standoff between the pointy-headed geeks without a practical bone in their bodies and the behind-the-times Luddites that are just protecting their own jobs. If we think about this a bit, we can figure out how to move forward in a way where everyone wins.
Even the most dyed-in-the-wool Internet geek has to admit that human relationships matter a lot in business. And the crustiest sales guy would concede that a lot of customers sure do like using the Internet for things that he used to handle. So, why can’t we make the Internet a tool that the sales person uses to advance customer relationships, rather than something that is an alternative to the sales person?
Customers want to be able to look at product information with no sales person around, because they want the low-pressure of browsing anonymously. But why can’t they press a button that alerts their sales rep when they have a question?
Sales reps want to be able to provide information to customers about things they might be interested in. Why can’t your company’s Web site show sales reps the material available (new product announcements, industry news, etc.) and let the sales reps choose which items show up in the customer’s newsletter?
When a customer calls customer service, why can’t sales reps get that information on their dashboard for that customer? If the problem is unresolved a bit too long, why can’t the sales person get an e-mail alert or a text message?
Look at your business and ask yourself if you’ve created a walled garden Web site, where customers are forced to choose whether they are using the Internet or using a human being whenever they do something. Do your sales people disavow knowledge of how your Web site works or whether the information on it is accurate? Are they secretly happy when customers complain about your Web site? If your Web site is on autopilot and the sales reps are just watching the plane fly, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
Ask yourself what steps you can take to convince sales people that the Internet is one of their selling tools. And what can you do to persuade Internet marketers that the sales team is their secret weapon to cement relationships?
The Internet does not have to be dehumanizing. Just make sure that your human beings are working through the Internet instead of around it.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing consultancy based in New York City. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar Eva

    Great points here, Mike. I’ve known a few companies that could survive if their website vanished but would die quickly if their top-performing sales person walked. A good sales person is worth listening to and learning from for any internet marketer. The more a website serves to facilitate sales-customer relationships, the better the conversion rates are.

  2. Avatar kaycee

    i agree.. the more a sales person is reliable, the more a website will become more successful. Customer service is important as well. great article mike, i learned a lot from it.

  3. Avatar Grand Turk Travel

    Great post 🙂 Being in sales myself & traveling a lot, I find that it is a bit challenging to convince other sales people of the power of Internet marketing. This is especially the case with older sales people.

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