Why You Should Step Away From Your Keyboard and Pick Up the Phone

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on December 5, 2013
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A recent survey by Constant Contact shows that by far the two most popular small-business uses of mobile phones are social media and email marketing. Perhaps that’s because using digital tools for marketing purposes is an effective way to reach more prospects and deepen relationships with existing customers.

But entrepreneurs should also use their mobile phones to place actual calls, especially those who are trying to increase business-to-business sales, says Joanne Black, author of Pick Up the D*** Phone! How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently spoke with Black (pictured) for her take on why — and when — connecting with people the old-fashioned way is worth the extra the effort.

ISBB: What was your experience in the business world that inspired you to write this book?

Black: After more than 35 years of selling and managing sales teams, I was alarmed by the overdependence of salespeople on technology. While there are some great technology tools to help ease the sales process, people still buy from people. Contacts are not connections; relationships are connections.

Can you share a personal example that demonstrates the power of connecting face-to-face?

The challenge of every small business is to get a foot in the door before competitors know an opportunity exists. You can learn information about a prospect by researching online, but you don’t know what you don’t know. Knowledge comes from forming personal connections and asking questions — the smart, information-gathering, critical questions that uncover prospects’ real problems — which often turn out to be very different than the original concern (and perceived solution).

For example, I had a client who received an email from a potential vendor who knew all about his company’s impressive track record. Despite the fact that no one had met the salesperson (and the typical sales cycle at my client’s business with most new vendors was at least six months), the rep was prepared to close a six-figure deal in less than a month. Once my client and the salesperson met in person, however, it became clear that the real solution to my client’s needs could be found with an entirely different product from the same vendor. Ultimately, the deal was finalized. More importantly, the new vendor proved to be a trustworthy expert. In turn, that salesperson found a new future referral source in my client.

How do you suggest entrepreneurs shift to more personal interactions, particularly if their interactions to date are usually handled via email or social media?

The power of face-to-face will never be replaced by digital communication. But in this context, “face-to-face” means any communication that doesn’t include typing, which can be phone calls, video chats, or in-person meetings. The personal touch seals deals; you simply cannot accomplish that level of connection with email, marketing automation, or status updates.

Entrepreneurs who want to stand out from the competition must step away from their computers and meet face-to-face with every important client and prospect, especially when your competitors are spending their time playing around on LinkedIn, trying to identify the decision makers.

How can entrepreneurs integrate tech-based approaches and personal interactions to maximize their results?

Use technology to research prospects, share valuable information with customers, identify trigger events, and find out how you’re connected to prospects. Then, pick up the phone!

You acknowledge that most executives don’t have “meet with salesperson” at the top of their to-do lists. How can a small-business owner get his or her salespeople to stop depending on technology and focus on connecting?

When people are making big deals and spending real money, they don’t want to buy from machines. They buy from people and companies they like and trust. The only way to earn trust is with a personal connection and a referral introduction. Instead of buying lists and making reps cold call, entrepreneurs should set goals for their teams that support relationship building and referral selling, including attending business events and consistently meeting with top clients.

Research shows that the conversion rate of referred prospects to customers is at least 50 percent. In my experience working with and surveying salespeople, I find that it’s usually more like 70 to 90 percent, because referred clients are “presold”; people they trust have vouched for you.

That said, referral selling requires a proactive, disciplined strategy. It means committing to referral selling as the organization’s business-development priority, integrating referral selling into the sales process, establishing metrics, building referral skills, and implementing a referral plan. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer who brings more than a decade of experience in marketing and writing to her career as a full-time freelance writer and small business owner.

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