A positive customer experience is critical to a company’s brand and, ultimately, its bottom line. With the proliferation of technology and devices, the customer has become smarter and more powerful. Customers now decide when and how they want to interact with brands, which has had a direct impact on the way companies sell to their customers. While macro trends like social, mobile, cloud, big data and IoT are forging a new era of engagement, customers are ultimately becoming far more disruptive than the technology itself.

In response, we’re no longer talking about ‘lead to cash’ – we’re talking about ‘lead to advocacy’. The focus of business has shifted from simply driving more leads to driving the right leads, and from onboarding customers to delighting them throughout the entire customer lifecycle. That ‘delight’, while just one part of the equation, is the keystone to a process that drives loyalty, advocacy and a strong customer experience.

There is a lot more work to be done by businesses before they meet customer expectations though, according to respondents to Salesforce’s second annual State of Sales report. For instance, meeting customer expectations was listed as the top challenge of sales teams globally and for 34% of ANZ businesses.

Those ANZ respondents recognised decreased customer loyalty as the greatest associated risk (59%). Globally, the rise of ‘customer experience’ as the top KPI of sales teams attests to the importance placed on it. And for good reason – we know that customers are happy to switch brands in response to inconsistent customer experience.

We now also know what challenges we must overcome to gain and keep that loyalty – the major challenges to meeting customer expectations ANZ businesses cited were ‘desire for personalised experiences’ (36%), ‘expectation of 24/7 availability’ (35%) and ‘increasing sophistication of customer needs’ (33%).

But just 10% of ANZ sales teams say they consistently keep up with the changing expectations of customers and prospects, so how does a business go about staying on top of this?

At Salesforce we talk about the five ‘Enterprise Transformations’ that a good CRM gives you the power to make. But with the technology folded into today’s CRM offerings they apply just as comfortably to businesses of any size.

These transformations allow a business – enterprise, SMB or anywhere in between – to stay up to date with, and even ahead of, the expectations of their customer, allowing the brand to always surprise and delight rather than disappoint.

1. Artificial intelligence


AI brings personalisation and relevance to the customer experience by applying advanced analytics to sales and customer data. The data might be connected to purchase history – we know the likely next engagement of people who made similar purchases, or who downloaded a white paper, or who attended a specific event. We can than tailor our next interaction based on that knowledge – what better way to exceed a customer’s expectations than anticipating their needs?

This functionality, of course, relies on collecting accurate data, and lots of it – use opportunities presented by the internet of things and connect with your customer wherever they happen to be.

2. Speed


Intelligence at your fingertips is very powerful – it allows salespeople to interact with customers in real time and provide solutions quickly. And we know that customers don’t wait around – they simply go elsewhere if they don’t get the answers they need in good time.

3. Salesperson productivity


I've never met a salesperson who said they loved entering details into their CRM system! There’s a reason for this – more time doing admin tasks means less time with customers, less time building relationships and less time closing sales.

It’s possible to automate a lot of the interaction, and then use analytics to pick out the important information. And more time nurturing relationships means a better customer experience.

4. Mobility


Salespeople are at their best when they are out of the office spending time understanding customer needs, but not when they don’t have access to the customer information they need. They need to be mobile and to be able to access their CRM while they are on the road.

Information should be entered and available in real time, not after a full day of customer meetings – because (and do I really need to say this again?) having access to full and accurate client records is the only way to provide a seamless customer experience.

5. Team collaboration


Selling is no longer just for the sales department, it is now a team sport. The CRM system must be fully available and transparent for all departments so that knowledge and data can be shared and utilised across the business towards a single goal - providing the best experience for the customer.

If the sales team has access to information from marketing, about how and why the customer came to the business, it is so much faster and simpler to offer the right solution to the customer’s business challenge.

And, after the sale, the service team will also have access to the full customer history, which maintains a consistent experience throughout the entire lifecycle of a customer. A brand is able to build a value based relationship with their customers all the way from prospect through to long term advocacy. Download the State of Sales report today for more inights into how sales teams can meet the expectations of today's customers.

Tiffani Bova is Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist. She tweets at @Tiffani_Bova.