‘Social selling’ doesn’t mean ‘never using the phone’, but it has become an excuse. And it’s affecting customer experience and the bottom line.

There has been an insidious trend in the past four years in professional selling. It is a misinterpretation of the term 'social selling' – salespeople spend too much time performing non-selling tasks, sprinkled with researching and grooming their social networks. At the same time, more and more salespeople are treating the phone like it's covered with spiders, while their digital outreach gets blocked or lost in the wall of white noise confronting potential customers every time they log in.

Many sellers have become passive, but sales is a proactive process that needs to align with the buyer’s journey. The very best sellers understand this and invest in creating brilliant customer experience across multiple channels of engagement, with an initial goal of human-to-human interaction over the phone.

The very best sellers are proactive in aligning with and anticipating the buyer’s needs as the buyer progresses through their own journey. The phone remains as the most powerful ‘social selling’ tool of all time and must be an integral part of any sales process where social and phone, methodology and process, people and technology, LinkedIn and CRM, all come together in the right combinations to drive results.

A recent report published by Salesforce highlights the fact that the way we sell is far more important than what we sell. This is because creating awesome customer experience through flawless sales and marketing execution is without doubt the biggest point of difference for every business.

The State of Sales report is based on a survey of more than 3100 sales professionals from around the globe. Here is my summary:

  • Customers are more empowered, and are taking control of their research and buying process like never before. The result is that many suppliers are treated as commodities or dragged through expensive sales processes only to 'make up the numbers' to create competitive tension.

  • Buyers have high expectations and dismiss those who fail to research, prepare and execute in a way that does not provide value at every step of their process.

  • Customers are demanding responsive and personalised experiences yet most sales teams continue to be slow and inefficient. Top sales teams, on the other hand, are responding by investing in customer experience, redefining their success metrics by focusing on inputs rather than just results, creating collaborative extended teams, adopting a mobile mindset, embracing social and advanced technologies, and investing in training and sales enablement for their sellers.

  • The sales leaders are moving ahead of their competition by embracing intelligent technologies that can automate and simplify the sales process but in a way that avoids clumsy mass-spamming. Context and relevance in every engagement is key. The best are adopting capabilities such as predictive intelligence, guided selling and artificial intelligence to streamline processes and drive customer success.

  • Aligning with the buyer's journey and creating exceptional customer experiences is the primary focus of the leading companies. They deliver on this with transparent collaboration across the whole business to support the entire customer lifecycle. Collaborating across departments is ‘absolutely critical’ or ‘very important’ to the overall sales process and success of 73% of sales professionals.

  • Collaborative sales strategies extend beyond internal teams — 76% of high-performing sales teams rate their collaboration between partners and customers/prospect as ‘outstanding’ or ‘very good’. Bringing sales, marketing, service and support together has never been more important.

  • Sales teams are finding the most success when they blend personal interactions with technologies that scale. While in-person engagement remains the top communication channel for connecting with customers, the leaders are also providing content-driven lead nurturing and self-service channels. This is especially important when buyer/seller timing is not aligned.

  • Despite the focus on customer-centricity, most salespeople are still bogged down by administrative tasks that take them away from customers – spending an average of 64% of their time on non-selling tasks. The challenge to all sales leaders is to provide the training, tools and culture that maximise productive selling time.

  • What was once considered futuristic tech that can potentially transform the sales process is now within reach. Triple-digit growth is expected for sales teams’ adoption of artificial intelligence (139%), predictive intelligence (118%) and automated lead-to-cash processes (115%) over the next three years.

2017 is clearly the year of customer experience, driven by a powerful ‘sales and marketing stack’ as AI begins to deliver game-changing predictive analytics and automatic sales coaching. The State of Sales report provides insights every seller should use to transform the way they find, win and keep their customers go to market and grow customers.