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Today’s connected, information-savvy customers are quietly leading a revolution. And the traditional sales-pitch could be one of the first big casualties.

Our latest research report, The State of the Connected Customer, suggests UK consumers aren’t looking for the hard sell – instead, they want to work with trusted sales reps, who use the data they’ve shared to understand and anticipate their needs, through consistent, personalised interactions.

In fact, a massive 73% of UK consumers agree it’s very important or critical that salespeople they interact with are focused on their needs, not just making a quick sale.

And the stakes are high. UK consumers are increasingly able – and willing – to abandon companies that fail to deliver the kind of selling experience they expect:

  • 70% of UK consumers agree that technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere
  • Nearly one in two UK consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t anticipate their needs

The rise of the connected customer

Being connected – to the internet, and to each other – is empowering customers like never before. With constant, mobile access to websites, comparison and review sites and social media, they’re driving their own buying journeys, and deeply influencing the journeys of their peers.

This is true whether customers are buying for themselves, or for their business. In fact, 77% of all UK customers surveyed – both consumers and business buyers – say technology keeps them more informed about product choices than ever before.

These modern, connected customers own the lion’s share of the purchasing process – and when they do finally speak to a sales rep, they expect them to be equally switched on. 78% of UK customers agree it’s at least very important that the salespeople they work with have intimate knowledge of their product or service offering, and 81% that they don’t try to sell them products they don’t need.

  • 77% say it’s absolutely critical or very important that salespeople treat them or their company as a valued customer.

Living up to these growing expectations means making ever smarter use of their data during sales interactions.

The connected customer’s data expectations

When customers share data, they expect something in return – better informed, simpler sales experiences. Indeed, the overwhelming majority (more than seven out of ten) UK customers say it’s very important or absolutely critical that salespeople understand their preferences, needs, and existing relationship.

Some companies are already getting this very right...

Delivering on customer expectations – smarter sales at Aston Martin

Every Aston Martin is unique – just like their customers. Despite having 150 dealers across over 40 countries, the manufacturer had no unified way of viewing customer data. Their ageing customer database was only open to 10 people – but all this changed with the deployment of Sales Cloud.

Dr Andy Palmer, president and CEO, says:

“With Salesforce, we can discover new insights into customer behaviour and our brand that will accelerate growth.” 

Combining Sales Cloud with their personalisation service ‘Q’, dealers can now provide bespoke vehicles faster, as well as share customer preferences with fellow dealers to help personalise sales even further. Aston Martin also plans to use Sales Cloud to capture customer passions – to further personalise relationships, and provoke a stronger emotional connection with the brand.

Sales as part of the customer journey

Bringing data into your sales interactions is increasingly crucial, but it’s only half the battle.

Customers rarely think of sales as a discrete business function. They view interactions they have – be it with a marketing email, a sales rep, or a service agent – as an interaction with the same, single organisation.

To really deliver on the connected customer’s expectations, conversations with sales must be part of a series of personalised, consistent experiences, that run throughout their journey with your brand: 

  • 4 out of 5 UK customers expect companies to provide a consistent experience, wherever they engage with them.

Delivering on customer expectations – consistent experiences at Virgin Media

As a provider of broadband, TV, mobile and home phone, Virgin Media is a great example of a multi-faceted business aligning sales interactions with the buying journey.

Virgin Media sees millions of sales interactions every year, and for the buying journey to go smoothly, these interactions must be consistent and informed.

Having implemented Salesforce in late 2015, Virgin can now deliver a seamless customer experience across all assisted channels (i.e. web store to contact centre). Service Cloud has also made all previous engagements visible to sales agents, enabling them to provide a tailored experience based on services or products viewed by the prospect. 

This move allows sales agents to trace the prospect’s buying journey from start to finish, giving them the information they need to more successfully spot and convert opportunities wherever they present themselves.

The expectation gap – B2B vs B2C

Our research suggests that if you’re a business selling to businesses, you’ve got to work even harder to ensure your sales interactions match up to the connected customer’s demands.

In almost all the areas we’ve discussed, UK business buyers are more demanding of their sales experiences than UK consumers…

  • 75% of UK consumers say working with someone who has intimate knowledge of their product or service offerings is absolutely critical or very important vs 81% of UK business buyers
  • 74% of UK consumers say working with someone who treats them as a valued customer is absolutely critical or very important vs 82% of UK business buyers
  • 64% of UK consumers say working with someone who understands their preferences or needs is absolutely critical or very important vs 82% of UK business buyers

And those expectations are set to grow over the next four years…

Get ready to meet tomorrow’s expectations

The UK’s connected business buyers aren’t just using the latest technology to empower themselves, they’re expecting the companies they buy from to make good use of it too – and simplify sales and services.

In fact, more than half of UK business buyers expect the companies they purchase from to use AI to automate product purchases or recommendations by 2020.

The moral – it’s time to get connected too

Technology is empowering customers to take control of the buying process, and switch to competitors with greater ease.

They increasingly expect companies to be as connected as they are, and for this to show in sales interactions that go way beyond stand-alone, uniform, sales-pitches – and become truly informed, consistent conversations, that acknowledge and anticipate customer needs, and ultimately, make buying simple.

The penalty for not moving with the times? 71% of UK consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if a company has a difficult purchasing or checkout process.

If you’d like to learn more about how customer expectations of sales are evolving, be sure to download the full State of the Connected Customer report. You’ll discover: 

  • How customer expectations are changing worldwide – and the impact for sales, marketing and customer service
  • How expectations vary by generation – from Millennials and Generation X, to the Baby Boomers
  • Much more about connected customers’ expectations for 2020