Four Big Bad Sales Myths of 2018

Justin Jones, co-founder of the sales consulting firm Somersault Innovation, offers this perspective on approaching the sales profession in 2018.

Myth #1: Expertise is the Source of Our Credibility. Most of us are all too eager to demonstrate our product and business knowledge and quickly take control of a customer interaction to demonstrate expertise. We believe this will help our clients trust and buy from us. However, as Amy Cuddy finds in her recent book, Presence, competence is only part of what compels trust. And, it’s the lesser part!

Before clients consider our competence or expertise there’s something else they’re looking for: they’re looking for warmth. Are we real? Are we authentic? Unfortunately, the more we hammer our amazing expertise, the less authentic we appear.

I spoke the other day with an account management team from a leading mortgage technology firm, and here is how they approached a recent client meeting. They went in without an agenda except to talk with the customer about their business. The client responded by openly sharing information about two key initiatives that led to new opportunities. The team reported their delight in what felt like a “natural,” and “authentic” meeting and were eager to experiment with more clients.

Give less weight to expertise in your next meeting and see what happens.  

Myth #2: The Customer is Always Right. Today, our customers are much further along in their buying decision by the time we talk to them. This makes our job a lot harder because, thanks to many online resources, customers are much better informed and often have their eyes on a specific solution. But that doesn’t make them right, no matter how sophisticated a buyer they are.

If we slip into order-taking mode, we end up in commodity-ville, talking about a limited solution that can be easily compared to the competition.  However, if we press for more discovery we’re almost certain to find that the client’s definition of the problem is limited, or even incorrect. To the extent we can reframe the customer’s certainty and fixation, we graduate from “problem-solver” – just like every other vendor who calls on them –  to the more coveted and differentiated “problem finder” role.

Myth # 3: Big Data Will Save Us. The benefits of Big Data are all around us. AI and predictive analytics are already being used to make our lives easier. After clicking only once on an ad for online bedding retailer Brooklinen, they showed up on every site I frequent, making it easy to build a relationship, and, yes, place an order. Many of our clients are likewise experimenting with this technology to identify leads.

While this functionality is fantastic, we see it leading too often to limited engagements. Sales people are over-relying on data to close ready-made deals. In a fashion, they’re combining this myth with the previous two: they leverage data to quickly demonstrate their expertise in the specified areas and make a wrong assumption about the customer’s problem. The promise of big data is real, but only insofar as it’s used to enable greater problem finding – not quicker problem solving and selling.

Myth # 4: Focusing on Numbers Will Drive Revenue. This last myth is pervasive among both sales people and their managers. I understand the power of the maxim ‘What gets measured gets done.’ But we’ve taken this to an extreme such that sales managers and their teams spend an inordinate amount of time and emotional calories reporting on their pipelines. The unintended consequence: sales becomes dumbed down into a revenue drone. It’s no longer about our customers and the interesting things they’re doing with their businesses and how we can help them.

It’s about delivering our numbers – or at least paying lip service to doing so. The remedy for sales managers is as simple as asking your teams about the interesting things they’re seeing in their accounts. What’s something new they’ve learned from a customer? Which accounts are they feeling excited about and why? You’ll have a much clearer picture about progress in each account, and you’ll open up your conversations toward what really matters: how your business can help your clients solve their problems.

Making Sure the ‘Service’ in Customer Service is Fulfilled

Interactive Intelligence is one of Indiana’s true technology success stories, a leader in internship efforts and, by the way, on the Best Places to Work in Indiana list for the eighth time in the nine-year history of the program.

But this post relates to a very interesting customer service experiment from chief marketing officer Joe Staples. I’ll set up the scenario below (in Joe’s own words from his initial blog post). Then check out the two links at the bottom for the very telling information he learned.

The airline in question here is not the focus; it’s customer service, no matter your organization, and what you can and should be doing whether responding to a good or bad customer experience.

In early January I had one of the most challenging travel weeks that I’ve had in a long time. Snow, ice, cold, all contributed to a series of missed flights, reroutes, and lost luggage. Now mind you, I travel enough each year to go around the world around seven times. I’m a million-miler and proudly carry my Diamond Medallion card like a badge of honor. So, I’m no travel wimp!

During my January travel troubles, I thought overall Delta provided great service. That said, over the space of the week I had good experiences and bad experiences. This got me to thinking …

Here’s the two-part experiment I’m going to conduct. Next week, as close together as I can, I’m going to send an email, launch a tweet, initiate a chat, and place a call into the service desk, all as part of my “desire to share my compliments for the great job Delta did” (I’ll cite specific examples). I’ll be sure I label my communications as a “service compliment.” Then three days later I’ll do the same thing. Only this time it will be to “voice my complaint” (again citing a specific example). I’ll label this set of communications as a “service complaint.”

My plan is to document everything: who responded; how long did the response take; what was the action taken; etc. My hope is that my experiment will show some distinctions between the various communications channels, as well as to show the difference in response to a compliment vs. a complaint.

Blog 2: Compliment

Blog 3: Complaint

Creating Great Customer Service

We’ve all had a terrible customer service experience, and we often dread having to contact that “voice” on the other end of the line when we have a problem. This attitude may soon change, thanks to research done by Indianapolis-based Interactive Intelligence.

The main purpose of the company’s annual survey was to find out what consumers want in a great customer service experience. Some of the findings include:

  • A knowledgeable representative and a timely response are the most valuable components of a great service experience
  • Hotels, online retailers and banks provide the best customer service experiences
  • Live agent remains the preferred interaction type, followed by email. There is a significant drop to web chat, etc.
  • Not being able to understand the agent is rated as the most frustrating part of an interaction
  • Customers are more willing to use social media to praise a good service experience versus complaining about a poor experience

Joe Staples, Interactive Intelligence chief marketing officer, commented on the survey and its results:

“As a provider of business communications software for contact centers and enterprises, we wanted to help our customers maximize the value of our solutions by giving them insight into what makes a great service experience for their customers. The results of the survey accomplished this by revealing a number of interesting findings ranging from preferences about agent behavior, to those about the technology used in a customer service interaction.”

Hopefully, these survey results will help to positively impact the way that companies handle customer service. I know that I would be happier if I knew that contacting customer service would be easy and painless every time.

Full survey results can be downloaded after a free registration.

Celebrating in BKD Style

There are high-fives — and then there are Hi5s.

Both were likely combined when national CPA and advisory firm BKD (a longtime Indiana Chamber member) celebrated a yearlong initiative based on its client service culture. Not only did the Hi5 campaign result in congratulatory hand slaps, but a valuable prize, as well.

The company explains:

BKD’s unique culture is rooted in the five standards of unmatched client service — Integrity First, True Expertise, Professional Demeanor, Responsive Reliability and Principled Innovation — and we expect clients to hold us accountable to these standards.

The Hi5 campaign was meant to encourage employees to heighten their participation in BKD’s unique client service culture, educate themselves on how to better serve clients and each other and celebrate our success. As part of the program, employees “elevated” each other on a Wall of Fame housed on BKD’s intranet. Each employee, excluding partners and directors, receiving an elevation in 2012 was entered into the January 4 drawing.

Leigh Mapes, South Region human resources generalist in BKD’s San Antonio office, was the winner of a new, fully loaded Mazda MX-5 Miata sports car, valued at more than $30,000. The car, emblazoned with Hi5 decals, had been taken to the various offices throughout the year to remind employees of the rewards of delivering excellent client service.

“It really is a blur to me,” said Leigh, a six-year BKD veteran. “When I heard my name, I was in shock. With more than 1,600 people being elevated, I couldn’t believe my name was picked! So many thoughts were going through my head, but above all, I knew I was so blessed to be the winner.”

Kudos to BKD and congratulations to Leigh.

Customer Service as Important as Ever

I was at a marketing conference a couple years ago when a presenter asserted that a company’s top marketers are really its customer service people. I found that to be one of these really simple, yet complicated concepts. We are lucky to have a great customer service team in place here at the Chamber, and they are often the face of our organizations both via phone and at our conferences. Fast Company delved into this notion in a recent interview with Thor Muller of San Francisco-based Get Satisfaction:

1. Re-humanizing consumer interactions

For Muller, it is simply not enough that companies use their tools. "We really want people to change their whole approach to what it means to talk to customers," he explained. "For a long time, maybe a hundred years, we’ve been gradually squeezing the humanity out of our interactions; scripting it, automating it, scaling it." Instead of asking people to take a number, "Companies now have to revolve themselves around individuals." Muller noted, adding that in doing so, "we’re making the world a better place, certainly more human!"

2. Elevating the conversation from transactions to aspirations

While traditional customer service is often about addressing transactional issues like resetting passwords, Muller believes that community-driven customer support can go much further. "Customer communities at their best are really tapping people’s deeper goals, their deeper desires," explained Muller. This requires companies to, "rise above writing help documentation and be more of a good cocktail party host." Muller links this change with the new staff post of Community Manager who is part therapist, part help desk and part cruise director.

3. Reducing the costs of the traditional help desk

For years, companies have sought to drive down support costs with automation and the ironic goal of minimizing human interaction with their call centers. Part of the reason Get Satisfaction has grown so quickly is that it flips this notion on its head, increasing human interaction but decreasing costs by making support more peer-to-peer driven. Noted Muller, "we’ve seen with our communities at scale typically reduce the number of [service] tickets that go to [call center] agents by 75% or so." Muller referred me to case histories for and Yola, both of which reduced "repetitive support by two thirds."

4. Extending support beyond your website to Facebook

While most companies recognize the need to engage consumers on social media, only the savviest have begun to offer customer support on platforms like Facebook. For these enlightened marketers, Get Satisfaction offers a Facebook application in two distinct versions, "one for enterprises who have a lot more demand for customization/controls and one for everybody else," noted Muller. Having a support tab on Facebook gives fans one more reason to "Like" a brand and get the information and support required to encourage and enable over-the-top evangelism.

5. Turning customer support into searchable content

Given the fundamental importance of search to customer acquisition, finding ways to improve organic search results (SEO) is a top priority for most businesses. That said, few have recognized that content generated via customer communities can do just that. Explained Muller, "somebody asks how they can use a particular camera to take better pictures, that is then indexed by Google and then next person who searches finds that conversation. Get Satisfaction] is taking something that used to be a cost center, customer service, and turning it into lead generation."

6. Listening builds trust in and of itself

Dell famously solicited customer ideas and ended up producing a Linux based laptop that no one bought. This kind of listening and responding is not the ultimate intent of Get Satisfaction. While community members are encouraged to offer ideas, Muller does not advocate, "design by committee" or conclude that the customer is always right. "Even if [a brand doesn’t] build what I want them to build or do what I want them to do, I may be less likely to change to another product because I feel close to them," explained Muller.

7. Integrating customer conversations with your CRM system

Many sophisticated marketers, especially in B2B, rely on well-honed CRM systems to track leads through the funnel. Get Satisfaction allows these companies to take this one step further by connecting the social web with workflow systems, trouble tickets and project management tools. Explained Muller, "Knowing who a customer is, what their buying history is, and what they care about is important to servicing them well." Suddenly a customer complaint becomes "actionable within an organization," given the CRM integration concluded Muller.

8. Measuring C-Sat on both a qualitative and quantitative basis

While some pundits strive to simplify customer satisfaction to one basic metric like Net Promoter, this may not be the ideal approach for your particular business. Having witnessed thousands of customer comments and complaints, Muller encourages clients to take a "more holistic approach" and "measure satisfaction in various ways." Having developed something called a Satisfactometer, that explained Muller, "might be something fun like an emoticon and other times might be something more structured and numeric," Get Satisfaction is delivering both sides of the measurement equation.

“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers…”

If your company is called 1-800-Flowers, you should probably be ready for an influx of business on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps understandably, the company was overwhelmed with expected deliveries on Feb. 14, but instead of notifying customers, it appears the business simply didn’t deliver the flowers. Needless to say, there were some very disappointed wives and girlfriends. 

If there is a takeaway from this, it’s probably that those of us in the business world should be aware of the dangers of over-committing. reports:

So this caught our eye when visiting our Twitter feed: A chorus (which may be an understatement) of angry customers directing their ire towards 1-800-Flowers. It turns out that for potentially hundreds of customers, their Valentine’s Day orders were left unfulfilled…and customer service isn’t proving to be the most helpful option. Calls to their complaint line have reportedly resulted in 20 minute-plus wait times, abrupt hang-ups and little resolution.

However, tweeting @1800Flowers seems to be the most helpful–customer service agents apparently are resorting to direct messaging to resolve the epic fiasco. Though resolutions seem to be coming forth, it doesn’t make up for a disappointing Valentine’s Day. (And we wonder how many people got in trouble with their significant others, honestly.)

Angry customers did take their messages to Twitter with posts like:

  • @1800flowers #flowerfail. Order guaranteed for 2/14 not delivered AND on permahold to get live person. Customer service not your strong suit
  • @1800flowers failed to deliver yesterday, won’t take calls, and is unresponsive to e-mail. I’m relegated to tweeting.
  • @1800flowers it was the worst Valentines day I’ve ever had 🙁 my flowers never showed up

PR Lesson: FedEx Wastes No Time Addressing Embarrassing Video

Over the holidays, a video went viral showing complete negligence by a FedEx employee, just tossing a computer monitor over a fence rather than properly delivering the item. See that video below, as well as the company’s response, which has been viewed rather positively by communications critics.

Holiday Shopping: How to be Nice — Not Naughty — this Season

With Black Friday quickly approaching, gift giving is on my mind. As visions of loved ones opening their presents dance in my head, a less heartwarming thought creeps in: how to deal with poor customer service.

I’m not talking about retailers’ professionalism – I’m referring to impolite (and often downright rude) – customers.

I’ll never forget the year that a new employee was working the day after Thanksgiving at one of my favorite stores. As I stood in a long line for what felt like an eternity, I enviously watched shoppers in the other lines pay for their items and leave. Was I frustrated? Yes. Was I envisioning cookies from the food court as lunchtime approached and my stomach started growling? Of course. But some of my fellow shoppers were acting like they wanted to take a bite out of the rookie!

I’ve never seen so many people angrily rolling their eyes or folding their arms at once. I wanted to shout, “’Bah humbug!” at the top of my lungs. Fortunately, I refrained.

As the holiday season gets underway, the following tips on how to be a good customer may enhance your shopping experience and make an employee’s workday a bit more merry:

  • Do your homework and ask questions. Check out consumer recalls before purchasing toys and gifts for children. Know what the warranty covers, learn the store’s return policy, make sure you will be able to pay off a cartful of merchandise you put on layaway and check out online reviews.
  • Practice patience. Holidays and resulting crowds can put even the most patient on edge. Rather than attack a store employee because a product is not in stock or because the checkout line is a mile long, remember what your mother taught you about always being polite. "Please," "thank you" and "have a nice day" are words that can never be said too much.
  • Be courteous. Those long checkout lines often arise because customers are not prepared to present items for check out or have their credit card or check ready when it’s time to make payment. Do not get mad if the store will not honor competitors’ coupons; check before you go to the store.
  • Do your part: Standing at the cash register is not the time to suddenly realize you have neither wallet nor checkbook. It is definitely not the time for a conversation on your cell phone.

Twitter Me This: Positive or Negative Rules?

Of those many tweets floating around regarding business products or customer service, do more fall in the positive or negative column? According to recent research, it depends on who you ask. The customers say they are offering more praise, while the companies are measuring more criticism.

Many companies are under the impression that opinion about brands on Twitter is mostly negative, but a new survey conducted by Econsultancy and supported by Toluna shows evidence to the contrary. The firm’s Twitter for Business Guide, published this week, includes findings from consumer research — which indicates that a higher proportion of consumers have conveyed positive, rather than negative feedback on the social platform. The survey found that 26% of consumers say they have complained about a brand on Twitter compared to over half (58%) who have praised a brand on the site.

The findings contrast with research from Brandwatch’s Customer Service Index, which indicates that the majority of tweets about brands are negative. Brandwatch surveyed brands that are using Twitter for customer service, and used reputation-monitoring software to look at how customers were expressing their views and how brands responded. The contrast in results is explained by a difference in the approach to the research and user perception about how they tweet. While the Brandwatch study analyzed the volume of existing tweets using reputation monitoring software, Econsultancy’s research looks at how consumers observe their experiences of giving feedback.

For now, tweets are king in the social media world. As for tomorrow (or a little further down the road), who knows?