Should Sales Teams use Email, Telephone or Personal Visits?
In the construction industry, it seems more and more communication is by email, whether conversations are interoffice, between companies, or by sales teams with customers. Using primarily email communication may seem to make us more efficient, but that assumption may not hold water.
Our inboxes are swamped. One study indicated that the average person across all industries receives an average of 115 emails per day. The study indicated that 57% of people do not even read all their emails! Many are simply trashed. How efficient is that?
The use of primarily email communication is led by millennials, but even older, more experienced employees are depending more on emails instead of a telephone call or personal visit. This habit is particularly questionable in many instances for sales teams and customer service. Even interoffice emailing should be seriously evaluated. Either telephoning or a meeting in person concerning a question or inquiry is often a more effective use of time than emailing.
For the sales team the customer’s preferences should be the primary governing factor in how we communicate. Developing strong personal relationships is the driving force for generating growing sales. People still buy from people they know and like. Customers are interested in quality products and service from manufacturers more than the efficiency of a manufacturer’s management team.
Personal visits for the professional sales person are the most important method of communication, because they strengthen personal relationships. They should be used as often as possible and in-line with a customer’s preferences. Personal visits allow for the clearest understanding of a customer’s needs. Misunderstandings are minimized. How can a sales person interpret body language, learn what makes a customer tick, and strengthen relationships using email?
If a personal visit is not warranted or practical, a telephone call is the next, best way to communicate with customers. The customer support team should use the telephone as often as possible rather than email. This is particularly true when clarifying details of an order or solving a customer’s problem. The danger of the trend toward email being the predominant method of communication is that a single email often generates a long string of email exchanges back and forth. Often, a simple telephone call can solve a problem in a couple of minutes and save time for both parties. Telephone calls also minimize the chance for miscommunications and misunderstandings. Each call is an opportunity to learn new information about a customer to continue developing that strong relationship.
One challenge of telephone communication in the current business environment is that it leads to voice mails. Like emails, voicemail has reduced human interaction. With voicemail, the caller never knows when the voicemail will be answered, if at all. Customers normally need answers to their questions promptly. Either the employee or an assistant/ receptionist answering the telephone is best for the customer. I know one manufacturer who has changed back from corporate voice mail to a receptionist with very positive results. In some industries voice mail has been eliminated altogether.
Although texting is not yet widely used in the construction industry, sending a short text can be used to set up the time and length of a telephone call or meeting. Sending a text message is better than voice mail, because texting normally solicits a response of some sort within an hour or so, even if the replying text message simply states the time and method of handling the text inquiry or question.
Why then is email so widely used by sales teams today? Below are a few possible reasons.
- They think it is more efficient for both themselves and the customer.
- They are not prepared and confident to handle objections and problems in person or on the telephone.
- They are not properly trained in person-to-person communication.
- They want everything in writing to be sure they do not get into trouble with their boss.
- They do not want to do the hard work of traveling and meeting customers face to face.
So when is it appropriate to use emails with customers?
- Confirming and sometimes setting appointments;
- Exchanging information when that information is simple to understand and can be handled with one or two email exchanges;
- Confirming an important telephone conversation;
- When photos or other types of information need to be conveyed;
- Email blasts to keep a large group of customers up to date on changes in product, policies, etc.;
- When a customer does not answer his telephone, or always uses voice mail and does not return calls promptly or at all.
The only constant in business is change. Technology helps drive constant change, but all technology may not be useful, particularly as it affects communications with customers. As we look out towards 2017, possibly now is a good time to evaluate the way we interact with each other, so we never lose the benefit of personal communication.