Q&A: How Salespeople Are Adapting To Changing Buying Behaviors

A new study by GetApp found that 47 percent of salespeople feel that customers’ needs have grown more sophisticated, but only 10 percent think they need to modify their selling technique to cater to customers on an individual level. See what a GetApp researcher had to say about the study's findings.

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A new study by GetApp found that 47 percent of salespeople feel that customers’ needs have grown more sophisticated. Despite this, only 10 percent think they need to modify their selling technique to cater to customers on an individual level.

I did a Q&A with GetApp researcher James Thornton to find out more about this disconnect and other findings from the study about consumer buying behaviors and how salespeople are adapting to them.

Mike Hockett: With e-commerce websites offering more and more customized services (customer accounts, rewards programs, purchase history, fast shipping services), where do you think the disconnect is in that only 10 percent of salespeople surveyed think customers are looking for personalized service, even though 47 percent feel customers’ needs have grown more sophisticated?

James Thornton: While salespeople do recognize that today’s customers have more complex needs, it’s clear from our research that they still see pricing and product selection as having the biggest influence on a customer’s purchasing decisions. This sentiment seems to reflect what customers themselves have said. More than 63 percent of consumers told us that they value low price above all other factors when buying online, while only 1 percent said personalized customer service with their biggest motivator. So, in fact, salespeople may even be overestimating the power of delivering a customized service. 

MH: What did the research data tell you about the importance of ensuring a consistent buying experience across all platforms? (in-person, phone sales, web shopping)

JT: Consistency is clearly important to customers. According to our research, the second most popular reason for people walking out of a store empty handed is because the price was different from the retailer’s online store. Couple this with the fact that sales people are contacting customers in equal measure via email, phone and in-person, and the importance of investing in a consistent multi-channel experience is a no-brainer.

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MH: What do you think are the top e-commerce services that sellers tend to overlook, or aren’t emphasizing enough?

JT: E-commerce platforms and services such as Magento, Shopify and WooCommerce have become pretty ubiquitous. It’s questionable, however, whether sellers are getting enough out of these services alone — it’s possible that they’re overlooking a lot of the beneficial software integrations available with these e-ommerce solutions. By integrating your e-commerce software with other tools in your software stack, you open up new ways to improve productivity and delight customers.

Most of the major cloud-based e-commerce solutions offer integrations with other web apps. For example, you can hook your eCommerce software up to an inventory management app such as TradeGecko or Unleashed to help you better track orders. Equally, you could integrate with marketing apps such as MailChimp or Campaign Monitor to help you send targeted emails to buyers who come through your checkout. Or, you could even add a live customer support channel to your online store by integrating with customer service software like LiveChat or Freshdesk.

By making sure that your e-commere software supports integrations with other apps, you can expand its functionality and ensure customer data is shared across the different tools you use.

MH: I find the data point that only 15.7 percent of sales people say they use social media for sales opportunities surprising. Would you say that figure about what it should be for sellers today? Do you foresee that figure rising over the next two years?

JT: On the surface it may seem surprising, yet we know from our research that customers don’t value social media as a platform for researching a product before making a purchase. Of all the channels for finding product information, a retailer’s social media account has the lowest importance among customers (product review sites and retailer web sites were the most popular channels for product research). It could simply be that sales teams find it difficult to engage customers on social media and favor more traditional channels. 

That said, as social media marketing software and sentiment analysis tools improve in functionality, and with integration, sales teams will have improved intelligence in their software systems, which can help companies better target audiences. Although direct selling via social may not rise, marketers will be able to communicate much better with their customers and potential customers.

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MH: Despite all the technology advances and new ways to buy, many customers — especially in B2B transactions — still prefer the personal touch of talking to an actual salesperson (either in person or over the phone). Given that, do you find the fact that only 5.9 percent of salespeople think customers look for knowledgeable sales staff as the most important factor when purchasing goods?

JT: GetApp’s research suggests that salespeople don’t think customers place value in a knowledgeable sales staff, ranking it a less important factor than a personalized customer service. Interestingly, customers appear to disagree with this, saying that knowledgeable sales people are more important to them than a tailored customer experience. This denotes a disconnect between sales teams’ perceptions of customer needs and what they actually want. 

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