Understanding Communication Preferences is Key to Sales

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This post includes an idea for the entrepreneurs out there.  Read on.

I’ve been thinking about a comment from Gord Hotchkiss on his blog Out of My Gord, which I added to my blogroll recently.  Gord has a habit of making insightful observations that make you go “Hmmm….”    His firm did some great work for me several years ago before he became the uber-consultant to Google, Microsoft and seemingly every B2B company on the planet.

Recently when moderating a panel, Gord heard a woman in the audience complain that technology and social media aren’t actually connecting people — they are isolating us — since she couldn’t get candidates in her recruiting business to call her back.  (Apparently they prefer email, IM etc. over the telephone).  The recruiter likes real conversations:  the live human kind with a voices on both sides.

Do you know your prospect's communication preferences?

Gord’s response to the woman:   “Twenty-five years ago, when we were starting our careers, the phone was the only choice for instantaneous, ‘at-a-distance’ communication. But now, we have many choices, thanks to technology. So, they have options and they’re picking the one that’s appropriate. They’re time-shifting the interruption to a time more convenient, when they’re more motivated to contact you. I suspect that if we had that choice 25 years ago, we would have done the same thing. Technology hasn’t changed us, it’s just given us more options to do the things we really want to do.”

Everyone has their own preferences for the media in which they receive communications.  These preferences are personal and change depending on the situation.   B2B marketers and sales people who understand them have a distinct advantage in the selling process.

Enter:  The Communication Clearinghouse

I believe there is a huge opportunity to create a web-based service that enables business people to share their communication preferences with others (particularly salespeople)) in very granular ways.   This creation — what I’ll call a communications clearinghouse — would have the following features:

  • Rules-based:  users can set their own rules on communication and media preferences.  E.g. l if you want to sell me something send an introductory email between 11am-1pm EST.  Unless you are with company X, Y or Z, then I will take the call.”   Or “No sales calls before 3pm unless you are with an enterprise search vendor.”  Or “Eager to learn about document storage solutions.  Open for phone calls between 4pm and 5pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. ”
  • Fully customizable:  preferences can change as buyers see fit and new criteria can be added.  Preferences can be set for different groups and organizations.  E.g. “If you are inquiring about channel partnerships, please first send a short power point overview of your company or a link to your SlideShare presentation that covers your business and revenue model.”  E.g. “if you are on our preferred vendor list, please use your access code to view my communication preferences.”
  • Social: Shared with privacy controls.  Option to make preferences accessible from and hooked into LinkedIn, Facebook etc.
  • Device agnostic:  across all platforms
  • Cross-media:  IM, SMS, phone, email, fax, snail mail
  • Searchable:  enables users to find specific individuals and know their the communication preferences before contacting them

Incentives for respecting buyer preferences would have to be built into the system in clever ways.

Should this happen, sellers who follow the guidelines would have a leg up by understanding how buyers want to communicate — and how that varies for different people in different situations.  Rules-based lead nurturing programs – enabled by companies like Eloqua – could be influenced by these preferences, enabling marketers and sales people to customize the nature and timing of their communications based on such preferences.

Of course such a creation might just be the stuff of fantasy.  Because in the real world, sales is a numbers game and often based on relationships that don’t lend themselves to following rules.  So it wouldn’t work in all situations and certainly cold calls will be around for a long time.  That said, I do wish someone would create this kind of clearinghouse.  It would make things a lot easier on the buy side, save time for both sellers and buyers and set proper guidelines for marketers and sales people.  If anyone is interested in building it, please let me know.

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