What Role Does Loyalty Play in Online Shopping?


Customer loyalty has historically been formed largely through face-to-face interactions. However, with the advent of online shopping, retailers have found it significantly harder to build brand loyalty, instead focusing on factors such as product selection, convenience and lower prices to drive revenue.

 

There’s no doubt that ecommerce channels present many advantages to retailers and consumers alike, particularly given the rise of mobile and the added accessibility and convenience it brings. At the same time, being spoiled for choice has also had its effect on the consumer market – there is now so much competition that it’s easier to lose customers than ever before.

 

Transforming new customers into brand ambassadors can be challenging when you’re working with a medium as impersonal as ecommerce. Nonetheless, by guaranteeing customer satisfaction and taking steps to acquire their trust, you’ll be in a better position to turn a new customer into someone who will happily spread the good word about your business through social networks and other platforms.

 

Customer Loyalty Is Declining

 

Being spoiled for choice in an often extremely competitive marketplace, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that customer loyalty is dropping steadily. In fact, conversion rates have dropped by 28% in the last seven years. The rapid rise of comparison shopping and the relative ease of finding alternatives online have also made it more difficult for brands to hold onto existing customers. As such, many consumers don’t even consider brand loyalty to be a significant factor in their purchase decisions.

 

To overcome this trend, retailers need to work harder to better accommodate their customers through personalized loyalty programmes and excellent online content. After all, no longer is customer loyalty just about face-to-face interactions and competitive prices.

 

How Mobile Commerce Influences Customer Loyalty

 

Mobile commerce is rapidly catching up with desktop commerce, with more than 40% of online transactions now occurring on the small screen. Online stores that don’t provide an optimal experience on smartphones will likely be losing out on a great deal of potential revenue. Additionally, some digital loyalty programmes are not nearly as effective as they’re only tailored towards desktop users, or those using physical loyalty cards.

 

Studies show that 70% of consumers will develop a better impression of a company that allows them to save a loyalty card to their smartphone. From the consumer’s perspective, mobile loyalty programmes are far more convenient, since they can present things like personalized discount cards and digital loyalty cards in-store rather than having to print something out or carry around an additional card.

 

The same study also found that 83% of consumers appreciate a personalized approach whereby they receive specific rewards and promotions for events such as birthdays and anniversaries. By demonstrating to new customers that you’re aware of their individual needs and desires, you’ll be in a much better position to retain their business. If, on the other hand, a customer feels like nothing more than just another sales statistic, they’re not likely to feel any sense of loyalty to your business.

 

The Importance of Online Content for Building Brand Loyalty

 

One of the biggest challenges with building a highly visible online brand is getting heard amongst all the noise. However, according to NewsCred Insights, 62% of millennial consumers consider meaningful online content to be a major driver in brand loyalty. Every day, millions of people, particularly those belonging to the millennial generation, turn to the web to find answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. That’s why content marketing, especially social media, have become so important. Nonetheless, many companies have yet to embrace the potential of quality, engaging and relevant content to increase their brand’s visibility and influence.

 

Millennials generally aren’t interested in receiving sales messages, hence the rapid decline of traditional advertising in recent years. Instead, they want actionable content in a variety of formats, such as social media updates and blog posts, that helps them to fulfil their goals.

 

Building an ecommerce empire is no longer about sending sales messages – it’s about building loyalty through a strong, consistent and genuinely helpful online presence. From personalised loyalty rewards to value-adding content, online retailers need to do everything they can to build and retain audiences in an increasingly crowded marketplace. It’s about a two-way, engaged conversation between retailers and customers.  

Mobile Ecommerce Trends – What Are the Numbers Telling Us


While adopting a mobile-first approach may require an extensive overhaul of your website, the benefits are undisputable. Thanks to the increasing ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, interactions with potential and existing customers can happen anywhere at any time instead of being restricted to the desktop.

 

Mobile traffic overtook the desktop around three years ago, and around 90% of consumers now keep their smartphones with them around the clock. The mobile share of the ecommerce industry continues to skyrocket, profoundly effecting the industry to the extent businesses are now more likely to talk about ‘m-commerce’ rather than e-commerce. Mobile is now the defining platform of the online shopping experience, as these trends and statistics prove:

 

Ecommerce Sales

Just a few years ago, using a smartphone for online shopping was fraught with frustration as consumers struggled to navigate the average website on the small screen. Today, mobile accounts for well over half of all web traffic, and more than 40% of e-commerce transactions now take place on smartphones or tablets. From the consumer’s perspective, mobile is more convenient for shopping, since they can browse online stores, add items to shopping carts and make payments no matter where they are.

 

Shopping Cart Abandonment

People abandon online shopping carts for all sorts of reasons, such as a lack of preferred payment and delivery options. However, easily one of the biggest impacts on shopping cart abandonment is the user experience. Try navigating an online store that’s designed primarily for use on a desktop device, and you’ll quickly see how fiddly and frustrating the experience can be. Nonetheless, despite the unprecedented rise of mobile, many e-commerce stores are still woefully outdated when it comes to user interface and functionality.

 

Studies show that almost a third of mobile shoppers will abandon their shopping carts if the experience isn’t optimized for the small screen. Given the fact that mobile commerce is growing, this clearly isn’t an opportunity that retailers can afford to miss out on.

 

Buyer Journey

Online shopping has very much become an omnichannel experience, and while desktop devices aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future, there are now more ways to access the web than ever before. Mobile now plays an important role at every stage of the buyer journey from initial discovery to making a transaction. In fact, the latest statistics show that sixty percent of consumers have made a purchase on a mobile device, either to pick up an item in store or order online.

 

What this statistic demonstrates is that different people like to shop in an increasing number of different ways. For example, many consumers still use mobile devices only for initial research, hence the growing popularity of mobile-friendly comparison shopping, while leaving transactions themselves to desktop devices. Others, however, prefer to use the mobile for the entire buyer journey right up to making an order. In fact, the mobile-only consumer, who doesn’t even use a desktop device, is rapidly becoming commonplace.

 

Black Friday Sales

Despite being an American tradition, Black Friday sales are rapidly gaining ground in the UK and elsewhere in the world. In the US last year, shoppers spent $3.34 billion on online shopping during Black Friday, with $1.2 billion worth of those transactions taking place on mobile devices. That presents a 33% increase over the previous year, yet again exemplifying the fact that mobile commerce is already a big thing.

 

Online shopping is now an omnichannel experience with a strong focus on the availability and convenience afforded by mobile devices.

ERP as a Sales Engine


image1Enterprise resource planning is rarely seen as one of the more glamorous sides of modern business. However, contrary to popular belief, ERP is not just about managing your operations. While data and processes may sound boring, they define the way modern business works. In fact, there’s a good chance that data is the most valuable asset your company owns. With the right technology at your disposal, you’ll be better equipped to leverage this data to increase sales and reduce your overheads. ERP is not just about the boring side of business – it’s also a core lead generation tool and helps you to better connect with customers.

Know Who Your Customers Are

All digital processes, from online transactions to customer support requests, generate data. Making sense of this data allows you to learn more about your customers, and that’s exactly what a modern ERP solution does. An ERP suite provides a centralised database containing information about your customers, such as their purchases, the amount of revenue they generated, the number of support requests they’ve filed and more. By making this information more accessible, you’ll have everything you need to adapt future marketing and sales campaigns to better cater to the needs and habits of your customers.

Provide Better Customer Service

Poor customer support is one of the most common reasons for consumers and businesses alike to look elsewhere, particularly now that a company’s reputation is now very much at the mercy of online reviews. Great customer service, on the other hand, creates brand ambassadors who will happily spread the good word about your company, in turn leading to increased revenue. Since a cloud-based ERP solution provides a centralised database with information about everything from customers’ past purchases to what’s in stock over at the warehouse, it allows you to provide a timely service with far more effective real-time communications.

Seek Out New Market Opportunities

Without scalability, future business growth will be severely stunted by the limitations of your existing IT infrastructure. However, modern ERP systems provide an unprecedented level of scalability, since they’re not reliant upon on-premises servers and other expensive and bulky hardware. The data such a system generates, as well as the way this data is stored and accessed, allows you to quickly identify new market opportunities and proactively respond to changes in the market. A modern and flexible ERP solution also makes it easier to expand into other locations or even to other countries.

Agile Service Delivery

The agile software delivery model is all about adaptive planning, continuous improvement and evolutionary development in accordance with the release of new technologies. By their very nature, modern ERP suites are agile, since the systems are maintained and updated constantly by vendors rather than by an in-house team. As such, ERP allows for the early delivery of business value without having to worry about the unforeseen impacts of major software or hardware releases. Other advantages include greater visibility, management and control and faster recovery from failure, all of which ultimately translate into increased revenue.

You might not think of ERP as one of the more glamorous elements of business but, by making it the central lead-generation tool of your company, you’ll quickly see just how beneficial it can be as a sales engine to drive your business forward. At C24, we strive for continual improvement of your business through an agile approach to ERP. To find out more, speak to one of our experts today.

Are You a Sales Athlete?


Perseverance is essential in sales, and my recent blog about the way in which we can learn from the dedication and commitment of Olympic athletes chimed with many people who work in sales today.

There’s a lot to be gained from listening to those who’ve achieved sporting success, and there’s a reason why many former Olympians such as Kriss Akabusi and Roger Black now charge big sums for motivational speeches (1), appearing at sales conferences to pass on their skills.

Comments on the blog about “committing to the race” and “deliberate practice” got me thinking about how we can look at the commitment made by top sportspeople and use these lessons to improve the way we work towards our goals in sales.

Laying the foundation for sales success

Olympic athletes train for between four and eight years before making it into an Olympic team (2). That’s not years of competitions, going out in front of a crowd and winning medals: that’s up to eight years of sheer hard work, putting the effort in every day before they see any return at all.

Can you learn from that kind of dedication? Do you approach your sales role with the same level of perseverance, putting in that kind of effort to improve your skills? When I look at Olympic athletes, I see people who are prepared to commit themselves totally to their goal. They go as far as changing the way their bodies work, increasing strength and lung capacity to maximise their potential. To people like that, training is a full-time job.

This commitment is inspiring, and it’s something that those of us in the world of sales can learn from. Training is not just an occasional thing, it should be a permanent part of your job, and an ongoing dedication to progression should be at the very core of what you do.

Planning out success

Olympic athletes plan their training far ahead, with schedules that can cover up to four years into the future. This is the kind of preparation we can learn from, and there are lessons to take on board.

How far ahead do you plan your own training and development? Many of us may treat it as an afterthought, slotting it in around a regular day’s work. Instead, adopting a well-planned schedule that looks far ahead could be the key to making sure you constantly achieve more.

In real terms, this could mean focussing on engaging with new customers and opening up new accounts over a period of time rather than giving up at the first sign of difficulty. It can also include investment in your own abilities and skills, making sure you look at where you’ll be and what you can achieve a year or more from now.

Getting the right team on board

Athletes may well compete individually, but they won’t win anything without a great team to support them. There’s another big lesson that I can see in this – you need the right people around you in order to win.

Nutritionists, psychologists, trainers; any gold medal-winning athlete will have all of these people working with them to bring out their very best and help them get the results they’re after. Each can focus on a different area of the athlete’s needs, and together they create a plan for success.

Who makes up your team, and who helps you to improve? Do you have someone who coaches you in the things you need to work on? Most importantly, is there anyone missing from your team who could help you to achieve more?

Focus on the mind

A winning athlete doesn’t just have to get their body into peak condition, but their mind as well. As I mentioned, psychologists form an integral part of many athletes’ teams, and performing mental exercises is as important as physical ones for preparing for a high-profile competition.

How can we learn from this kind of preparation, and what mental exercises can each of us do to get ourselves ready to push our successes even further? Getting yourself in the right state of mind before going into a potential meeting could make all the difference to the outcome. Some reps even use visualisations to visualise a successful meeting before they go in to see a customer, to help them better handle objections and have more confidence on the day.

Winning the race

Consistently winning sales is a long race and one that you’ll do better at by committing yourself to the right kind of preparation. There are many similarities between the way Olympic athletes prepare for their events and the way a successful salesperson should go about their role. Rather than looking for overnight success, it is a commitment to training and dedication that will ultimately see you taking the gold medal at the end. There’s no shortcut, but committing to self-improvement is the first step.

References

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2007/aug/19/athletics.news1

(2) https://www.forbes.com/2008/07/08/training-perfect-athlete-olympics08-forbeslife-cx_avd_0708health.html

Top Five Important Facts About ERP in 2017


(In the digital age, companies need to make sure that all the different parts of their business can share information and create strategic plans from their data. This is where enterprise resource planning software(ERP) comes into play.

Whether in a small firm that is looking to grow or a huge corporation that needs to take control of its resources, ERP is a way of making sure that people at every level have the access they need to the same information. The right ERP solution can transform every area of a business, from inventory management and human resources right through to sales.

For some time the big names in this market have been SAP, Oracle and Microsoft, but the landscape is changing as cloud ERP offerings become more prominent. Adoption is high, and the signs point towards ERP being a central factor in most enterprise IT environments and IT strategies from now on.

Here are five important facts about ERP, how its adoption is growing and how new technologies are making it easier than ever to migrate to a new ERP solution.

ERP is a huge area of growth

The worldwide market for ERP is now worth over $25.4B (1), and is increasing year on year. New innovations in business IT are resulting in an increasing demand for software that meets the needs of the companies using it.

This growth is a part of the wider expansion of the global enterprise software market which is predicted to exceed $500B by 2022 (2). Within the enterprise software market, there are two segments which are outperforming all others when it comes to expansion; customer relationship management and ERP.

Everyone’s using it

ERP is hugely popular, with a majority of firms making use of it. In research conducted throughout 2016, Panorama Consulting found that 81% of organisations have implemented ERP software or are in the process of doing so (3). A further 14% are looking at which ERP software will suit their needs. The sector has moved beyond being a niche for large organisations with complex needs and has become the mainstream and accepted way of meeting the challenges a company faces.

It’s all in the cloud

The cloud is the future when it comes to ERP, as it is with many other areas of IT. The agility of cloud-based systems allows companies to move with the needs of their customers, and this versatility is driving growth in the sector and making it much more attractive. Eric Kimberling, of Panorama Consulting, points out that between 2015 and 2016 cloud ERP rose from an 11% market share to 27% (3). This rise is set to continue throughout 2017 as companies invest more in the development of cloud-based ERP software.

Saving cash

With the increase in agility that comes with the adoption of cloud-based ERP comes a reduction in costs. Research published by market analyst firm IDC asked a variety of companies for their top five reasons for moving to cloud ERP, and 40% of them said that reducing the total size of their IT budget was the major factor (4). Another 40% said that an improvement in the way in which their resources are utilised was the prime motivator for them.

Safety is still key

When companies in IDC’s recent CloudTrack Survey (4) were asked about the use of specific applications in the public cloud, they reported increased use across several application types, including ERP.

But when these firms were asked if they have any issues with using such software, security still came up as a major concern, something which points towards this being a problem that could affect the growth of cloud-based ERP. IDC’s research found that almost half (49%) of the businesses it spoke to cited security as their biggest concern when considering a move to a cloud-based system. Other worries included the way in which such a move will fit in with regulatory and compliance issues and whether or not cloud-based systems can deliver the kind of performance that each company needs.

In terms of the growth of ERP, the facts speak for themselves. A large majority of companies already have ERP deployments in place and nearly all others are looking at their options. The future is now not a decision about whether or not to make use of ERP, but simply how to go about it.

There are understandable concerns amongst some adopters, but these seem to be based more on the wider use of cloud technology and general security issues that are applicable across many areas of IT. ERP has firmly staked its claim as the central software stack in the business world and has become integral to any company that wants to take control of its resources and improve operations.

References

(1) https://www.forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/2014/05/12/gartners-erp-market-share-update-shows-the-future-of-cloud-erp-is-now/#53ecaec51fae

(2) https://www.wiseguyreports.com/reports/1127298-global-enterprise-software-market-by-segment-industry-verticals-geography-and-vendors

(3) http://diginomica.com/2017/01/25/cloud-erp-adoption-eric-kimberling-reveals-surprising-data-and-misconceptions/

(4) http://resources.idgenterprise.com/original/AST-0111292_ERP_US_EN_WP_IDCERPInTheCloud.pdf

Are shipping fees costing you customers?


Online retailers are becoming incredibly sophisticated in their ability to impact conversion rates based on hundreds of different variables.  New technologies allow purchase screens to be customised based on user data (i.e. where a customer is purchasing from, time on site, location, previously browsed items, etc.), meaning that e-retailers can be super-specific in their targeting to increase conversion rates.

There’s already been a lot of work done to get the customer to the stage where they are ready to click “add to basket”.  You’ve attracted customers to your site, you’ve encouraged them to commit to a product, and it’s in their virtual basket – ready to be purchased.

So what is stopping customers from moving forward to complete the purchase?

It’s all comes down to one decision – to buy or not to buy.  Psychology sits at the heart of these decisions, and understanding the reason for your abandoned cart rates can help you to break down the psychological barriers that are stopping customers moving forward.

In a report from UPS (1), the number one reason for abandoned carts globally was that shipping costs increased the overall purchase price more than expected.  If we think of the psychological process at play here: customers firstly decide on a product, are happy with its price and features, and then add the product to their basket.  The customer is mentally calculating the overall price as they add their different products to their basket.  They then move forward to complete their order and shipping costs get added.  The price is more than they were expecting.  Or maybe it is the price they expected but mentally it pushes the overall basket value above their desired purchase price.

And this is enough for customers to abandon their cart and leave their items.

One factor that could be causing the high rates of abandoned carts is that customers are testing the shipping costs and how they will be applied to their purchase.  The cart isn’t really abandoned as it was never a serious purchase – it was an elaborate calculator to help gauge the shipping costs.

Even removing this factor, the addition of shipping costs is still a blocker for customers moving ahead with their purchase.  So what can you do to step in and impact the psychology of your buyer so the sale has a higher chance of moving ahead successfully?

How could retailers address this issue earlier?

Is it an option to try and put this (even potentially unattractive) shipping time and cost information upfront so that customers are not surprised when they see shipping costs added?  Could shipping costs be added to the basket subtotal when any items are added so that the increased cost is not a late addition to the purchase journey?

The other option is offering free shipping and removing shipping costs altogether.  This could put a strain on profit margins, but it might be a worthwhile activity to calculate the cost of abandoned carts to the business – i.e. what revenues would you have achieved if even just 10% of those customers had completed their purchased, and compare that to the cost of offering free shipping costs to all customers.

If this is a psychological blocker that is preventing customers from buying then increasing product costs ever so slightly across the board to account for the cost of offering free shipping could mean the difference between high rates of abandoned carts and winning lots of new customers.

In Europe, 49% of consumers abandoned their cart because shipping costs were too high (which is actually lower than the averages in the US at 54% and Canada at 61%).  Sometimes this is because orders haven’t been large enough to result in free shipping qualification.

Is the problem actually worse than we expect?

However, some reports show even higher numbers of abandoned carts due to shipping costs.  A report highlighted in eMarketer by FuturePay (2) said that 86% of surveyed respondents said that the cost of shipping resulted in cart abandonment, so it’s clearly a problem for retailers to get right.

Amazon has tried to combat this barrier through its free shipping option for Prime members.  A report by cg42 (3) found that 91% of Amazon Prime members said they signed up for the service based on the lure of free 2-day shipping.

What appears to be a common theme amongst many of the reports and surveys is that better communication about delivery options and associated costs in order set more realistic expectations earlier on.

A report by Meta Pack (4) found that 66% of consumers would move to another brand if there were more attractive delivery options available – so shipping costs and delivery times are clearly at the top of the agenda for customers when deciding whether to complete a purchase.

An article from the Royal Mail highlights an interesting point from a Deloitte report (5), saying that retailers will need to move quickly to better respond to consumers’ expectations – with same day delivery becoming more standard in our online shopping experiences. Some reports are also suggesting many consumers are now expecting free same-day delivery which is obviously ahead of many retailers’ current offerings.

So with the huge impact that delivery costs have on customers’ decision making, combined with the availability of suitable delivery options, retailers will be looking at ways to make delivery option information more prominent on their sites to enable consumers to be updated earlier in the process.

 

References

(1)   https://www.ups.com/media/en/gb/ups_global_paper.pdf

(2)   https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Cart-Abandonment-Really-Come-Down-Cost/1015092

(3)   http://cg42.com/

(4)   http://www.metapack.com/report/delivering-consumer-choice-infographic/

(5)   http://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/global-powers-of-retailing.html

HPE and Verteda Video Released


Have you seen our recent case study video by HPE and Verteda?

If you prefer to read it, then access the case study here, otherwise take a look at our video below with Matthew Prosser from Verteda and Lee Duffield from C24.

Do you like me? Will you buy?


To win in sales, you need to get a great territory plan in place, then carefully research each individual customer, run your analytics to see which customers are best placed to buy at that time, then develop your value proposition, prospect your customers, get them knowledgeable about your product roadmap, ensure their heatmap is filled out and finally, boom! They purchase.

Or maybe not?

These elements are important, to an extent, for the appropriate customer.

But a huge part of selling comes down to likeability.  People often don’t like admitting that, because it can suggest that sales people are ‘born’.  What happens to Sales Trainers if sales is just about being likeable; a quality that is pretty difficult to learn?

An article in Harvard Business Review discussed how co-workers preferred likeable people – and that managers often hire likeable people.  That sounds incredibly obvious, but the suggestion is that we often make choices about people in a work environment, not on their skill or competence, but mainly on the level of their likeability.  You choose to work with the person on a project, you offer them the job, you promote them because they get on so well with the team.  That’s not to say that you can be completely useless and still get ahead (although that does happen from time to time) but it means that in a decision scenario, where all candidates rank the same on all other factors, is it not natural that the final decision comes down to likeability?

Within our own organisation, one of the factors that makes customers choose us is often a simple “We can work with these guys” statement.  If the trust and respect is there, then customers feel much happier working with a company they can work with easily, get along with and engage without friction – rather than a company who still has the same high levels of competency, but something just doesn’t ‘smell right’.  Of course, we believe we have high levels of competency in what we do, but we also focus on fostering a culture of likeability – personality and character are important traits that bond us as employees and also create bonds between our customers and partners.

As the HBR article puts it, a little extra likeability goes a longer way than a little extra competence.  This brings me to whether likeability is the biggest factor for buyers when making a purchasing decision.

 

Likeability in Sales

A Rain Selling post highlights how there are often underlying reasons at play, that we might not even recognise ourselves, when we make a purchasing decision.  In situations where every supplier at the table has the same level of competency and capability, which is often the case in highly competitive markets, the decision usually comes down to who the buyer likes best.

And ‘liking’ doesn’t just mean you’d be happy to go for a beer with them – it can be broader and mean that you respect their perspectives, or find them more credible; therefore more likeable.

Rain also conducted a survey about what separates winners in sales from ‘the rest’.  The main difference was ‘the seller and how they sell’ rather than an assessment of the company and its products.  Amongst many other factors, the buyers surveyed listed points such as, “being more collaborative, listening to me, helping avoid potential pitfalls, and connecting with me personally” as reasons contributing to choosing a particular seller.

Rain go on to share how the likeability factor has a big impact on the entire sales process, from making prospects more likely to share information during the needs discovery phase, through to buyers taking insights shared by the seller more seriously and the ease of obtaining meetings and referrals.  It’s obvious that you are not going to refer a company to a friend when you had a negative experience purchasing from them.

Think about in your own office.  When you hear your colleagues complaining about a particular supplier or stating that they will never work with XYZ company again, is it usually the product or the seller/sales experience?  In my experience, it tends to be the difficult sales experience or clash of characters that stops us working with a supplier again.  The products or services on offer are often available from someone else, somewhere in the world.  The difference is how YOU are going to deliver it.

 

‘I’m not bothered if you buy or not – here are the cakes’


We have a Sales Rep working for us, whose preferred way of handling customer meetings is to take a batch of cakes in.  No super science sales skills, no clever tactics.  And honestly no hidden agenda.  Just cakes.  He usually eats most of them too, with a cup of tea (2 sugars) and a lengthy chat.

This is how he’s always done it.

Customers love him, and trust him.  I’m always fascinated by the idea of trust, especially as we have built our business based on years of continued trust, with repeat clients and longer contracts than usual.  It’s difficult to put your finger on where that unique trust comes from, or how you even build it.  We always thought it just happened.

But I came across an interesting graphic called the Trust Matrix.  It perfectly articulated something we had been carrying out for so long, but didn’t have the words to explain.

The Trust Matrix says that you need a unique combination of both character and competence to build trust.  You can go online and read all the case studies in the world about a potential new supplier, but if something just doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t right.  Character forms a huge part of what we do – it’s why our customers stay with us for the long term. But how do you define it? Or even more complicated, how do you replicate character?

But what is character?

Who knows?  It could be our strong Brummie accents, or our cheeky Dad jokes.  We’re not quite sure.  Our Sales Rep strongly believes it’s the cakes.  Or perhaps it’s the lunches at the Vine around the corner (curry/pub that’s well worth a visit if you’re in West Bromwich).

The Trust Matrix believes character is a mix of integrity, openness and authenticity.  In our world, we think being true to our roots and straightforward with customers is better than an overly polished slick presentation and a sales script.  When we first work with customers, we deliver our FACE presentation, sharing everything about how the company came about, our approach and culture and what working with us is like.  Our customers want to know that they are buying into something real, honest and reliable; that when they encounter an issue, someone is there to help.  Sales have long left the building by the time your customer really needs you.  Being there at the weekend, against all odds, is what makes the difference between character and a good sales patter.

The problem with many sales training programmes is that they focus on how to make cookie cutter sales reps – with everyone acting in the same way, saying the same things and delivering the same presentation.

We don’t think that works and each of our Sales Reps operates in a completely different way to the next.  That suits some customers, and doesn’t suit others – no problem, people are individuals after all.  But those differences and quirks in our personalities make us real – and customers get a good handle on who we are as a company pretty early on.

Combined with competence

So what sits on the other side of character in the Trust Matrix?  Competence is the other key element, apparently made up of the capability to deliver, alongside relevant skills and experience.  This is the part where customers need to see proof that you can deliver the services they need to a great level, regardless of whether they get on with you or not.  Organisations that focus too much on improving sales without looking at what happens once a customer is actively engaged with your business tend to suffer from a high rate of customer churn.  This is where the client has selected you to work with, but quickly realises that the skills aren’t there, or problems start to emerge – and they ultimately walk away from the contract.

Character alone won’t see you through serious competency issues.  A high degree of results-based competence, built on evidence of previous experience delivering the same services, alongside examples of where you have performed well for other organisations.

Balancing the two

A recent article in Director magazine from the Institute of Directors picked up on how companies now need to have an Emotional Selling Proposition – as people make choices based on their emotional engagement with a brand.

Maybe this is why we build such strong, and long, partnerships with our customers.  The customers become friends and we partner in different ways as the company changes and our clients’ own businesses morph and grow.

Even in the B2B world, we believe that every decision is an emotional decision, based on a unique mix of character and competence, balancing that ‘je ne sais quoi’ with experience and skill.

Why Sales Deserves a Seat on the Board


A company’s sales team is crucial to its success. That’s because Marketing initiatives can whet an individual’s appetite for a product or service, but it’s the sales rep that makes sure the potential customer’s initial ‘want’ becomes that all-important ‘need.’ In doing so he or she manages to bridge that all-important gap between customer and company.

So, with such a crucial role to play, why does the Sales Manager frequently find her or himself relegated to a lower position in the company pecking order than say the Finance, Marketing, HR or Operations Director? Why doesn’t he or she get to sit in on important board room meetings and help make the decisions which will inevitably affect their team too? A recent study of 25 companies in a particular area in Georgia, USA, showed that of 25 companies, all had a Chief Finance Officer, 16 employed a Chief Marketing Officer yet only two had a Chief Sales Officer.

The reasons given for a distinct lack of sales presence in the boardroom are numerous, but are they particularly convincing – or even justified? See what you think…

Sales isn’t as important as other company functions

Many C-level executives would suggest that one of the reasons sales is regarded in such a lowly fashion in the company pecking order is because, unlike Accountancy or Marketing, there is very little formal education in the discipline. How many university or college courses specialising in solely Sales, for instance, have you spotted recently?

And it’s not just the lack of degrees and HNC qualifications that causes Sales to fall short in management’s eyes; neither is there any accredited qualifications to aim for – unlike in Marketing where the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Certificate is the holy grail of the profession, or a similar piece of paper from the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW) for their Finance colleagues.

Part of its ‘lowly’ standing and lack of respect in the company hierarchy then is perhaps due to the fact that Sales isn’t formally recognised in an academic sense. In some cases it’s even ‘tolerated’ and viewed by others in the company (including those in the upper echelons of management) as almost a necessary evil. This seems extremely unfair given the importance of Sales ‘bonding’ and the frontline function that sales delivers between customer and company.

Sales people think differently from colleagues in other sections

Many Sales staff haven’t been to university or other academic institutions simply because they went in to the sector straight from school and trained ‘on the job.’ In the world of Sales, experience and ability speaks far higher than academic achievement. But because of the lack of formal higher education, the individual leading the company’s Sales team may have missed out on the leadership and presentation skills taught to those with a more academic background.

There is also a general perception about salesmen and women that they were ‘born with the gift of the gab’ and that their charm and sales ability is somehow innate rather than gleaned through years of hard work and experience.

Then again, the company can often unwittingly encourage in the Sales team what directors from other sectors might regard as ‘bad behaviour.’ This is where sales reps are offered huge bonuses for the number of sales achieved rather than customer satisfaction.

Sales people sometimes don’t have a great reputation

Like journalists or lawyers, salespeople are sometimes described as sneaky, self-serving and lacking integrity. Sure, there are some Sales staff who would fit that description, just as there are individuals in other jobs, such as policemen and teachers who would also tick that box. But there are many salesmen and women who take a huge amount of pride in what they do, and bring high levels of professionalism to every situation.

Sales reps, however, must take some of the blame here too. Often the Sales culture in an organisation can prove to be rather maverick, encouraging ‘reckless’ behaviour and giving the department a ‘bad name.’

Then there is a self-esteem issue in that some Sales staff themselves don’t believe they deserve to be regarded as highly as their Finance or Marketing colleagues for some of the reasons mentioned above, such as the lack of academic qualifications and how they are currently regarded by the company, ie as ranking ‘lower’ than other departments.

And yet, Sales is just as important for a company’s bottom line as other sectors – and perhaps even more so. Just ask top decision-makers at IBM, HP and SAP who have all established focused Sales Academies, having recognised the pivotal role their Sales teams play in their own success. Undoubtedly other companies will shortly follow suit.

Conclusion

Increasingly in these post-Brexit days where uncertainty over the UK economy is having a dampening effect on consumer spending, improving company revenue and adding to sales figures is crucial in order for a business to survive. And Sales, with its important opportunity to bond with the customer, is absolutely central to this. They alone can build trust and loyalty, and in doing so, enhance a company’s reputation and ensure that customers don’t switch to a competitor.

After all, the Sales rep may be the only individual from a company that the customer will ever communicate directly with – whether face-to-face or via telephone. So, isn’t it worth ensuring this ‘company lifeline’ is guaranteed to work? You can today, by investing more in sales training and general business awareness skills. This will foster professionalism and ensure Sales finally gets that long-deserved seat in the company board room.