How Far Have We Come?
Initial contact with potential customers has changed greatly over the last twenty years. In my experience inquiries originated as a result of word of mouth from existing clients, competitors of existing clients, trade shows to meet and greet, and trade shows high lighting product innovation. The companies were known to each other from the trade shows, or through industry associations. The inquiry was usually originated by a senior member of the client’s management team. Testing trials were initiated to prove quality of the product. Maintaining the buying relationship was the challenge, requiring product innovation, competitive prices, honoring our commitments and ongoing communication with the client. Our trading room was full of product line managers selling all over Canada and the USA and coordinating with another office in Tokyo. Clients were phoning in to get prices on our product, which they would compare to other competitor’s prices with spot sales for immediate delivery in the millions of dollars. Initially bound by a verbal agreement, later followed up with the contracts. Frequently the product was being shipped before the contract was signed.
Our product line managers were also initiating calls sometimes daily, or even hourly to their clients sharing information suggesting opportune times to buy, anticipated price increases or decreases, supply shortages or rail car availability. Technical support personnel were available to answer client’s questions on processing, delivery status, quality issues etc. A pro-active, synergistic relationship based on mutual trust and confidence.
Compare that to the current situation for a software company selling worldwide. Actual person to person communication is much later in the cycle. Today we can tell from our analytics, how many hits we had on our website, from what countries, on which key words or phrases, and which page they were on when they abandoned the site. What we don’t know is why the site was abandoned or no inquiry was initiated. Unless a request is made by the potential client, for info or a product inquiry, we don’t know who the company is that is on our site. When an inquiry is initiated either by phone or email, the prospective clients are frequently unwilling to share information about their needs, budget, timing etc. Their starting point and frequently their ending point is on price. We frequently don’t know what they were looking for and why they left our site.
Perhaps this is why many software companies offer subscription pricing, as a means to feed the immediate needs of the information gatherers and convey risk mitigation in hopes to proceed to the next phase of the selling process.
Many are unwilling to see a demo on the features until they know the price. Many of the persons making these inquiries are information gatherers wanting to spend a minimum of time on an interaction. Their role is to recommend to the decision makers as to who should be contacted for a potential demo.
As a potential seller, the question to then ask yourself, if we are not talking to the decision makers, what are the screening criteria that the information gathers are using when they decide who to recommend for a demo. How do they determine what are the differentiating product features we offer? How is security risk minimized? How is technical support factored into the buying equation? What do current clients say about us? What are the product development plans to remain innovation leaders?
Sellers of new technology need to develop ways to obtain information about the companies coming to their website looking at their product. One way is through our Website Feedback Surveys, available at the point of interaction, which provide the opportunity to obtain feedback from persons visiting your website.
By providing the opportunity for feedback or questions during or immediately after the interaction with the site, moves the seller one step closer to the potential client. It begins a potential relationship which starts to build a foundation of accessibility, innovation, value and trust. Using this feedback tool immediately makes your potential client feel valued because you have provided them the opportunity to engage and share with you what their needs are, through top of mind questions.
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