The internet and mobile phone together have changed our notions of friendship, family relationships, work connections, and personal ties. And all of that has happened in a couple of decades, but especially the last ten years, thanks mostly to the sudden rise of the mobile phone (since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007). 

Where in the past we might have had regular, close interaction with a small circle of immediate family, friends, and coworkers and weaker ties with a larger social circle we saw infrequently, we now interact frequently with our weak-tie friends, perhaps less than with our closer connections, but perhaps more. Indeed, many people today seem to have fewer in-person relationships and more weak-tie virtual relationships.

That’s changed our ideas of trust and connection — and those shifting ideas have affected our experience of sales.  

How does that change the world of sales and selling?  Trust has become more fragile.  And that has changed how we react to cold calling.  Something about the adoption of the mobile phone has made it a more personal device than the old desk or wall phone.  As a result, we react to a phone call very differently than we used to.  In the olden days – i.e., before 2000 – a phone call was something that you answered.  Even if it wasn’t pre-arranged, like an appointment.  In fact, there was an air of excitement surrounding a phone call – who was calling?  And why? 

Then a phone call became an interruption on the mobile phone.  Now the only people who call (besides pre-arranged work calls) are annoying telemarketers and fundraisers.  And no one picks up the phone.  In fact, most people under 40 will tell you that they never use their mobile phones for phone calls.  Texts, social media, Internet surfing, games – but not phoning. 

The idea that you would answer a mobile phone call from a stranger – someone who doesn’t come up as a name in your phone book – is odd, and even a little scary. 

In that context, how can you sell people things, services, and ideas? How do you infect people with the desire to purchase that latest gizmo, service, or idea?

First and most important, you need to understand that the internet and the mobile phone have fundamentally changed the sales cycle. When salespeople connect with a potential customer, they typically do so much further along the sales journey. The potential customer has already researched the possible options and the ratings of your company and your rivals.

For this reason, salespeople need to learn new techniques of selling—establishing a personal connection quickly, checking in on the stage of the sales journey appropriately, and moving the customer along at the right pace. All this relationship management must be conducted half in the real world and half in the virtual world. Because the exact balance will depend on the customer or client, the salesperson not only needs to have facility in both worlds but also needs the ability to read the customer quickly and ascertain how to best connect with the person or group in the sales cycle. These requirements make listening, something that has always been important, essential in the virtual-real world.

Next time I’ll talk about several other ways in which selling needs to be managed differently in the half-virtual, half-face-to-face world we live in now.  This post was adapted from my new book, Can You Hear Me?  You can purchase it here.  

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