In our race to fill the top of the funnel with leads, we in the B2B world often end up preventing potential customers from interacting with us in a natural and authentic way.

Riding the Inside Sales Merry-Go-Round

Case in point: last week I received an email from the CTO of a large digital marketing agency. He asked if I could provide the phone numbers of the marketing technology vendors listed in our technology directory. 

You might think he was looking for a prospect list to sell his agency’s services to, but you would be wrong.

Turns out he is in charge of finding technology partners to recommend to his agency’s clients. I’ve seen this CTO showcase the vendors he likes to work with in presentations before big brands. Wouldn’t you want to be on that list? 

He’s incredibly frustrated because he's finding it impossible to get the person he needs to speak with in order to initiate partnership discussions. He’s fed up filling out email request forms only to receive no response or be connected with a sales person who drags him into a rigid inside sales process.

You know the drill: First you interact with a scheduler, then you get passed along to a qualifier, then to the demo person, then to the sales person. When you express some hesitation you are then treated to a barrage of offers and outreach from a senior sales person or two, who are desperate to convert you into a customer when all you really need are some answers to questions on your early path of self-discovery.

Why Make It So Hard to Contact You?

This problem is not unique to the marketing technology environment. It is pervasive across all B2B categories. 

We drive potential customers through the inside sales process or we make them fill out forms to download the content they need to understand how our products might fit their needs. 

Remember how useful “Contact Us” pages used to be? It’s now common practice to hide them at the bottom of the page and only provide an email form, which invariably catapults you into the sales process or at the very least, puts you on the company’s email list.

I understand how important it is to fill that funnel. My own company gates some content as a means to generate leads. And to be honest, our “Contact Us” page is pretty abysmal. We have a generic email address and a map to our office … because? 

I'll be updating our "Contact Us" page before this article goes live, but in the spirit of “do what I say” and “not what I do,” I’d like to offer a few simple suggestions for improving your customer’s experience.

Tips to Improve Your Customer's Experience

Provide prospects with a way to engage with you that doesn’t automatically push them into your sales process.   

If you force them into the funnel before they are thinking about purchasing, you could inadvertently frustrate them so much that they eliminate you from consideration. I’m not advocating you eliminate the inside sales process, just that you add other ways to engage.

Live Chat

Live Chat is one way to deal with prospect and customer inquiries.  More and more companies are launching Live Chat capabilities, which provides the added advantages of a personal interaction and an immediate response.  

A good implementation enhances the customer experience, a bad implementation just makes things worse. A few don’ts:

  • Do not make Live Chat visible when no one is there to support the interaction. Nothing is more frustrating than a Live Chat service with no one at the helm
  • Do not enhance your Live Chat messages with Emojis — trust me, this is not an improvement
  • If you offer Live Chat, answer the question quickly. In one of my recent Live Chat engagements with a vendor, I watched the time stamp under the “I’m checking on that” message reach eight minutes before I saw a response

As I was writing this article, I had a successful Live Chat session with a vendor. I reached out to a vendor to explore using its Live Chat service with a schedule-based approach on my site. The representative Florencia answered my question (yes, I can implement a schedule-based Live Chat) and then gently moved into sales mode, asking me one question at a time about who I was, what my environment is like, what my requirements are.

In the end, it was a great experience for two reasons: 1) I felt in control. I felt that it would be appropriate to end the conversation at any point, and didn’t feel pressured to provide responses.  2) After taking me through the qualification process, Florencia wrote, “I think our sales team could help you with your requirements, would it be okay for them to contact you?”  

Learning Opportunities

Again, I felt in control and in the end told them that yes it would be okay to reach out to us.

Offer Multiple Options to Connect

If you can’t support Live Chat, make it easy for someone to ask questions and connect with the company. Provide email links to product experts and tech support personnel throughout your site, not just on your “Contact Us” page.

Make it easy to find your “Contact Us” page and provide useful information. Ideally you would provide more than one way to interact with the company. Do you really want the head of partnerships for a Fortune 500 company, who is interested in your product, pushed through your inside sales process?   

Include an address on your “Contact Us” page — it’s a go-to for me. It tells me the time zone the company operates in and when I can expect to reach them or hear back from them. Phone numbers with the option to call a real person (don’t get me started on the automated voice systems) are great, but that’s not always practical for young, cellphone-based companies.

Make product information readily accessible. Prospects want to learn about your product without the fear of being hounded by your sales team. You have to nurture your prospects while they are in the self-discovery process, before they fall into the funnel: Provide them with the information they need to decide whether to engage with you.  

Hungry for Information

People are hungry for simple, basic product information free of hype and marketing jargon. In the old days we had data sheets to send to prospects, today we communicate through our websites and mobile platforms.

While these are frequently beautiful, they are often heavy on custom graphics and light on product details. This may serve well to ignite interest, but what comes next?

Do you have in-depth information that a prospect can access, or does it live behind a gate? If it lives behind a gate, ask yourself, “is it more important to add a name to the list than to nurture a prospect that may not be quite ready to engage?”

You could argue that you're doing both, both adding them to the list and giving them information, but is putting someone into a system that will invariably inundate them with unwanted emails and a phone call from a sales person the best customer experience? As noted before, my company has some gated information, but we try to balance that out with other ways for prospects and users to engage directly with us throughout the site and with freely available supporting information.

You Should Sweat the Small Stuff

Sometimes we get so overwhelmed by the challenge of creating a unified customer experience that we don’t step back to look at the small, incremental improvements that are easy to implement and can greatly improve the experience prospects and customers have with our businesses. 

Time to start sweating the small stuff! I’m off to work on my “Contact Us” page.

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