Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Is Your Sales Process Familiar?

Consumers want feel comfortable and familiar when they buy from you.

The other day I was in Nordstrom’s and bought a tie. Nordstrom’s is a pretty “old-school” experience – a department store with high-touch service, offering the best in customer attention and salesmanship. When I checked out, I was pleasantly surprised: My Baby-Boomer salesperson swiped my credit card on his iPhone in a GenY-kinda way. Suddenly, I felt more at home.

Obviously, Nordstrom’s is channelling Apple, the store that has finally killed the aisles-and-cashiers retail experience. It’s a perfect match: Like Apple, Nordstrom’s leverages its highly-trained salespeople, while eliminating tedious or frustrating parts of closing the sale. Nordstrom’s isn’t just copying Apple because it’s hip, either. They have learned an important lesson in customer satisfaction:

Make sure your experience is as familiar to the customer as their other experiences.

Familiarity is critical. Consumers are already uncomfortable in purchase situations, especially as price rises. The last thing a sales experience should introduce is further discomfort through worn-out processes. Customers will learn how to navigate and consume your product or service, but then they demand it become regular and predictable. Familiarity make it easier to decide, and significantly improves satisfaction. And loyalty.

When I pay for a coffee at Starbucks, I wave my smartphone at the scanner. When I buy a computer, Apple swipes my credit card. When I need a prescription, my doctor orders it with two clicks on his tablet. Consumers expect things to work similarly, regardless of the industry, product or service. As we’ve noted before, when the lady selling closet systems uses an iPad during her sales presentation, our car salesman, real estate agent and wedding planner better do the same.

Of course, it your process is unfamiliar, or broken, dissatisfaction rises. Consider boarding an airplane: The process should be pretty familiar to most people. Yet on a recent trip, the boarding process fell apart. The paging system at a nearby gate was announcing boarding of its flight, but the instructions were coming over our speakers. Confused passengers suddenly tried to board our plane. Coach passengers crowded ahead of first-class passengers. The gate agent became confused as passengers tried to board fifteen minutes early. Chaos ensued. Babies started crying. Premium-ticket customers grumbled upset at losing their boarding priority. Economy customers looked embarrassed by a gate agent telling them to sit down. The process was disorienting and unfamiliar, resulting in a widely negative experience for everyone.

Now consider your own sales process. Is it easy for customers to explore your inventory or reach a salesperson? Are they delighted to interact with you online or in person? Have you prepared them to navigate your systems and offers, to maximize your service? Does closing the deal still require a check, when they’re prepared to transfer money via NFID?

Improving sales isn’t just about marketing dollars and cool technology. It’s about helping the customer engage and consume your value proposition in an easy way. Familiar processes are simplified processes, clearly communicated  that create comfort zones.

When customers feel “at home” with your organization, they’re more likely to buy.

Ask customers to give you feedback about what felt good – and what felt unfamiliar – the last time they worked with you. Then, transform those uncomfortable situations into delightful experiences through improved training, technique and technology.

What’s your familiarity factor?

  • Well Said!! ANY for of sales should be consumer-centric and about their experience – not the rewards the agent would see. Focus on doing what is right versus what is profitable at the moment, within reason, will always have Long-Term benefits.

    I have been using “Square” for years for outside of real estate business – rent, garage sales, Craig’s List items, etc. Was surprised to see a local home inspection company NOT have that ability on a recent inspection – goes to show the expectation of going away from paper all together.

    Thanks for the refocus Matt – now, let’s make a difference today!

  • Greg: Thanks for your comment! One of the things I have heard for years is – “that’s just not how we do it in…[insert industry]” yet all around us we see companies in different industries that delight their customers have a LOT in common. And it’s not just technology, but their philosophy, culture and customer experience. It amazes me when I have to experience a “cave man” process which is obviously the result of people just not thinking it through. Once I tried to book a flight on Swiss Airlines and I could only purchase the ticket, NOT choose my seats (not even a middle seat!) – Can you imagine that, in the year 2012? Yet the explanation provided to me (after I called on the phone) was: It’s just not how we do it…. I guess that just means there’s a lot more work to do for me, around the world! :>:>

  • Matthew, What ever happened to the “Customer always being right”?

  • That’s a great question, Andrew. I think for some people and companies, they got cocky, and basically said: “We’ll tell the customer what they want and how they want it… ” The results are very dissatisfied customers. So the old advice was – and remains – right!