E-mail: the sales prevention tool of the 21st century

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by Al Simon


Business communication has changed at a remarkable pace in the 30 years since I graduated from college. Back in the late “70s, a salesperson would dial (yes, dial) the phone, get the secretary, ask for the decision maker, and either get connected or a message was taken on a pink message slip that was placed directly on the decision maker”s desk. The call was almost certain to be returned. I swear.


Then came voicemail. The decision maker could listen to the message and decide whether the issue was worth a return call. Thus, in the mid-80″s, voicemail became the first sales prevention technology.


E-mail is even worse.


Well, I”ve had enough. Selling used to be done face-to-face, and that is still the best way to sell. We have a saying around our office: "All things being equal, people buy from people they trust. All things NOT being equal, people STILL buy from people they trust." How do you create and foster trust from a new prospect? Not with e-mail.


Granted, there are positive aspects to e-mail. It”s perfect for communicating a message to multiple people simultaneously and quickly. Messages can be filed, sorted and passed on to others. But let”s take a look at the negatives:


Time Management. Most people have no idea how to structure their time so that they maximize their productivity. You wouldn”t believe how many people tell me they have no time to make prospecting calls because they are always responding to e-mail messages.


Distractions. I was sitting in a prospect”s office on a sales call. His inbox chime sounded, and in mid-sentence he turned to his keyboard to see what it was. He just couldn”t help himself. Our conversation became disjointed as his attention was divided. Another salesperson was presenting to a group when his PDA vibrated, and he took it out of his pocket to see who had e-mailed him – twice!


Abuse. Studies show that in a face-to-face communication, 55 percent of the message is in the body language, 38 percent in the tonality (pitch, volume, pace, voice inflection, etc.) and only seven percent in the actual words. By definition, e-mail is a bad way to communicate. Yet salespeople insist on e-mailing proposals, quotes, and other critical messages without getting that body language and tonality feedback. Then they scratch their heads when they lose the deal to a lower cost provider.


Spam filters. Did you see the story recently of the telephone service salesperson whose updated proposal was e-mailed, caught in the prospect”s spam filter, and he was disqualified for not submitting a bid? How many of your e-mails to prospects and key clients have been similarly misplaced, deleted, or just plain lost in the e-mail jungle?


Let”s all get back to selling like selling is supposed to be done. We can still use e-mail, but do it right. Try to use e-mail only twice per day, in the morning after you have laid out your day”s plan of action, and at the end of the day, when you are unlikely to be successful reaching clients and prospects via the phone. Document conversations with e-mail, confirm appointments, and communicate to multiple people.


Pick up the phone – even voicemail has the tonality component in it – and call people to set appointments and work out business issues. Look them square in the eye, give a firm-but-not-too-firm handshake, show a warm smile, and let”s talk business in an environment where we can respond to each other”s questions, feelings and emotions real-time. Let”s go back to the good old days – when a business communication was a real conversation!



Al Sim

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