Not so long ago, the only way to ensure that a distant deal closed was to travel there for a face-to-face meeting. Today, cost-conscious, tech-savvy business owners know such travel expenses are unnecessary.
With boundless Internet-based and other inexpensive communication tools available, making that critical sale can now be done from a home office, via mobile phone or over a videoconference. The key isn’t the mode of communication; it’s the act of communicating that matters. Smart, effective communications can happen even when you’re not in the same room.
Quite often businesses lump their communications strategy in with marketing, not realizing how critical effective communication is for every facet of the business. This is especially true for sales and customer service, the two functions that garner most customer interactions.
Why is communications critical to maximizing sales? From the get-go, prospects want to be listened to and cared for. They want to know that you want their business and understand them, so hearing from you before they have to ask for something is crucial. In addition, both prospects and customers need reassurance that the people handling their business are capable, responsive, reliable, and committed. An occasional e-mail isn’t sufficient to communicate those virtues, but proactive, regular, and consistent conversations can influence a successful sale or help to maintain an existing relationship.
Strong communication in customer service can also support business development by increasing retention and building enthusiastic loyalty. By leveraging new communication channels and technology to improve efficiencies, such as using Twitter for customer support, businesses can more effectively manage customer concerns while improving satisfaction. Similarly, using instant communication tools versus making a customer wait on hold on the phone can make customers feel more important. In turn, those satisfied customers share their stories with others, supporting new business leads.
The continued adoption of telecommuting and virtual work environments has contributed to the rise of communication as a business-critical process. Colleagues and staff aren’t always in the same cube farm, building, or even city for that matter. In such situations, technology has become the mainstay for interpersonal and group communications. Instant message, e-mail, online collaboration tools, conference calls, and Web conferencing services have all taken root as critical elements of the modern workplace.
Many virtual businesses also struggle with customers who can’t get past the lack of a central office. To overcome this obstacle, virtual businesses often practice near-excessive communication. Frequent and consistent touch points allow them to pre-empt questions, assuage concerns, and deliver a better, more informative experience than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
Especially valuable for today’s mobile worker, mobile apps extend some of today’s best collaboration and conferencing services, making everyone accessible and accountable. For example, sales reps can run presentations, send e-mail, join conference calls, and conduct most business functions from anywhere, using mobile apps.
Good communication isn’t difficult, just thoughtful. And with the many technology tools available, there’s really no excuse for not communicating regularly and well. The following tips will help you maximize sales and profits through better, more efficient communications:
- Don’t take it for granted: During the course of a busy day, we communicate constantly but often without much thought or planning. Take the time to think about what you need to communicate, to whom, how often, and by what method.
- Use an agenda: Whether in the boardroom or via a Web conference, it’s important to have an agenda that outlines the planned discussion. An agenda helps to keep the conversation on track and on schedule and respects participants’ time.
- Choose your communication method wisely: The tool you use to communicate may depend on the specific topic, situation, and participants. If you’re speaking with an overseas customer at 6 a.m., a videoconference may not be the best choice (e.g., they might be en route to the office). Similarly, using e-mail to communicate a time-sensitive request or response is not the most expedient method.
- Do overcommunicate: As more businesses adopt telecommuting, and fewer employees work in the same office, it’s important to communicate more often than ever. Share a status update via e-mail before you’re asked about it. Require that employees use instant messaging tools, and keep them open during the workday to support quick updates. Hold a weekly status meeting via the tool of your choice, to keep everyone on track and accountable.
- Be responsive: Many virtual business owners practice this suggestion already and recognize the value, but many others should take it under advisement. Respond to a customer or employee request as quickly as you can. Even if you don’t have the answer they need, letting them know you are taking action reassures them that you’re there and engaged on their behalf.
Using the many technology-based communication tools available, businesses, both real and virtual, can enhance productivity, boost sales effectiveness, decrease inefficiencies, and increase profits. The key is to make regular communications part of every business function.
Andrew Pearce is chief executive of Powwownow, which offers low-cost conference calling facilities with no booking or billing.