Seeking sales advice in a 140 character world

Twitter, texts, emails, plus a slew of the other vehicles allow sales people to respond to others quickly. While quick response time is appreciated, the thoughtfulness of what’s included in the messages is often superficial or even off the mark. Some, like Ron Ashkenas, argue these communication alternatives have programmed us to respond quickly, but perhaps not thoughtfully regardless of the communication device we are using.

If he is right and it seems fair there is some merit in the argument, then it’s interesting to look at the impact on sales reps engaged in major accounts.  Major account selling has become increasingly more sophisticated requiring sales people to work with multiple groups within their company.

Sales people must seek out others – including sales management – to brainstorm sales challenges and handle team-based selling and implementation issues.  But with the time pressures that everyone faces inside corporations – particularly sales management – sales people too often are the recipients of quick, off-the-cuff responses that may or may not provide solid advice. The change in communication culture simply augments this problem.

According to Ashkenas, one significant consequence of this behavioral pattern is people who genuinely need advice on an issue will simply stop asking for it. If the input is repeatedly off-the-mark, why ask for it. This creates an individualistic culture where people try to solve sales issues in isolation without the benefit of multiple perspectives.  This of course flies in the face of everything we know about the power of the group and the benefits of team selling.

How can sales people recognize this trend is likely to continue yet avoid the downward spiral and get the input they need? Let’s take a look at some ideas.

  • Model the ideal. When you respond to other’s request – make sure your response sets an example.
  • Engage the responder. In the team-selling situation, the person being asked for information will likely have a stake in the game – make sure the self-interest benefits of providing a thoughtful answer are clearly developed.
  • Frame your request. Figure out exactly what you need. Then consider how to frame your question so that you solicit the insights you’re seeking.  There is no substitute for being clear and concise.
  • Target your audience. Learn who’s who inside your company so you know where to go to get the information needed.  Substance from the few trumps superficiality from the many.

The morale of the story? Yes, how we communicate has and will continue to change.  And, it is possible that rapid and brief will win out over the thoughtful.  But none of that negates the need to engage others and the positive impact of substance.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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