Personalizing the Sales Experience Helps Close the Deal

Companies are increasingly leveraging technology to give a personal touch to previously undifferentiated sales interactions, and are prompting more purchases as a result.

Technology has changed the way most consumers research and buy. Internet and mobile solutions, for example, are making it easier and faster for customers to make purchases than ever before.

However, today's choice-spoilt customers want more than fast and easy. They also expect personalized interactions from their preferred brands. According to Jason Lemkin, vice president of web services at Adobe, unless companies forge a personal connection with their customers, they run the risk of low retention rates. "You have to bond with your customer," he insists.

Moreover, as technology becomes an ever more integral part of customers' lives, consumers have come to expect companies to embrace it with the same enthusiasm, as well as to use it to improve the customer experience. In terms of the sales process, this includes activities like offering customers the ability to make a purchase through a mobile app and delivering contextually relevant interactions with customer-facing staff. Additionally, an increasing number of companies are creating intricate databases that give them a 360-degree view of their customers. Customer-facing employees then use that information to deliver a more personalized sales experience.

"Human beings have evolved to accept technology as a state of mind, both in our personal and professional lives," says Tom Scontras, vice president of sales and marketing at Glance Networks. Savvy companies recognize this and are using technology to their advantage by personalizing the sales experience-and getting closer to their present and future clients in the process.

Cosmetics giant Sephora, for example, has found a way to give its beauty- and trend-conscious fans a personal experience through its iPad 2 app. By using the tablet's front-facing camera, the makeup emporium has created a virtual mirror, allowing customers to see how-to videos on one side of the screen while simultaneously watching themselves create their own runway-worthy looks. Additionally, Sephora partnered with nail polish brand Opi to develop an iPhone app that makes choosing the wrong nail color a thing of the past. The solution allows customers to match their skin tone to an on-screen hand before "trying on" a range of different colors, which they can buy straight through the app. The app is replicating the in-store experience where customers can try a particular nail color on, remove it, and move on to another shade to find exactly what's right for them. The app not only provides a more personal experience, it also gives shoppers peace of mind that they've made the right purchase. Additionally, the personalized aspect of these interactive experiences set Sephora apart from competitors, and increases the likelihood of purchase.

Geo-location is another technology that can help to personalize the sales experience. According to Nielsen research, more than 40 percent of all U.S. mobile phone subscribers own a smartphone, going up to 62 percent in the 25 to 34 age group. Because of their location service capabilities, smartphones are allowing companies to deliver a geographically-tailored sales experience to their customers and prospects. For example, a fast food chain may push an offer (e.g., 10 percent of today's lunch special) to a customer that is relevant to both location (the closest outlet) and time of day (noon).

Video is also allowing companies to personalize the sales experience. Lexus, for example, is using video chat technology from Vee24 to allow customers who expressed interest in a Lexus vehicle to converse with an agent, via their computer or mobile device. Additionally, agents can use location technology to provide directions to the closest dealer for a test drive. Conradt of CoreMeida describes this type of experience as "a lot more interactive and compelling" to a potential customer. "When you're communicating with someone, you have a better opportunity to influence their decision-making," he explains.

Getting a comprehensive customer picture

Newer technologies like mobile aren't the only tools companies are using to deliver a more relevant sales experience. They're also using established interaction technologies to improve and personalize the experience.

Some organizations, for example, have created a holistic view of customers through technologies that aggregate customer information, like data marts and process optimization software. "There is an increasing demand for full online interaction and integration," says Glen Conradt, vice president of global marketing at CoreMedia. This integration allows companies to deliver a more contextually relevant sales experience. For instance, a company can immediately identify a customer calling into the contact center through the number he's calling from, and automatically provide the agent taking the call with all the historical purchasing and service data at the beginning of the interaction. "[The agent] will know whether he's a high-value customer and can personalize and tailor the interaction based on the most relevant information," says Angel Director of Corporate Marketing Dave Toliver.

This comprehensive view is imperative because many of today's customers conduct research on a product or service and are close to a purchase decision before speaking to a company representative, whether that rep is a call center or chat agent, a retail associate, or a salesperson for a services firm. Shawn Naggiar, chief revenue officer at Act-On, says that to personalize the sales experience, sales associates need to have as much information as possible about the customer's buying journey. Having access to a customer's browsing history on the company's website, for example, gives chat agents valuable insight into what he is really looking for. If a customer was searching for a particular product on a company's website, and the chat agent has access to that data, she can tailor the conversation accordingly, improving the customer's sales experience.

Without a personalized approach to sales, companies risk being lost in a sea of sameness. By offering clients a sales experience that is tailored to their needs, organizations can differentiate themselves, ensuring increased interest, additional sales, and return customers.