Almost a quarter of sales and business development teams have reported a decrease in the amount of time they spend face to face with customers compared to three years ago.
The survey, carried out on behalf of Huthwaite, a behaviour change consultancy, found that 80% of the respondents to the survey said that they had the same or less contact with customers compared to three years before. On top of this, a mere 13% said that the financial crisis and the ensuing recession was the primary reason for customer reticence to discuss new business ideas with sales staff. It’s easy to argue that this is just another consequence of the recession, but two thirds of those that did report a decrease in face-to-face customer time put it down to a change in customer buying methods.
Huthwaite International business director, legal services, Peter Fleming said: “In comparing today with the situation pre-recession, it would be easy to assume that this shift is simply due to companies cutting back on spending and, as a result, seeing service providers less frequently. However, our survey paints a very different picture.”
According to Mr. Fleming, customers are becoming more demanding and selective when buying. Rather than showing relaxed attitudes towards sales-people, they are more likely to employ procurement professionals. This makes for a more centralised approach to buying and narrows down potential selling opportunities for manufacturers.
“In many cases, procurement professionals are playing a greater role in the purchasing process,” said Fleming. “Though [clients] may be willing to talk about business challenges and reducing risk, for example, they are more resistant to being overtly sold to.”
While this could be labelled as a one-off incident, the evidence points to a long term trend and Huthwaite is advising selling organisations to take heed of this change. As well as business development teams changing tack and ploughing efforts into the value creation, negotiating skills and account development skills, the organisation says there is a pronounced need for all staff coming into contact with customers to recognise their place in promoting the development of their company.