(Sales) Interaction Design

5 minute read

I had an interesting discussion just the other day about the [putative] rise of social selling; increase in virtual, rather than physical, sales engagement; and the rush to redeploy field sales resources to inside sales. The topic being discussed was how, or if, a company should adjust its sales strategy to accommodate or leverage these new capabilities. I have a few thoughts about this and I would welcome your opinion.

There is a growing body of opinion that these “trends” (social, virtual, inside) are the ‘new normal’, and unless you quickly adopt them, and switch your investments from other (possibly successful) models, that you are doomed to failure. I shudder at the thought of this.

With any ‘new paradigm’ in sales and marketing there is a need to consider why the paradigm is emerging and how this new facility, or modality of engagement, impacts the blueprint for the interaction between buyer and seller.

I refer to the creation of this blueprint as Interaction Design, a term perhaps more frequently used by UX or other professionals who concern themselves with how a user will interact with technology.

Interaction Design focuses on creating engaging interfaces with well thought out behaviors. Understanding how users and technology communicate with each other is fundamental to this field. With this understanding, you can anticipate how someone might interact with the system, fix problems early, as well as invent new ways of doing things. (Ref: usability.gov)

Shouldn’t sales and marketing professionals be concerned with understanding the communication with their customers? Isn’t there great value to be had if you could anticipate how a buyer might interact with the [sales and marketing go to market] system, fix problems early, as well as invent new ways of doing things?

Interaction Design should be applied to how a sales person, or a whole company’s sales and marketing organization, interacts with customers throughout all of the phases of a selling or buying cycle. We know that the combination of company, brand, or product impacts customer loyalty less that the sales experience – the actual interaction with the seller. So shouldn’t we be looking to provide our buyers with a great ‘user experience’?

I am not saying that there is not value in social, virtual and inside – not at all. But in the absence of deeply considered deployment, we run the risk of damaging the buyer’s user experience. We first need to design the sales interaction in painstaking detail. Otherwise we will burn cycles, prospects, customers, and the careers of our sales people, in pursuit of these latest trends. Thinking long and hard about how the customer will want to engage in the buyer/seller interaction is not necessarily easy, but as a carpenter, tailor or surgeon will tell you, it is always better to measure twice and cut once.

The challenge we now face is that with the proliferation of automation fueling social, inside and virtual, we have an opportunity to screw up our sales efforts really quickly. Just because it scales, doesn’t mean we should do it – at least not until the design work has been done. The corollary of this of course is that if your competitors have figured it out before you before you do, then you will be a competitive disadvantage. That’s one of the conundrums we face in a world with such advances in technology and rapidly evolving dynamics. Still, better to be late than to destroy what you have while trying to be early.

Interaction Design, when applied to the sales engagement, is something we at The TAS Group consider to be part of Smart Sales Transformation, and can be something as fundamental as building a smart sales playbook that guides the sellers to anticipate buyer actions, or a system that connects your solutions to the customers business problems.

Taking a customer-first perspective in all that you do helps to ensure that your buyer has a better user experience. Once the ideal interaction has been designed, you can visualize how the engagement happens – from the customer’s perspective – see what outcome you want at each point in the interaction, and then see how social, virtual and inside can help accelerate the velocity of the interactions for increased effectiveness or equal effectiveness with greater efficiency.

At one time while Ron Johnson was Senior Vice President of Retail Operations at Apple he challenged Steve Jobs with an Interaction Design problem. As the company was just about to open its first retail store in May 2001, Johnson was riding with Steve Jobs to a weekly planning meeting. “We’ve organized it like a retail store around products, but if Apple’s going to organize around activities like music and movies, well, the store should be organized around music and movies and things you do,'” Johnson confessed. Jobs turned to him and said, “Do you know how big a change that is? I don’t have time to redesign the store.”
Ten minutes later, Jobs walked into the meeting and said, “Well, Ron thinks our store is all wrong. And he’s right, so I’m going to leave now. And Ron, you work with the team and design the store.” That lesson of doing things well “carried through to so many things I’ve done,” recalls Johnson. “It’s not about speed to market. It’s really about doing your level best.”

Well said. “It’s not about speed to market. It’s really about doing your level best.”

Sometimes starting over can be the best place to begin, and sometimes you can leverage what you have already in place. You just have to design for the interactions you are looking to accelerate, and understand the capabilities (or deficiencies) in new technologies or trends. The story begins and ends with the customer.

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