A knock at the door, usually just as you’re sitting down to eat dinner with the family. You open it and it’s someone trying to sell you a new gas and electric package, a new TV and internet service, solar panels, cleaning equipment, or even cookies. In years gone by, the door-to-door salesman saw huge success in converting targets into customers, but in the modern age, the demise of the door-to-door salesman is in full effect. Here, Stephen Parker, CEO of business automation software specialist, Parker Software, explains why.

According to Forbes, door-to-door sales positions are expected to decline by 15 per cent before 2018. Compared to the 1980s, when these positions were on the rise by 59 per cent year-on-year, the door-to-door salesman is in decline. But what is causing this?

Lack of Trust

Gone are the days when door-to-door salesmen were likely to be a resident of the customer’s local area — someone they knew and trusted. Now, door-to-door salesmen travel the lengths and breadths of the country to rack up sales, and, usually, the happy chap persuading customers to part with their hard-earned cash is someone they wouldn’t know from Adam.

The most successful sales people have often been the best at building trust. However, in an age where the Institute of Business Ethics reports that consumer trust in businesses behaving ethically is very low, even the most successful sales people can struggle to build the level of trust required to convert leads.

There are also regular reports of door-to-door fraudsters scamming customers, usually the older generations, out of thousands of pounds. In fact, according to National Trading Standards, 85 per cent of doorstep crime victims are aged 65 and over. This means customers are now all too familiar with the potential risks of approving a doorstep sale.

Filling the Education Gap

Back in the 1980s, when the door-to-door salesman role was at its peak, customers were rarely able to find any alternative sources of information, making the salesman more of an educator than a seller.

Product demonstrations were a way of informing the customer that the service or product existed. The salesperson could guide the conversation to cover all the benefits of the product or service to demonstrate that it met the customer’s needs, and hope a sale would follow.

Today, customers can check out a product, its competitors and credentials, before making a purchase using online comparison websites or reviews. As a result, many savvy shoppers won’t even give a door-to-door salesperson the time of day.

Long-Term Customer Care

If a customer did purchase whatever was being offered on their doorstep, should something go wrong they would often be stuck, with no way to find a resolution. Bad sales teams often disappear once a customer has purchased the item, quite literally in the case of door-to-door sales. This leaves customer service teams picking up the pieces when something goes wrong, rather than providing ongoing support.

Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Service

Now, organisations are combining the traditional roles of sales and customer service staff to help bridge the gap between the point of purchase and customer aftercare.

Jay Bear, author of Hug Your Haters: How to embrace complaints and keep your customers, says that “the better you are at interacting with customers, the more you are training your customers to expect that same treatment again and again.”

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems that capture and show agents a customer’s entire history, rather than just the immediate snapshot of information, give sales or customer care agents an all-encompassing view of the customer they are dealing with.

This makes it possible to provide a more comprehensive and rounded level of service. What’s more, this customer insight gives sales teams the opportunity to sell the right product for that customer, or a specialised after care service that might not have been deemed appropriate without it.

Rather than being a reactive purchaser — buying because of a door-to-door sales call, for instance — customers now take a more active role in the buying journey.

Fuelling the Conversation­

According to a report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), digital technology has impacted organisations and customers completely differently. ­The customer’s journey is simpler and contacting a sales or customer support agent is easier than ever. However, businesses now need to manage the multiple channels and points of interaction that customers are taking advantage of.

Organisations must see the rise of digital communication outlets as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance, to their communication strategies. By incorporating data crossover and access between multiple systems and teams, agents get an encapsulated customer history that removes the need to recap information.

“Customers want their needs anticipated and addressed — quickly and easily,” the same BCG report explains. “When service reps know what actions customers have already taken, and customers are not asked to repeat the same information during multiple steps, customers are much more like to have a positive view of their experience.”

By combining all communication channels into one accessible system, the conversation a customer has with any member of the organisation, whether that be sales, customer service, technical support or even the CEO, can be fuelled by information and driven in the most appropriate direction.

Technology and Tactics Have Changed: Customer Demands Haven’t

Rather than receiving a knock on the door and hearing a scripted sales spiel, customers now expect a personalised experience. Investment in technology that simplifies and improves the customer’s experience, and supports sales and customer service agents to drive the conversation your customers want to be having with you, means improved customer trust and loyalty and lets the family eat their dinner in peace.

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