“I’m Sorry, What?” – Sales and the Narrowing Attention Span


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The above phrase and some interesting research last week from Microsoft about human attention spans being less than that of a Goldfish is becoming a scary reality. I’m guilty of saying this at least once or twice in the last month. In all outward appearance I was paying attention but internally I was thinking about other things. My mental queue was full but certainly I can focus longer than 7 seconds like a common goldfish right? 1. 2. 3. 4…oh I need to respond to that email. 5…if I leave now I can beat traffic. 6. 7….those researchers may be on to something, more than I would like to admit.

The Narrowing Window of Opportunity

One of the side effects of our connected economy is that we suffer from a cultural attention deficit disorder (ADD) and decisions are sometimes made with lightning fast speed. Anyone in the sales or marketing profession is faced with limited customer attention and more options to compete with in almost every market. It is great if you can get a prospects attention, but then what?

Harvard Business Review published a great study titled The Short Life of Online Sales Leads where they noticed that companies that responded to an online query within an hour were 7 times more likely to convert that to a qualified sales opportunity, and 60 times more likely than companies that took longer than 24 hours.

From my experience, Salesforce.com does this more effectively than any company in the market, as I’ve worked with a former employer to get their CRM updated. I walked through an overview providing insights into just what SFDC is capable of, and my experience using it in business. I completed the conversation by filling out information for a whitepaper specifically for small businesses. From the time it took me to wrap up the meeting, walk downstairs, and start to head out, 15 minutes in total, I received a call from Stephen at SFDC asking me if I had any questions. The owner of the company was so impressed by their response time that he purchased some starter licenses that day.

The opportunity to take action when a potential customer turns their attention to a company or service is so narrow that any company without a maniacal focus on bridging the response gap cannot succeed in this new economic reality.

Buyer Behavior and Attention Has Forever Changed

Our world is being driven to an on-demand marketplace where anything and everything can be purchased and delivered on the same day. Customers are doing more of their homework online, through videos, peer recommendations, social networks – all of which puts them firmly in the drivers seat for making the decision that is right for their business.

The statistic often quoted in sales and marketing circles about this shift in power comes from the executive advisory company CEB. Their findings were that customers were 57% of the way through the buying decision process before they reached out to a vendor for support. More information about a product or service is available online to help a customer form their decision and that only continues to grow. By the time a customer reaches out they need more than just information, they need a response. The response can vary from “I’m here to help if you need me” to taking the customer credit card information to complete the sale.

Building the Bridge Takes Planning

Building any bridge requires planning and forethought. You cannot simply decide to go across a gap from point A to point B. You need to evaluate from both sides and agree where to meet in the middle. There is a gap between buyers and sellers with regards to their time and attention. Adrian Ott in her book The 24 Hour Customer brilliantly stated that customers are constantly triaging their mind, time, and dime. If we as business professionals cannot meet them where they are when they give us their attention, we miss the window on any opportunities afforded by our marketing efforts to win their business.

Proper planning, understanding of the customer need and respect for their time is crucial to the success of any organization. How you respond when a customer turns their eyes, minds, and wallets in your direction will determine whether you get to the sale or if you end up looking at your own reflection in the bottom of the bowl.

Scott Spiker
I'm a sales coach and Social Selling evangelist for Symantec. I have spent the last 15 years carrying an individual quota and am now in the process of building out our social sales practice.


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