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One of the biggest challenges in modern sales is the evolution of customer communication. More and more digital conversations are asynchronous which makes the „right moment“ to make a sell hard to detect.

My colleague Christina Ferroni recently brought the topic of synchronous and asynchronous communication up which made me think. According to her, the different digital communication channels add another, difficult variable to the sales-customer-relationship. But first things first.

What is synchronous communication?

In his excellent article on customer service, Jeremy Watkin defines synchronous communication as a live conversation with a clear beginning and ending and short reply times. Synchronous communication channels are, for example, phone conversations, live-chats or the personal dialogue (whether via Skype or in person). Both parties know when the conversation starts and when it ends, with an emphasis on the ending. This way, follow-up actions can be determined easier. Other advantages according to Watkins:

  • problems and questions can be solved immediately
  • more efficient dealing with topics
  • non-verbal cues especially for phone- and in person-conversations non-verbal cues can strengthen the relationship

synchronous communication

What is asynchronous communication?

People communication asynchronous when there’s a delay between the initial message and the reply. This can happen with emails, comments on an article or in chats (e.g. Messenger or WhatsApp). An asynchronous conversation has the potential to never really come to a full end, because the delayed replies can also invite another reply and so on. Advantages of asynchronous communication

  • the customer can decide when they want to engage
  • both parties can pick up the conversation at any time
  • the communication is usually very transparent insofar that it can be looked at in its entirety at any time (in case of emails or chat history)
  • both parties are not bound to a certain device (computer, phone) and can move much more flexible or do other things while having the conversation

asynchronous communication In his article, Watkins remembers an example of a chat service that gave customers the freedom to leave the site and come back later with the chat history still available. He initially was hesitant but then realized that this is a practical solution for when resources are short, or the question happens outside of working hours. Instead of forcing the customer to wait in a „chat holding line“, he can simply do other things and return to the issue later. This also lessens the pressure on the service personnel to have an immediate solution, especially to complex problems.

Asynchronous communication in sales

Now, most support issues are due to a need on the customer’s behalf which means that the customer is more likely to keep the conversation going (until their problems are fixed). However, in sales, it can be more difficult, since the sales rep is actually the one who (usually) wants to keep the conversation going. It’s therefore paramount to keep the conversation interesting, so the contact/customer doesn’t „log out“. Especially email communication is prone to failure if the follow-up to a conversation, event or interaction takes too long.

Learn to read the signals

It can happen fast that the asynchronous conversation turns into a one-sided conversation. This ends with one person always initiating the conversation but receiving no feedback. A sales rep needs to learn how to „read“ their conversation partner on an individual level. Not everyone shows disinterest when they don’t reply immediately, some people just take their time. Get to know the person you’re talking with and take note of different conversational types and frequencies.

Add value to the conversation

No one likes receiving a message that looks like copy & paste. Unfortunately, in a sales situation, this is rather the rule than the exception. Think about a clear communication strategy for your contact (individually) and only initiate the conversation if you have something interesting and off value to share. Find out how your role as not just a sales rep but as a thought leader can add value to your customer relationship.

Don’t force it

If a contact simply doesn’t engage with you on a certain channel, accept it. Even short, one-syllable answers can signal a certain fatigue that you should take into account. Your interactions should always be perceived as open, informative and inspiring. But the perception lies in the eye of your customer.

Consider your options

If a prospect doesn’t reply, it’s not always a sign that they are not interested. It might be that the channel is not their preferred communication channel, that the message is not reaching them or that the timing is off. Try different channels and ways to interact with your contacts and document your success as well as your failures to work out best practices.

Be direct

The best way to find out what a contact really wants is a direct question. You don’t have to ask at the very beginning of your relationship. But as soon as its clear (to the contact) that you have a certain goal, it can help to ask how you can help them and how they’d like to interact with you.


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