The popularity of texting seems as intuitive as, well, texting itself. The natural appeal of sending short, electronic messages using a mobile device is proven by the near ubiquitous use of the tool and by statistics. According to a 2015 study of U.S. smartphone use by the Pew Research Center, 97% of those surveyed used text messaging, making it the most frequently used app.
More compelling are statistics reporting that virtually all text messages are read by recipients, usually within minutes of receipt. There’s no comparison with email, which tends to accumulate in inboxes to near unmanageable levels.
From my own experience, I can start the day with 100 emails, which requires a laborious process of scanning and prioritizing before deciding which ones need my immediate attention.
Ditching the Inbox?
So, does this mean that sales professionals should ditch email for text messaging? Not at all. There is a time and a place for texting within sales relationships, just as there are times when it is appropriate to send an email, make a phone call, or schedule a meeting. The purpose of the communication should drive use of the tool. Technology, however fun or cool it may be, should never be the determining factor.
I use text messaging with clients when it makes sense, not as a regular way to communicate.
Some texts are tactical:
I just got to the restaurant and will wait in the lounge for you.
Some texts are strategic:
I realize you’re traveling, but I wanted to make sure you saw the report I emailed to you this morning.
And other texts involve relationship building — sharing common interests to maintain rapport.
Deciding When to Text
True or False: The prospect includes a mobile number on business cards and email signatures, so it must be okay to send text messages.
This is a trick question. The red flag here is the word “prospect.” I would never text a prospect. Cold-call texts would likely do more harm than good, being seen more as an invasion of privacy than a welcome introduction. It is far better to break the ice with an email or a phone call.
With texting, as with social media in general, it pays to be careful and considerate of how your message may be received. The very nature of text messaging changes the tone of the communication, as it is often perceived as being more significant and personal than email. My rule of thumb is to use texts only with clients with whom I have an established relationship, and then to text judiciously only when something is important and urgent, not use texting as my standard channel of communication.
True or False: Texts are best used to get immediate answers about business matters.
This is another trick question. Yes, texts are a quick and easy way to get definitive answers about open questions. No, texts are not best used to conduct business. I would never send a proposal via text message. Instead, I would send the proposal by email. Then, depending on the situation, I might text the client if I don’t hear back within the expected timeframe. Even then I would focus more on the person than the content of the proposal: “I am concerned because we haven’t heard from you. Is everything okay?”
I sent that text to a long-time client who had not responded to a proposal I had emailed. As it turned out, the client was swamped with work and had not read the proposal, but did reply to my text immediately. I texted again to point out which email was the important one to focus on, based on a time-sensitive issue, and our texting exchange kept the project on track. Note that our texting didn’t discuss the business itself, but it was crucial to keep the process moving along.
The key with texts is to incorporate more EQ than IQ, tapping into the emotional quotient of the relationship instead of taking an intellectual, business-oriented tone. This kind of text reinforces the personal relationship and shows you care about the individual.
True or False: In today’s 24/7 business world, texts can be sent any time of the day or night.
False. The best time to send a text is when you want the other person to receive it. The arrival of a text is announced with an alert, and it is most often read within minutes. This might be fine during the work day, but you don’t want to disturb clients on their personal time, and you certainly don’t want to wake them. Even though smartphones have “do not disturb” features, some users avoid turning off alerts in order to be available for emergencies.
So, be thoughtful about timing and time zones before pressing “send.”
True or False: Conversing with a client via text is similar to email, phone calls, and other forms of communication in terms of the need for professional, appropriate behavior and the protection of intellectual property and other proprietary rights.
True. No matter which communication method is used, any and all client contacts should be conducted with respect and sensitivity for the individuals and the business. The same boundaries you would observe with other interactions apply just as well with texting.
One final note: Text messaging provides a bit of a safety net for clients in managing their time. They may read texts as soon as they arrive, but they don’t have to react in the moment, as they would when answering a phone call. They can reflect on the content of the message and think about if and how they want to respond. While texting technology allows immediate contact in sending messages, the recipient has the freedom to answer or not. Either way, sales professionals can be virtually certain their message was delivered and read.
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As a VP at Richardson Sales Training, Clark Owen has helped organizations engage in complex selling to improve performance by leading cross-functional teams in the areas of sales process optimization, individual and organizational assessment, selling skills, coaching, digital learning, sustainment, measurement strategy, and performance analytics. He has served a broad range of clients in Richardson’s Boston office, who strive to be the leaders in their industries.