Technology continues to change the interplay between B2B sellers and B2B buyers. One important element is the amount of data created by both parties in the process of a B2B purchase or sale.

Buyers leave “digital footprints” while researching products, providers, and alternatives. Sellers use that data for a host of things, from lead scoring to developing and refining “buyer persona” profiling. Big data is almost everywhere in B2B sales.

Buyers expect, or should expect, that their Internet actions are being tracked and measured, their data is crunched, and analytics are leveraged to help sellers engage, improve their timing and win their business.

On the other end, apps deliver a host of “small data” to salespeople. For example, popular sets of apps among sales professionals allow us to see how buyers are interacting with our emails. (Full disclosure: I use one. My preferred app is Toronto-based ContactMonkey, but there are others).

People these days forget the Internet is not only made up of web browsers and mobile apps, but that email is the Internet too. Email is not like your telephone, utilizing an alternate channel. It is delivered via the Internet, part of the data stream and as such, captured and parsed for profit; what’s surprising is how many people ignore, forget, or just don’t know that. If Google can present ads that relate to the subject and content of your emails, you should think about what else may be going on, whether you understand the algorithm or not.

The reality is that when you are getting a sales email via the Internet from a seller, it is being tracked for opens, when and where you opened it, on which device using which email client, links in the mail that you clicked, and more. There are ways that recipient can counteract, but if you have not taken the steps necessary, “they can see you!” I am not hung up on the Big Brother aspect of this, but more about the potential negative impact on trust and relationships.

The other day, after a conversation with a potential prospect, to fulfill a request I sent along more information, including a link to where the prospect would be able to find further material on our website. I know he opened the email three times on the following day, he clicked on the supporting links twice, and all this was confirmed by the tracking I have on the site. Yet when I followed up with him, asking what he thought of the information, phrasing my question specifically knowing he had opened it.

He said, “I really haven’t had a chance to look at any of it.” Liar, I thought, how am I supposed to trust you now?

I am not naive, I do not expect everyone to love what I sell, and I don’t expect everyone I engage with to become a buyer. In fact, I know that just under a third will buy from us. I am prepared for that. But being lied to is something you never get used to.

Scenarios like this unfold daily, yet buyers and sales pundits go on about the importance of trust and relationships. Had I not seen their footprints, I may put it off to being lazy, or needing more work on my part. But given the facts, it does raise the question of the type of relationship they have in mind.

I can see having a business relationship with someone that I would not socialize with, especially when they are honest and straightforward in their dealings. But how does one reconcile being lied to? While the act itself is not new, what is new is the transparency that comes along with the technology we’re using – and that definitely carries some implications.

Is technology undermining trust in sales, or does it balance out or even outweigh the collateral damage? What are your thoughts?

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  • Tibor, I find this a fascinating example. Everything you say is true, but there’s another level to it that I want to suggest.

    It has to do with how technology is stripping away more and more social conventions, and creating a more direct world. It’s mostly good, but not without its side effects.

    I have the same technology you do. I can tell if someone has opened an email. But I find that if I tell someone, “Hey I notice you just opened that email,” they feel spied upon (gosh I wonder why). They don’t expect that I do that, or that if I do, they don’t expect me to say so.

    And so, what used to be a socially acceptable excuse, a bit of constructive hypocrisy – “I didn’t have a chance to look at it” – has now become a flat-out gotcha lie.

    We all have dozens of these moments every day. Think “I look forward to hearing back from you,” “that was a powerful article,” “your message is very important to us,” “sorry for the delay things just got very busy,” “we appreciate your interest,” all the way to “how nice to see you,” and “I hope you have a wonderful day.”

    Many things that used to be elements of politeness, etiquette, were always technically lies, in the literal sense that they expressed some degree of untruth. Technology is “exposing” those “lies,” and what was formerly a socially acceptable elision is now prima facie evidence of moral turpitude.

    Good? Bad? I’d say a bit of both. In any case, I guess I’m inclined to give your prospect a little bit of a break. You surprised him, he thought he was playing the old etiquette game, and you were playing the new technology game. Rather than calling him a liar in your mind, what if you had said to him, “You’re a liar, because I have technology that says you just opened the email!”

    I suspect you didn’t do that, and wouldn’t, because that kind of confrontation would itself be impolite. But, in a sense, weren’t you “lying” to him by not telling him you entrapped him because you had access to lie-detecting technology? The whole of concept of “lying” is true on one level, but on another level it’s intimately tied up with social propriety, etiquette, and how we relate to others.

    Fascinating stuff going on here, and on more than one level. I guess that’s my only point, that it’s multi-level.

    • tiborshanto

      Charles, No I would not do that, and I think the liar point is there to put a point on the question. Visibility is an interesting opportunity we love it when it brings positive results, but need to learn to deal with some of the ambiguity. As with most things, technology accents the situation, since sales is still a people thing, I think we will soon find a workable equilibrium. Te reality is that there are host of reasons for the buyer answering the way they did. It is up to the seller to explore the reason, not just to react to the message. I would likely use the opportunity to move to meeting (live or web), to have a proper discussion. The e-mail is an enabler, it should not be relied on to make the sale.

      Never a dull moment in sales!

      Thank for the feedback.

  • egiles

    Tibor, I read your email and I have mixed opinions out of this.

    How someone can be called “liar” and you do not trust him completely, when you
    have, some way or another “tracked” the email you sent him without
    your counterpart knowing this?

    You call it tracking, for him maybe is spying. And I could imagine the reaction of this
    so-called liar if you are open and honest and tell him you know what he did
    with your email.

    Can be justified in many ways, but bottom line, there is hidden information there which can create a breach in trust. Both sides.

    No one loves to be “tracked” in the email activity.

    I understand the tracking of my web browsing activity, but not in my personal conversations (Skype, WhatsApp, your call).

    Email, in my opinion, fells in the thin line between both mentioned above, is not browsing and it’s personal, but you can check it in a web browser or intecat with the links in the email.

    You showed a scenario as sales person who feels betrayed, now let me give you an example as customer, and tell me your views, if you want:

    I got, few weeks back, an email from American Express offering me a Corporate Credit Card.

    It was addressed to me (just a typo in my second last name, which leaded me to find out where they got my name)… but funny, I know my browsing activity and never ever had clicked in any AMEX link at least in 2-3 years.

    I was so upset because I KNOW how they got my info (I can accept that coming from any other type of company). There was the phone of the agent who sent the email, a telephone number from Amex Corp. in Mexico. No, was not a freelance agent, it was an AMEX employee, with a desk and a position in the company.

    I called, being I was shocked knowing that a company that protects their users of
    possible frauds, is purchasing data bases for selling their products.

    This lady first lied telling me I filled out a form asking to be contacted. I knew that
    was not true, she know as well. I indicated so and then she changed the version
    to the infamous “bank data base high profile customer”… I know that was not true (the typo in my second last name indicated so) and she knows as well. After this second confrontation, she accepted AMEX allows them to purchase data bases of millions of potential customers.

    Now tell

    Putting aside the fact that is illegal,

    Why not telling your prospect openly what you know or how you got his information?

    Do you think I would like to know my emails has been tracked by this company?

    I don’t think so.

    So, if you are tracking your customers or potential customers activity without letting
    them know,

    Why you feel offense when they lie about what they did with your email?

    Why not put a fine print in your emails indicating you are tracking the activity of the
    email you sent?

    That way you are not telling openly this, but for someone careful enough to read the
    fine print can decide if they want to do business with someone tracking the
    emails sent.

    In other words. you have the prerogative of doing business with a “liar”, they can decide doing business with someone who tracks the email activity.

    So, trust is a both way street. You know, if you shake hands with someone, preferably keep both hands at sight, and do not take offense if you keep one in your pocket and the customer mimics what you do.

    I always love your articles and is the first time I dare to disagree in part of one and
    express it. I loved to do so!

    • tiborshanto

      Don’t worry about disagreeing, makes for a dull discussion otherwise. The goal of the piece was to highlight some new realities and see how buyers and sellers can adjust, so you input was great and adds to the discussion.