what is sales friction

What is sales friction and why it’s killing your customer


What is sales friction + why it’s killing your customer

Friction slows the customer from reaching their goal, and equally slows the sale. Every sales system, no matter how well-designed, presents the customer with friction.Friction points are where customers get stuck in a sales system, either because they don’t understand what to do next or what is being demanded of them is too time-consuming.

The word ‘frictionless’ was believed to have been coined in 2014. Jeremy Rifkin introduced the concept of the ‘Zero Marginal Cost’ society which predicted the emergence of a hybrid form of capitalism that is part capitalism and part collaborative commons.

what is sales friction

All of us as consumers have faced friction when what we are trying to do differs from what the company is trying to do. Quite often there is a mismatch between the customer’s goal and the company’s goal. Profit will come in pursuit of the customer’s goal, but we must understand the customer’s goal.

Friction is a deciding factor as to whether a business will succeed or not

Sales and friction are related

When you eliminate friction, you stand to not only improve customer experience but simultaneously improve sales.

David Bell, CEO of JustPayroll, tells a story where he was at a retail store. He had the product in his hand, the money in his hand, and he said to the salesperson ‘I would like to make a payment and leave’. The salespeople serving couldn’t understand that David needed to be put into an express lane. Instead, the salespeople took David through a long-winded journey and make him start the process from the beginning.

Both the customer and salespeople are experiencing friction.


These salespeople are not listening to me

I’m spinning wheels trying to sell this television

Friction has a quotient

During the course of writing the book run frictionless, we discovered some startling facts about friction.

Friction has a quotient

Friction accumulates

Friction causes drop-off

One way to benchmark customer experience in an industry, is to attach to each competitor a friction score. The larger the number, the greater the friction. A competitor with a score of 5 is doing better than a competitor with a score of 8. For example, in 2016 we ran a sales friction test on several payment startups in southeast Asia. The industry scored an average of 4.7, with OFX on top at 1.7.

Friction accumulates

Customers remember the friction they experience from one interaction to the next. Any reduction of friction in a sales system will improve overall sales performance.

Through trial and error, we deduced these seven indicators of sales success and discovered if we improved one or more of the seven, sales increased. They are firestarters, credibility, brand, product knowledge, augmentation, response time and customer profile.


Friction causes drop-off

I was sitting inside a cafe sipping a coffee one morning. I had a full view of the passing street traffic and noticed a man and his partner approach. They considered the words and pictures on the menu posted outside the cafe and decided to enter the restaurant. However, when he tried to push on the door, the door didn’t yield.

Annoyed, the visitor about-faced and returned to the street, presumably to search for an alternative. I found the incident rather amusing, as I’d fallen prey to the same trick. Jokes aside, there are serious implications for the owner of the cafe. The very first interaction the cafe had with the customer, the customer encountered overwhelming friction and dropped off.

Running through the mind of the customer:

If it's this hard to get into the place, imagine how uninspiring it will be to order a plate of food

You and I have experienced dropped-off. Think back to the times you got up and left a restaurant before ordering. Times when you delayed or abandoned your goal. You quit. You walked off and forgot you ever wanted the product. This is drop-off. Drop-off is when a customer delays or abandons their goal, due to overwhelming friction.

Drop-off can be best avoided when the following equation is satisfied.

When the perceived benefit from the product sort, X is greater than the amount of effort required by the customer, Y.

What this equation tells us is customers make more than a monetary calculation when making a buying decision. They are calculating how much of their time is consumed. A business that presents less friction consumes less of the customer’s time.


Get ready to hunt and eliminate friction

Let’s do an exercise together in eliminating friction. I’d like to hire you as the manager of this cafe. It is your job to eliminate friction.There is a glass door. It opens one way. How do we eliminate friction? Take a moment to think about the problem.

Add a label to the door that reads 'Pull'

This is a good start. A label names the limits of the door.The only problem is that this relies on the customer to read the label. This particular cafe is internationally renowned and many customers do not speak English. What are you going to try next? Take a moment. Think hard. What would you do?

Place a human being outside the front door

As the customer approaches the door, a staff member opens the door for them. This is effective at reducing friction and customer visits at the restaurant rise. However, it’s expensive to maintain and when the staff member is in a restroom or on leave, the friction is back. More than ever we need a third solution.

Replace the one-way opening door with a bi-directional door

Having tried to name limits and throw humans at the problem, you decide to design the friction out of the sales system. Drop-off decreases and the restaurant experiences more orders. However, the glass door is heavy and opening it requires some strength.

Automate the entire interaction

The business owner. The experience is contactless. The door has a sensor that detects when a customer is near and opens the door for them.

Friction eliminated. Or is it?

Six months later a cafe starts up in proximity to your cafe, selling similarly priced plates of food. Instead of automatic doors, the startup designs the shop front such that no door is required. They combine the outdoor and indoor space together by introducing an open plan.

They completely eliminate the customer interaction, and therefore the burden of managing the interaction. Startups that run frictionless have an insatiable appetite for designing friction out from the business. By reducing friction, a buying decision is effortless for the customer.

It feels like a natural, wonderful experience, where every detail has been considered and no thinking is required on the part of the customer. You see, the customer experience and sales are two sides of the same coin. If you decrease friction, you increase sales.

Whether you are the founder of an internet startup or a business-owner of a consulting firm, eliminating friction is essential for creating customers.

Key takeaways

Friction and sales are two sides of the same coin.

Friction accumulates because customers remember the friction they experience from one interaction to the next.

Drop-off is when a customer delays or abandons their goal, due to overwhelming friction.


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Anthony has two decades of experience consulting to marketplace and software-as-service startups. Brands include, Google, SAP, and IBM. He specializes in designing sales systems and is the author of the book run_frictionless: how to free a founder from a sales role. He has consulted to startups from the United Kingdom, Korea, Singapore, Philippines, and Australia. Anthony has been a founder of two startups. When he’s not working, Anthony enjoys racing sports bikes and sailing boats.

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