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When Are We Going To Understand, It Really Isn’t About The Product!

by David Brock on March 25th, 2014

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on the road constantly, I think I’ve logged over 50K miles, sat in dozens of meetings, account/deal/call/pipeline reviews.  I’ve spent a lot of time in airplanes and hotels, so I read lots of stuff–books, magazines, blogs.

I keep hearing common themes (and I’m guilty about contributing to many of these themes.)  Selling has changed…….buying has changed…..our products, services, solutions are commoditized…..our value as sales people is being marginalized….selling is becoming about transactions…..the needs for sales people is shifting……  and some articles imply the “death of the sales person,” with appropriate cheering from many sales weary buyers.

As I reflect on these, I can’t help but agreeing wholeheartedly!  That’s if we continue to define the role of the sales person in the same old, tired ways we defined  it 10, 20, 30 years ago.  If we continue to cling to that old model of selling, then we surely are to become an “endangered species.”

10, 20, 30 years ago, much of the real value of the sales person was in educating customers about products/services/solutions.  The way customers learned about new solutions and ways to improve their operations was to listen to what sales people told about the new products, services, and solutions and how they helped improve business.  Additionally, a lot of how we spent our time was helping customers understand the differentiation between alternatives and approaches.  And even, much of what we did was somehow related to order entry — once we won the sale.  (I have always sold very high value, complex solutions.   I remember spending hours with customers, making sure the configurations and orders they were placing were configured correctly, had all the right specifications, and so forth.  While I never “entered” and order, I spent a lot of time in this part of the process.).

But as they always have, and continue to do so, times have changed.

Sales people are no longer the only source of information or education about products, services, and solutions.  In fact, they are no longer the most efficient or preferred source for learning about products, services or solutions.  Customers have so many more efficient means of learning–maybe not everything, but the majority of what they need.  They leverage technology, the web, networks, and a whole variety of vehicles to educate themselves.  Companies are investing more in meaningful content and making that content available on any device, any where, any time.  Social media, networking, and other groups enable us to share ideas, opinions and experiences about different products, services, and solutions.

At the same time, product life cycles are becoming shorter and shorter.  One of the things this drives is less differentiation (at least from a product capability) perspective.  We can rapidly develop and add new features and functions, based on evolving customer needs or to match competition.

Things have improved tremendously on the back end of the process.  Here, technology, tools, and other things have made the configuration and order entry process much simpler.

So we have a variety of converging trends—technology facilitated education, decreasing real differentiation between products/services, and a number of other factors have made or are  making so much of what we used to do obsolete.

But does that mean sales people are becoming less important?  Does that mean more and more is being shifted to more efficient, less costly channels—e-commerce/shopping carts, subscriptions, inside sales where people don’t have to be encumbered with time spent traveling too/from customers?

Absolutely!

But does that mean the need for sales people has diminished?

Yes, again!  Well kind of….

But……  (you had to know a but was coming)

Much of this only is based on that old, outdated, definition of what sales people do (remember—it was something about educating customers about products/services/solutions—-but that was 620+ words ago).

But in reality the new model of selling presents us with tremendous opportunities–for personal, professional, and overall job growth.

CEB Data, gives some insight into the future for the sales profession–and reason for great optimism:

  • 9% of customer loyalty (why they buy) is based on company/brand.
  • 9% based on product/service/solution capability
  • 19% is based on price/value.
  • and, lo and behold, 53% is based on their buying experiences!

When you dive into the data, it says customers still value the sales function—but for different reasons than they used to (or at least what we sales people thought they wanted.)

They continue to value the sales person’s role about teaching and educating them—just not about products/services/solutions.  They want sales people to bring new ideas, to teach them about what their customers are thinking, how they might better serve their customers, opportunities they may be missing, ways to improve their operations, ways to grow, ways to be more effective and efficient.  Customers value sales people who can help them organize themselves to buy, aligning the disparate priorities and agendas, avoiding the traps, navigating the change process.

In fact, the value sales creates in this new role is greater than all the other factors added together.

So it really is not about the product!  It really is not about the company or brand!  And it’s not about price!  They are important, but table stakes.

The real opportunity and differentiator is the buying experience sales professionals create and the value they create in the buying process.

So the bad news–if you continue to make it about the product or all that other stuff, you’re a dinosaur.

If you change your view of the role of the sales person, focusing on helping the customer with their business, the future is very bright!

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

IBM

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