I don’t think anyone would disagree with the statement, “Sales people need to be subject matter experts.” The real issue is in what?
Many would argue that sellers have to be experts in the products they sell. I get it, I’m not sure if I disagree, but when there are so many alternative ways for customers to understand products, one wonders, “Is this the most important area of expertise?”
We could look at it differently, perhaps posing the question, “What expertise do customers most value?” Once we understand this, then we might think, if building seller expertise in these areas might increase our ability to create value with our customers.
When we look at much of the training and development, much of manager priorities, is all about product expertise. Without a doubt, we have to understand our products. At the same time, we have so much capacity to provide that expertise through different channels–through our websites, through other sources. We are learning that our customers and prospects are getting a lot of the expertise needed through resources other than sellers.
But is this the subject matter expertise our customers need? We are surrounded by data suggesting the expertise w focus on is not that which is most important to our customers.
The data shows a number of things:
- Customers can get the information they need through non seller channels. Increasingly they prefer using them.
- Customers increasingly prefer a rep-free environment, currently over 72% want this. This could be a result of sellers failing to provide the expertise and insight critical to what they are trying to achieve.
- Increasingly, customer fail to complete their buying/change management process, 60% fail to make a decision, with the majority of those expressing concerns around decision confidence. One would conclude the expertise most needed is that which increases their confidence in what they are doing.
- We see many abandon their buying process early in their process–never even involving sales people because they stop before they look at solutions. This doesn’t mean the problem has gone away, they just don’t have the experience or expertise to know how to define and educate themselves on the problem.
- Then we see huge numbers of organization that should change, but don’t recognize the need to change.
All this points out the expertise most critical to our customers may not be product expertise, but expertise about problems they face, opportunities they may be missing, or expertise about how to buy (as opposed to what to buy).
It would appear if we became subject matter experts in not just the solutions, but in helping our customers better understand and define the problems, or in gaining confidence they are doing the right things, or that they have identified and feel confident in managing the risks, or in recognizing the need to change.
While product/solution expertise is important, it seems that’s not the expertise that’s most impactful and appreciated by customers.
What if we chose to become subject matter experts on the things important to our customers, not just the things important to us?
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