You Get the Customers You Deserve
There has always been a low cost of entry in the sales profession. However, this is being chipped away in the information economy for a lot of conventional sales people. Customer's tolerance for the messenger and their message is at an all-time low thanks to the Internet, technology and buyer skepticism.
Back in the day a high percentage of a sales person's job description was to get the word out about their company and do a lot of missionary work. The Internet has effectively diminished part of this job description. The double whammy for sales people has been their information doesn't command the same attention it did in the past, and their ability to deliver this message with personality and trust in a face to face environment has been weakened by the Facebook effect; customers isolate themselves behind technology, and their preferred personal communication mode is in box to in box.
The old model is a bit broken and it won't get any better. There's more supply and less demand, more competition and less time to get your message in front of customers. Add the ADD and OCD nature of customer's attention span and you have one big cluster fest. The value of conventional sales people has been slipping steadily for the last 10 years. Their value, their input, and active participation is seen as non-critical for some customers to execute well-informed buying decisions. They're viewed in some markets and industries as dispensable and as non-essential personnel. Customers are borrowing from the principles of lean manufacturing when engaging sales people; achieving the shortest possible cycle by eliminating waste (sales people), incidental costs and reducing human effort.
Selling in the new normal isn't easy. Companies don't change their sales strategies because they don't know they're broken. They're trying harder, working harder and longer with a solidly broken process netting them average returns. They're condemned to repeat the same old mistakes. The tragedy is it doesn't seem that way. Each mistake looks new, and they fail to see the same old repeated patterns.
Conventional sales strategies are out of touch with how customers buy. It's Rip Van Winkle meets Facebook. The days of being a talented amateur in sales is quickly coming to an end. If only the sales profession could point to some natural disaster for its misfortune. All their problems are essentially self-made and self-inflicted.
Ronald Reagan was famous for expressing his distaste for liberal politicians that he opposed adamantly; "If it moves tax it, if it keeps moving regulate it, and if it stops moving subsidize it." Companies are acting a little like the government. They're liberally subsidizing their sales people by being so product- centric and so company-centric. I call it identical-based selling. Everyone is positioning themselves with the exact same differences. All this product overregulation stifles inquiry and results in silencing customers. The historical staid, conservative, change averse ecosystem of selling has to be ripped apart and be transformed.
In my training sessions I ask participants what they're doing to innovate their face-to-face sales calls with customers. What do they say and ask that is truly different, imaginative and innovative to make up for the perceived lack of value customers see in sales people. I rarely get anything more than tired, recycled ideas.
A lot of sales by conventional sales people are made by being at the right place, at the right time, with the right circumstances, with the right person who they click with and with very persistent and avid follow-up. But in today's market of large supply and small demand these accidents are happening with less frequency.
The reason sales people and their products get reduced to column fodder and commodity status is they only know one thing about their customer's business; their specifications. They don't know how to translate their offering into how they can relieve or alleviate problems. Today sales people spend too much time selling solutions, instead of evaluating and locating problems of their customers. It's all about problems. Your solution only exists to solve problems.
Too many orthodox sellers lack a highly personal approach to understand their customer's unique circumstances, and therefore they become personna non grata. "Sorry, no more well-rounded sales people. Only pointed people need apply. After all the talk about being multidimensional it turns out there is only one dimension to it; the size of the improvement you can make in the customer's profits. If you're looking for an easy way to sell, stop now; it's the hard way," says Mack Hanan.
Selling organizations have always kept in the past their sales people's strategies vague, ambiguous and undefined. They've done this because the real successful producers succeeded because they had a way with people and had the Midas touch. (Only 2% of the population can sell this way!). This convinced them that it was all about personal approach and connection. But, today it's far more complex. Those traits now get you invited to the dance, they don't ensure success like in the past. Sales people now have to transcend the relationship, and build a business case for change around value. However, if they don't trust your evaluation and sales process, they won't trust your value.
Conventional sales strategies are cloaked in hypocrisy. They're all about helping the customer deliver their goal, but it's really all about the selling company achieving their goal. Their sales strategy falls dead on its face because it lacks empathy, understanding and customer problem expertise. Their strategy reverses one of the most important tenets of relationships and trust; seek to understand before being understood.