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When Does Selling Stop Being Selling?

When does selling stop being selling? It is the moment you no longer have influence or impact in a sales call, it is when your insight is no longer needed, it is when you are not encouraged to ask questions, and it is the moment you become perilously close to being irrelevant and unnecessary.

One of the most frustrating changes sales organizations are experiencing is the disturbing trend of customers who completely commoditize the sales process and lockout sales people in the process.

Selling organizations with leadership positions in their marketplace and who have long-standing customer relationships are being forced more so than ever into reverse auctions, RFPs, blind proposals, and price driven bids.

Sales organizations need to come to terms that once this happens to them that their sales people are no longer in the role of a sales person, they have very limited or no influence at all, and it is simply now a pure commodity play. It is just a cold, faceless and voiceless internet transaction.

As I travel around doing conferences, conventions and sales training, there is no more single divisive and emotionally charged subject than this. Invariably part of the audience is in denial believing there is a clear answer to combat this cluster fest, and the rest of the audience (realists) have come to terms with this ugly part of their business and have new rules of engagement.

Their new rules of engagement are very simple; unless they have access to decision-makers, and are able to have a meaningful exchange of information with a live body, they simply will not participate. They know that the odds are so low and the cost so high, they patently refuse to engage.

Without exception in every conference and sales training that I do this subject comes up and I will receive a heated retort from an audience member who frightfully claims this represents their entire pool of business. Shame on them! And always I will have the majority of participants shaking their heads in disbelief, and rolling their eyes about the mess that these companies have put themselves in.

The reality is too many companies have built their business around too large of a pool of pure commodity business. The more progressive companies in these industries have diversified their markets, and have made a concerted effort to get into new industries with new products and new services. They are being proactive while the rest are being reactive.

Some companies are realizing the high cost of pursuing these types of commodity customers and are taking the responsibility away from expensive sales people, bringing these types of accounts inside as house accounts, and letting customer service representative manage the business with a much lower overhead.

So the question is no longer how do we get around this mess, it is now often how do we avoid it completely? Do we play or not play?

Every company must decide what makes the most economical sense for their business, their industry and their capabilities.

In some cases where companies are deciding to stick it out, they are dramatically downsizing their sales efforts and are becoming an operationally driven company, instead of a sales driven company. Why pay premium salaries to highly professional sales people if their influence, no fault of their own, is minimal or nil. Assuming it is true, that it is no fault of their own... often it is not.

I think the key question for a lot of companies is, when faced with this disturbing trend is do they want to be in the value add business, or the commodity business, or whatever combination of the two?

The next question is are they going to deploy valuable assets (sales people) to engage customers who do not value what they have to offer, and do not value the expertise their sales people have in helping their customers identify, isolate and solve real-world business problems. Now this assumes that their sales people can effectively construct business relationships based on their ability to solve problems that customers cannot solve effectively or efficiently on their own. That is a whole new discussion!

Customers are like the electorate vote, they vote with their pocketbooks. They are not going to pay a premium for a premium service, or a product that they do not perceive as such, do not need, or do not believe it is worth it.

Therein lies the rub. Does your sales team have the ability to translate value and sell a premium offering to an increasingly skeptical and cynical marketplace? Obviously, there is a resounding yes answer to this question because look at how many companies there are in the marketplace that are truly high end solution providers, and are able to still maintain respectable and healthy margins.

The reality is capitalism plays no favorites. There will always be a shifting and changing climate where industries and companies catapult down the commodity slide and they are replaced by emerging companies, industries and technologies. The frustrating thing is it happens now in a flash with little warning, unlike in the past where it was more predictable.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com