Lots of surveys show that customers are engaging sales people later and later in their buying process. There are tremendous resources on the web that provide much information to the customer, enabling them to self educate, get opinions of others, and to narrow their alternatives to a short list.
The web, social business, active communities of users can offer tremendous convenience and value to customers. It also displaces much of the traditional role of the sales person in teaching their customers about products and solutions. And, while we don’t like to admit it, customers tend not to want to see sales people — largely due to bad salesmanship.Self education becomes a value alternative to avoid sales people.
But along with these statements, too many sales people seem to sigh in resignation, accepting this. Some terribly mistaken souls actually revel in this saying, “it really shortens my sales cycle!”
While I don’t dispute the data, what makes me sick and tired is this resignation and acceptance on the part of too many sales people. Why do we have to accept this? Is it the right thing to do–for the customer, for ourselves?
I think this trend is terribly dangerous for both–not the fact that customers are self educating, but that sales people aren’t redefining their role and the value they can create by engaging much earlier in the buying process.
Our job is no longer focused on educating customers about our product feature, functions, feeds and speeds. If the only value we create is to be walking, speaking data sheets, then by all means, the customer should engage us as late in the buying cycle as possible.
But that’s not what great sales professionals do. Great sales professionals operate on an entirely different plain.
Great sales professionals don’t wait until the customer recognizes a problem and decides to do something about it. They create visibility and awareness of the opportunities the customer might be missing. They create a vision for growth, improvement, and achievement. They engage the customer in thinking about how to perform at higher levels and how to grow. Whatever you call it–consultative, solution, provocative, insight based, or challenger selling; great sales people are agitators (in the best sense of the word), evangelizing and getting customers to own the need to change and improve.
If the customer already has an initiative identified and is initiating a buying process, great sales people don’t wait for the customer to determine the needs and requirements. At least in complex B2B sales, great sales people recognize the customer may not know how to buy. They recognize the customer may not know the right questions to be asking, the things they should be looking at. They recognize the customer may need help in aligning the different agendas within their own organization and drive a disciplined buying process. They recognize the customer may struggle with the business case or not recognize they have to sell the change within their own companies–to their management, to the people who will be impacted by the changes they are driving.
Great sales people help the customer identify, crystallize and manage these issues, making themselves advisors and facilitators to the entire customer buying process, not merely respondents to the last 30%.
Great sales people help the customer with the “last mile problem.” No amount of web research and self education can answer the question, “how do we make it work in our organization?” Great sales people help customers bridge the gap of more general information from the web, to understanding the specific implications for them and their organization.
Things our customers are trying to achieve are too important for them to leave them alone in their buying process. Customers recognize this, as well. They welcome sales professionals that can creat value in the process. They recognize these professionals can make their jobs easier.
Customers have the capability of completing much of their buying process without sales people, as long as the only value the sales person offers is to be a walking, talking data sheet and price book. We have too many examples of the web replacing a 100% of that function, enabling customers to complete 100% of their buying process without sales engagement.
If we don’t change–we deserve this. It’s far more efficient and effective for the customer. But if we are really interested in our customers’ success, as well as our own, we will change, engaging the customer in different ways and creating value that is not easily supplied through the web and self education.
Are you willing to be relegated to the last 30% or are you going to change what you do to earn the right to participate in the entire buying process?