Jun 17, 2010

Advice to Sales People: Choose Brands

I was recently asked, “What advice do you have for a young person starting their sales careers?” Without hesitation I said, “Choose companies with strong brands.”

The sales profession has changed. Sales people can’t be lone wolfs and individual producers anymore. They are a part of a larger buying process. Customers don’t buy relationships; they buy brands.

It’s an uphill sale without a brand

Prior to 2000, sales people could be very successful with a little smarts and lots of hard work. If they made the calls they could find success. It doesn’t work like that anymore.

In many instances a customer’s first point of contact is a firm’s website. They evaluate the company online: assess the look and feel of the site, read the content, determine the value proposition, and make a decision to call or move on. This entire evaluation process takes place without any sales interaction.

Customers mitigate their buying risks by seeking out branded companies. It doesn’t matter how good the sales people are. If a company doesn’t have a clear value proposition and stand out as a credible option, the sales reps don’t stand a chance. They’ll lose to the competitors with stronger brands.

Brands provide job security

Industries such as copiers, uniform rental, waste management and advertising have notoriously high turnover levels in their sales forces. In some the turnover rate of new sales people is over 60% in the first 6 months. That’s an astronomical number. Basically two out of three new hires fails! That’s not very good odds if you are looking for a career in one of these industries.

Working for a company that is too dependent on its sales force is not fun. The sales process is focused on knocking on doors, persuading people and pushing customers to buy. It’s an adversarial relationship that is unpleasant for the customers, and unpleasant for the sales people.

Selling a strong brand is far easier. Customers seek out brands that fit their needs, and look to the sales people for advice and perspective on their situation. In a company with a strong brand, sales people solve problems and help their customers make the right choice. They aren’t “selling,” they’re facilitating a purchase. There is far less resistance in these purchasing cycles, which means sales people can be far more successful in their roles.

When you pay peanuts you get monkeys

Companies with strong brands don’t pay peanuts. They value their staff, and they invest in them. The model of “paying for performance” or paying 100% commission just doesn’t work. It puts all the risk on the sales people, and doesn’t place any value on the brand. Strong brands are built on strong people. It’s a synergistic relationship.

What is your take? I’d love to get your thoughts.

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