May 29, 2010

It’s Time To Rethink Sales. Your Buyers are in Control.

Sales hasn’t changed all that much in the past century.  NCR created the first sales training program in 1894.  It taught salesman how to prospect, present products, handle objections and close deals.  The process has been refined over the years, but the core principles have remained.

The sales process worked really, really well for over a hundred years, but now the cracks are starting to show.  To put it simply, the balance of power has shifted since 2000.

Customers know more than sales people

The 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were the glory years for sales people.  Executives would take their calls, and value their insights and expertise.  Prior to the Google-era, sales people were essential conduits of knowledge.  People didn’t go online to find information.  They went to their networks.  That meant sales people could play a crucial role as connectors.

Companies like IBM and Xerox clearly understood the value their sales people brought to the market.  They built very large, well trained sales forces.  They empowered their sales reps to become subject matter experts.

Since 2000 technology has upset the apple cart.  Customers aren’t waiting by their phones for sales people to educate them.  They go online, and get information for themselves.  As a result, the role of sales people has changed.  Rather than educating their customers on their products and services, sales people are facilitating their customers’ buying processes.

Focus on the buying process

Technology has clearly empowered buyers, which means organizations have to adjust their mindset towards sales.

Sales people still play a key role.  Customers rely on sales people to evaluate products, understand the fine details, negotiate pricing, and contextualized the solutions for their needs.  The sales person’s role has been raised from a disseminator of information, to consultants who solve problems.

Rather than focusing on the sales process and how you get your message out, focus on your customers buying process.  Look to your customers for insights on how to sell to them:

  1. How do your customers go-to-market?
  2. Where do they get their information?
  3. How do they evaluate companies and their products and services?
  4. When do they call a sales person for more information?

The more you understand your customers’ buying process, the better you can adapt your sales and marketing efforts to fit their needs.

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