Educated and Empowered Consumers – The New Normal?

A young sales person in a workshop I ran recently, asked me to explain the differences between selling nowaday and the heydays of Technology sales. He clearly assumed I’d begun my career back when IBM was founded in the 1910’s or earlier, when door to door salesmen roamed the country, sniffing out sales prospects and selling their wares along the way.

Once I’d explained that the ‘good old days’ for me dated back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I was then able to reflect on some of the most significant changes I had observed over the intervening years. Back in my day (and yes I appreciate how old that makes me sound) your primary job as a salesperson was to educate prospective customers on your product or service and explain how it could make their life or the operations of their company easier and better.

There was no Internet to look up details about the competition or validate the promises you were getting from vendors, prospects couldn’t easily ascertain which of their peers were already using a solution nor could they place an online order. In reality many salespeople were glorified brochures, parroting information about product specs, facts, features and benefits.

It feels to me now, looking back through my rose tinted and somewhat myopic glasses, that quota attainment was easier back then too, because the competitive landscape was smaller, without the dual forces of globalisation and disruption. There were times where it felt like the biggest barrier to a sale, was whether the fax machine had been loaded with paper that morning.

Make no mistake, the world of professional selling has shifted on its axis since then. With the advent of the internet, sales has undergone the biggest shift toward consumer empowerment that has ever or will ever occur. As Daniel Pink explains so eloquently in his book “To Sell Is Human” we’ve moved from a world of buyer beware, to a world of seller beware and this is a great outcome for customers everywhere. An informed consumer, one who can access a wide array of research at the touch of a button, consult widely with peers in their industry in real time and make purchases through online portals, without the need to engage with any human along the way, let alone an annoying sales person.

Thanks, Internet. Thanks a lot!

For the new salesperson, learning outdated techniques of selling, as so many new sales hires continue to do across the world, could potentially doom their career before it ever starts. Rather than seasoned sales professionals mentoring raw recruits, we might be better inverting this model and allowing reverse mentorship to become the order of the day in sales.

So if everything has changed, if the power resides with our customers now, it begs the question, how can I be successful in B2B sales. Or in fact a better question:

What Do Sales Prospects Really Want From Us Now?

The key to success in sales has always been to give the client what they want, when they want it. But today that means a lot more than it did in the past. Here’s what our clients expect now:

1. Professionalism

Professional interactions with customers extend beyond a solo discussion with a sales executive. Now those professional interactions extend across websites, on blogs and social media, webcasts, in fact right across the analogue and digital worlds.

2. Listen, understand them, and take action

Customer communication must extend beyond a survey. To retain customer loyalty in today’s competitive markets, companies must create a two-way continuous dialogue that includes listening and responding to consumer concerns and suggestions. If that sounds a little vague or consultative, let this excerpt from Entrepreneur.com may just serve to persuade you.

“Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon) is famous for leaving an empty chair at the conference table and letting attendees know it’s occupied by the “the most important person in the room” – the customer. He backs up that symbolism with an array of metrics, 80% of which relate to what customers care about. Customer-centric business leaders excel at institutionalizing these five habits:
1. Listen to what customers value and seek their feedback on their experiences.
2. Think objectively to make sound, fact-based decisions.
3. Empower employees with the resources they need to please customers.
4. Create new value for customers, without being asked.
5. Delight customers by exceeding their expectations.
3. Consistency and reliability”

From their first interaction with a sales executive to the contract and the service provided, each interaction with new customers should build upon the last, with the ultimate goal of exceeding expectations. To succeed today, your entire organization must offer a consistent culture of excellence from start to finish.

4. Personalization

This is just a fancy marketing term for really getting to know your customers. From a web experience tailored to their personal preferences, all the way to the backend upsell, the goal is to connect in a meaningful way to their problems and how your products can solve them.

5. Add value

You can help educate your clients with a new white paper, connect them to other businesses that could help them, or invite them to a conference you’re attending. The point is that you’re in a partnership together and your job is to help them succeed. Having the heart of a teacher and treating people like customers before they ever sign on the dotted line is a pretty good path to follow too.

Big Change = Working Smarter

Trinity Perspectives specializes in techniques that help you win in the new sales environment. From sales strategy planning to sales training and consulting and of course the Win/Loss Review, our programs are designed to train you for this new paradigm shift in how we sell. Our goal is to help you hone the skills you need for today, while helping you acquire the ones you’re going to need for tomorrow. Let us know is we can help…

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Cian McLoughlin

Cian McLoughlin

Cian McLoughlin is the founder and CEO of Trinity Perspectives, a boutique sales consulting and advisory business. He is passionate about the world of enterprise selling and committed to improving the negative perceptions of this industry.

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Comments.

  1. Richard Benchimol wrote on

    I have always felt that if you are not willing to go the distance for your client, what is the point? I agree that the personal touch helps a lot. If the client is willing to give you a shot you should be able to provide the best to them. Thanks for the article.
    Richard Benchimol
    Leads Indeed http://www.leadsindeed.com

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