Steve Burton posed an interesting question on LinkedIn:
When a large ticket item 500k + is purchased in a B2B transaction how much of it so you think is down to the salesperson’s skill ? If we analyzed some these deals would the majority just be down to the buyer putting the 3 most well known options on the table and picking the most sensibly priced deal with the simplest on boarding ?
My knee jerk reaction was, “Well of course!” But as I thought about it, I revised my position:
Top performers always make a difference, but not only at the tail end of a sales cycle. Their biggest difference is much earlier on, perhaps in inciting the customer to change, or helping them through their buying process. Top performers teach and lead their customers. They are a valued part of the customer buying process.
Part of what makes top performers the best is they find and define opportunities far before anyone else does. As a result, they have huge influence in shaping what the customer seeks to do. Since they are doing this, price is seldom the determining factor when the customer makes a decision. But let me come back to this later.
Unfortunately, this represents a minority of sales practice. Too many sales people are basically walking/talking data sheets. They add little value to the customer, other than answering questions about the products that customers can’t find on the web. They may be useful in arranging demos or other things, but usually are in react mode with customers driving them (and their competitors).
Too many organizations seem to build their strategies around waiting until the customer has defined their needs, requirements, and priorities–then having the sales people respond to them, positioning their products as positively as possible.
Increasingly, these activities can be replaced with well designed websites, configurators, and shopping carts, making the sales person less important.
In cases where they can’t be automated, too often the activities of the sales person as “information concierge” are undifferentiated. That is, they are doing the same thing their competition is doing. Again, in these cases sales people don’t make a difference. If all else is equal, the customer will buy on price.
Perhaps instead of asking, “do sales people make a difference,” we should be asking, “how can sales people make a difference,” then orienting everything we do to responding to that issue.
Customers Still Need Help
Customers struggle–they need help, though sometimes they may not recognize they need help. Great sales people–those that make a difference are those focused on helping their customers improve, achieve their goals, or reach their dreams.
Sales people make a difference by:
- Helping educate customers about how they might better achieve their goals and improve.
- Creating a compelling need to change by helping the customer understand the consequences of doing nothing.
- Helping customer organize themselves to buy, aligning the various agendas, priorities and goals of the buying group.
- Helping the customer ask the right questions, helping them understand what they may not know, but need to know in making the decision.
- Helping the customer understand critical risks and issues important to their success in selecting and implementing the decision.
- Helping the customer understand critical issues in implementing the solution and achieving their goals.
- Helping the customer build the business case and justification for the solution.
- Helping the customer learn how to sell what they want to their management.
- Assuring the customer achieves the goals/values they expected.
- Finding new opportunities with the customer to continue to improve.
Sales people can make a difference. Customers want sales people who do make a difference.
It’s our decision about whether we choose to make a difference and create value for the customer.