Keeping sales from becoming a disabler

Sales, the ultimate goal of any company to find customers that are willing to part with their hard-earned cash in exchange for the awesome solution you provide.

We come from an era, where customers were not well informed on the different solutions out there. But things have changed. When Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee invented the internet in 1989, he didn’t imagine that his invention would dramatically change the information inequality within the world of sales. Before the advent of the internet, information was scarce and almost at the sole disposition of the manufacturers of the world. Sales people were the gate keepers of this info and were the ultimate link between customers and solution providers.

Today, this has change dramatically, in all environments. From B2B to B2C, customers have access to almost all relevant information needed to make a purchase decision without the help of the solution providers.

An important part of customers in the B2B realm, don’t even want to interact with sales people in a physical way anymore, unless there is some new important information to be shared. Many sales people will confirm, it is becoming harder and harder to get face time with customers.

The internet, with all its reviews, peer information and the product details provided by your marketers, have replaced a big part of the traditional information liaison role your sales person had.

In a world like this, what role is there still left for these skilled people who used to own the customer’s access to information?

Sales as a remover of doubt, an instiller of confidence;

When Customers made up their mind, they want confirmation to remove the last doubt. Sales people need to become trained doubt removers, they are the ones that need to install full confidence with the buyers that they are doing the right thing. They also need to be swift in doing so, because they are always in danger of stalling sales cycles with non-deciding companies.

Sales as a customer guide to delight

Even when customers have a fairly good understanding of what they need, they can still be positively surprised. Sales people can guide them to the unexpected delighters that can bring the deal your way. Bringing to attention, what was not discovered before but has great value for the customers. It stands without saying that your sales person needs to fully understand the customer need to do this.

Sales as a guardian of value for money

Customers who know what they want, are mainly interested in getting a deal. Sales people need to thoroughly understand what value they bring to negotiate well. These typically goes beyond the core product.

If you are relying on independent channel and your solution is “over”-distributed, customers will challenge multiple ‘outlets’ to get the best deal. In this case you will need a very good pricing policy with your channel to maximise value.

 

Although most people are aware of these things, not all organizations adhere to them.

A topic I recently discussed with friends generated a lot of recognition. We were talking about car sales people.

As professionals who travel around, we get our fair share of mileage per year. Thus, we are more often in the market than the average car buyer.

Surprisingly, in our small group of five, we all shared similar experiences. In an industry where manufacturers go as far as determining what tiles are needed in the showroom, little effort seems to go into determining the role of the salesperson. Resulting in bumpy customer journeys.

These were some of the anecdotes of bad customer journeys that were shared during our discussion;

On instilling confidence:

  • Being ready to buy, browsing the showroom for 30 minutes and nobody walking up to help. Even having to wait for attention at the counter because the receptionist is busy with paperwork. Without the necessary confidence in the levels of customer service, this prospect walked away.
  • Two persons reported arrogant salespeople who were convinced that there was nowhere else close by to purchase their brand. One person bought the car with a dealer in a different town. Another went to a different brand.

On guiding to delighters:

  • Encounters with mind reading salespeople are also on the anecdote list. Sales professionals who felt your needs without asking. One person shared his story on a sales guy who continuously pushed for an estate version of a model. This to better suit his family needs. The person ended up with another dealer, because he wanted a fun car and didn’t enjoy the guilt feeling he was talked into.
  • Strong annoyance was expressed towards pushy sales people who guided towards the models that only satisfied their bonus targets. One person stepped to another dealer as the sales person became unpolite after failing to convince him to buy a different model.

On offering a deal, value for money

  • One individual recalled a sales guy who offered an in-showroom deal that was higher than the pricelist on the internet.
  • Not understanding what brings value to the customer, leads to price haggling on the core product between different dealers. Although this does not necessarily drive customers away, it does represent a missed opportunity for the dealer. Finding the value placed by the customer on the dealer’s service, the professionalism of the workshop and throwing in a high customer value option, might win you the deal without deep discounts.

Fair to say that there are some pretty good car sales people out there, unfortunately they were scarce in our encounters. Our sample was limited to the Belgian market and is statistically not relevant, it is the perceived truth by five semi-experienced car buyers who all bought new cars in the last twelve to eighteen months. So please treat it as such.

As a manufacturer, you might want to dig somewhat deeper into these anecdotes.  They all seem to indicate that the large investment made in a compelling customer journey that led to a certain brand preference, were thwarted in the last stage before purchase. Prospects that knew what they wanted, were driven away by sales people not understanding the new sales paradigm.

The digital age has made the customer better informed than ever, but great sales people will still make a difference. Organizations who don’t recognize this new reality and arm their sales force accordingly, run the risk of losing out because their sales force became disablers instead of enablers.

If you have any stories of your own, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section.