Over the last 5 – 10 years, with the advent of the internet and the availability of information about all the products, solutions and services available, customers can now research and educate themselves about almost everything to do with any business.
Users and buyers are using social media, forums and review sites to delve deeply into the advantages, problems and real costs associated with different products. The result of all this research and self-education is that buyers can narrow down their choice of possible products to a very few, maybe only one or two, options before they need to engage with any form of salesperson. This last interaction may not involve anything more than just placing the order, or asking a few confirmation questions, reducing the salesperson to the role of order taker.
This situation seems to have arisen, not only because information is freely available and they can research at their leisure, but also because they have had bad experiences with salespeople. Whether this is just continual unwelcome attention of the sales assistant in a retail store, or the competition bashing and features fanfares of the poor corporate salesperson, it leads to a mistrust and aversion to salespeople in general.
For many situations this action on the part of buyers may be appropriate, as when they are buying low-cost and commoditized products, where the differences between available products is very small. In these cases their knowledge and experience mean the risks of making a mistake are very small or inconsequential. However, when we move to the area of complex, high value sales the situation can be very different.
For a start the user is likely to be dozens, or maybe even thousands of people, spread across different disciplines, having differing requirements. There may be rapid changes and innovations taking place making some products obsolete almost as soon as they are released. The support, services and long-term viability of the vendor need to be taken into account and very importantly, the risks to the organization of making a bad choice of product can be extremely high.
The buying organization may not have bought this type of product, or may only buy every 5 – 10 years, making their experience in this area very limited. Why then does some anecdotal data suggests that up to 60% of the decision criteria may have been established before they contact any vendors. This indicates they believe they can correctly identify the business, technology and product issues without the aid of a salesperson. This is unlikely to be true in many cases.
This is where pro-active coaching to improve the salesperson’s knowledge, understanding and questioning skills can make a difference. Unlike the buyer, the salesperson has daily immersion in the issues surrounding competition, markets and business issues. This should be reflected in expert knowledge of their products, the customer’s business, their customer’s markets and their customer’s customers. They should understand implications for increasing revenue, reducing costs, or gaining competitive advantage and be able to articulate this in terms that make business sense to the prospects.
To do this they need to be able to establish their credibility by challenging established assumptions, erroneous research and faulty conclusions with ‘coaching-style’ questions that get the prospects to understand the full implications for their business of the solutions they are considering. Once they can achieve this, before they can move on to being a trusted advisor, they need to provide concrete proof in the form of examples, stories, customer visits etc:
Salespeople are still vital in the more complex areas of business, which is becoming more complex as the number of different ways to achieve a similar result is increasing. Sales coaching of both the salesperson and the prospect is a game-changer.