If you have walked into a department or big-box store in the past few years, you have noticed that the once “intelligent, knowledgeable and courteous sales professional is no longer there. Gone are the days when consumers (whether they are individuals or companies) sought the services of such a specialist prior to making their purchase. The professional sales people have been replaced with minimum wage clerks, customer service and stock attendants. Not to diminish them or their employment situation, it is simply fact. The company that clings to this outdated model is rare.
There are many answers to the shift from sales person to clerk; economics (bottom line profits), the talent pool and of course technology. Consumers come to your business fully armed with the information on the products or services they seek, as well as how much they are willing to pay.
The top three questions business leaders must ask are:
- Is your current lead-to-close sales process an intelligent use of resources?
- How and where are your customers acquiring information about you?
- What knowledge-share strategies and tactics do you employ to aid your customers?
Let’s take them one at a time.
Whether you are a B2C or B2B company, you have some way to move leads and prospects through the sales process, with the eventual goal of closing them and making them customers. A business may exhibit a long sales cycle or a short one, but every business must recognize and have some sort of process. Is yours making the best use of your limited resources? Are you taking advantage of today’s internet-based technology to help drive awareness and provide valuable information? Customers are more knowledgeable than ever. They are more than likely coming to you ready, or near ready to purchase. They usually do their own research before making a decision to buy.
They have sought out the best provider, quality and price, independent of a sales pro. By the time the “Qualified Lead” or prospect hits the sales desk, there is little to discuss. Sure, there are hundreds of businesses clinging to the traditional model. Remember, the buggy whip disappeared from the market, replaced by automobiles. No matter how good your product is, or how good your sales process is, technology has changed the dynamics (any portion of the exchange of goods/services to cash), and those firms not making the necessary changes will fade to a memory.
In the July 12 article appearing in the Harvard Business Review, The End of Solution Sales, the following observation was made. “…. a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision—researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on—before even having a conversation with a supplier.”
In a follow up article, Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman cited the change in traditional B2C transactions. “It’s a story B2C sales professionals know all too well — just think how we buy cars today. By the time we walk into a dealership, we know not only which model, engine, and options we want, but how much we want to pay. These days, we don’t look to car dealers to “sell” us a car so much as to fulfill our order. Granted, many business purchases are far more complex, but the data tell us nonetheless that business customers are just as likely as consumers to come to the table more knowledgeable of their own needs than ever before.”
Your customers may be hanging out in online chat rooms and forums, using social media platforms, checking out the candor (positive or negative) about your company. These online communities can make or break a firm, that is, if things don’t go as expected. They may be surfing the internet, reading and comparing your company website against your competitor’s. They also may be getting information from previous customers, learning of their experiences with you. Still further, others may have found valuable information from other sources that you simply don’t provide.
Television ads, radio spots, and printed pamphlets simply don’t provide the bandwidth and sustainability to really educate your customers and would-be customers. Your competitors may be employing cutting edge strategies like inbound marketing, to not only inform, but to persuade through relationship development. What was once a methodology of “Features and Benefits” discussions, or utilizing a professional solution sales people are again becoming relationship-based. If you have a robust inbound marketing process by the time your customer gets to you she/he may very well have ruled out your competitors, validated by their contact with your firm. The same is also true, the customers you never see that are out there- they are going to speak with the firm that developed a relationship with them first… and best.
By understanding the buying habits of your target audience, you can plan, establish, and grow a relationship. The things to concern yourself with are simple. What is your process for engagement? Have you allowed your products or services to become commodities? Are your sales professionals changing their approach to align himself or herself with the “informed consumer?” Does your marketing support these efforts? Are you providing relevant information to help build that relationship and loyalty?
When the customer comes to you knowing exactly what they want, and how much they are willing to pay, what else is left to discuss? If that is your situation, you will have to have the highest credibility, and the necessary skill set, or otherwise settle for what is offered if you want the sale.
You can find out more about changing consumer behaviors and what can be done to develop a relationship with your target markets through research and those professionals equipped with current thinking and behaviors.