Dec 27 2012
The first question from a student in my sales workshop at Wharton earlier this week was, “Is sales still a good career?”
When I asked the students what they thought, the majority worried that the Internet knolled The Death of a Salesman. Ironically, Death of a Salesman written in 1949, is the hottest ticket on Broadway right now!
Far from the demise of selling, I believe there is no better time to be in sales – provided salespeople make a course correction in how they sell. Those who make the shift will be more valuable to customers than ever before – and more successful.
You know the Internet has changed the sales environment. It has created a knowledge explosion. Knowledge is at a premium. But knowledge is at risk of becoming a commodity.
We are in the era of sales as understanding, understanding your customers’ industries, businesses, aspirations, and business challenges. The secret ingredient to winning today is not in the customized product solution but rather the application of it to solve business challenges.
There are two primary shifts in selling driving the change:
1) the shift from persuasion to understanding (Customers are not interested in hearing why one product is superior to another. They can learn about products more conveniently and objectively from the Internet and their peers. They know they have multiple viable alternatives. But they are very interested in talking about their business challenges with knowledgeable professionals who bring expertise, insights, and ideas that help them solve business problems, and
2) from expertise as knowledge of your products to expertise as the ability to use products as tools that solve business problems.
The good news is that these shifts require a course correction not an abandoning of how you have been selling to your clients. Customers know more and expect you to know more from your first conversation with them on any topic. Preparation has taken on a new dimension. Research, data, insights, ideas, success stories – all must be a part of your sales conversations. Questioning is more important than ever but the questions must show your business acumen and understanding of the business issues. Rather than focusing on product needs, the focus must be on business challenges. Questions that are industry informed (begin with knowledge sharing and insight) help you build credibility and engage your customers.
These will likely be very different conversations for many salespeople. The probing strategy begins with questions to understand the business challenge ( the objective, desired outcome, factors that must be in place to achieve the objective, and the metrics) before focusing on product needs and then work backwards into product application to solve complex business problems or capitalize on opportunities.
My advice to my students was that there was never a better time to be a salesperson especially for people with strong business backgrounds or those open to change and willing to build their body of knowledge and combine that with skill, become immersed in their customers businesses, and commit to solving business problems.
I was excited to read in the NY Times that the new chief at J&J started as a sales rep!
Customers are demanding a higher bar and that says to me there is more opportunity for those in sales who aspire to be the best.
What is your secret ingredient?
Linda Richardson has been described as the most significant “female influencer” in the sales space – ever. She is the Founder and Executive Chairwoman of Richardson, a global sales effectiveness organization. As a recognized leader in the industry, she has won the coveted Stevie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sales Excellence for 2006 and in 2007. She was also identified by Training Industry, Inc. as one of the “Top 20 Most Influential Training Professionals.” She has written ten books; created a brand new sales curriculum for Wharton ….More
News: I am actually on vacation and enjoying three weeks of “battery re-charge”
The store is in the capable hands of the senior elves, who will ensure that there is either a favorite archived piece from me, or a guest post from the best minds in the sales space. Oh, and do look out for three special posts from me on Dec 30th/31st and Jan 1st.
If you are celebrating Christmas, I hope you are having a wonderful festive break.
I will be back in the saddle on Tuesday January 15th – JF