Monday Mornings with Madison

Sales 2014 – Part One

How the Information Age and Social Revolution are Reshaping Sales

It used to be that most people – even well-educated professionals — knew very little about technical subjects outside their own area of expertise.  There was no easy way to get more information about specialized subjects quickly.  Finance.  Insurance.  Taxes.  Legal issues.  Investments.  Property.  People relied on salespeople and trusted advisors (CPA, financial advisor, attorney, Realtor) for information and guidance on specific matters.   Thanks to the Information Age, that has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.  Thanks to the Internet, mobile devices, tablets and laptops, abundant information is easily accessible about most any business, industry, product, or service at a moment’s notice.   Potential customers can gather a great deal of information (at least the basics) about most anything… and thanks to Amazon, can order scholarly books on practically any topic within seconds.  They can also shop around, find options and compare prices.  Thanks to social media, they can also read reviews by others who have tried a product or service.  Indeed, potential customers today have information.  In fact, they have tons of it.

What people don’t have today is the ability to digest and analyze all that information quickly and easily, and figure out what is true and what is either false or misleading.  They also may not be able to easily discern what information is most important or how to apply the information to their own situation.  They may not be able to readily identify emerging market trends or discover true best practices.  In going from an information desert to information overload, customers need guidance from experts in order to distill data and pinpoint creative applications for a given individual in a given situation.  Enter today’s super savvy salesperson. 

The Super Savvy Salesperson

Companies offering niche or sophisticated products or services can no longer afford to pursue a sales model in which salespeople are hired just for their friendly demeanor, smooth-talking ways and good looks.  Although all those qualities do impact sales, today’s more knowledgeable, mature consumer requires a salesperson who is basically a subject-matter expert in the specific product or service offered.  Everything from micro computing systems to mortgages and from high finance to high-end luxury goods, sales staff must be deeply knowledgeable about the products / services they sell.  So just how knowledgeable is that?

Businesses should seek to hire salespeople who are smart and sociable… intelligent and engaging…. connected and capable…. But most especially highly-educated and able to speak eloquently about their area of expertise.  To determine if a salesperson rises to this standard, ask if the ideal client would value a meeting with that salesperson enough that they would pay for the session. If the answer is no, it is time to for the business to either:

  1. invest in more training and education for its sales staff or
  2. hire more knowledgeable people to handle sales.

Recruit and hire the most-qualified and knowledgeable.

Let’s take the second option first.  The easiest way to ensure that a company has subject matter experts handling sales is to hire subject-matter experts for sales positions.  Because of the growing need for deep knowledge, it will be increasingly important to recruit and hire sales professionals and sales managers that have more education and training, and more targeted skills.  It is not enough for salespeople to be friendly, personable, and outgoing.  They need to have deep technical knowledge.

To do that, businesses will need to rely increasingly on specialized recruiters to ensure each hire is a solid one.  Going forward, it will not be enough to just hire from among those looking for work.  Companies will need to seek and find those who may not necessarily be ‘looking to change jobs’ but are open to the right opportunity.  Thanks to technology, there are great ways to find the best and brightest without using a recruiter, but recruiters are still the best way to attract superstars from other companies.  That also puts greater pressure on businesses that have a solid talent pool to keep their most talented happy.

The alternative is to develop a business model that can train solid hires to be subject-matter experts.

Train and educate those with potential.

If hiring educated talent is not an option, then train and educate those on the team.  Investing in more training and education for its sales staff is the way to go for companies that already have a sales team but realize the need for their salespeople to be more educated and erudite.  Before starting the process, it is important to realize that the kind of sales training most salespeople need today has nothing to do with motivation, personality, or strategies.  They don’t need to become better salespeople as much as they need to become better product/service experts.  The focus should be completely on increasing their understanding of the product or service with all of its nuances.

With this in mind, each business should create a deliberate, tailored plan of action to train all salespeople. Then, it should document as much as possible all of the information related to the products / services.  This provides a “Framework of Excellence” for selling the products/services. Once documented, the information serves as the foundation for all future coaching, training, and support efforts… and ensures that everyone gets the same training… the same understanding.

For companies having to sell sophisticated products/services, the goal is to train each salesperson to have the same level of expertise as the top-guns or product/service gurus of the company… whether that is an engineer, attorney, CPA, or programmer.  In essence, the goal is create sales engineers, which are the technical glue of a technical sale.  Sometimes referred to as ‘systems engineers’ or ‘field consultants,’ Sales Engineers act as a technical encyclopedia during the sale, representing the technical aspects of how the product/service functions and how it solves or addresses specific customer problems. They ‘own’ the presentation script for the product/service.

When a company’s full sales force is so knowledgeable and savvy that they can answer most any question without needing to go to someone else, that’s when that business is properly positioned for sales today.  It is only that level of expertise that will draw in potential customers who need guidance on making the best buying decisions.  That expertise builds trust, and trust is a key ingredient to close a sale in 2014.

Quote of the Week

“The best sales questions have your expertise wrapped into them.” Jill Konrath

 

© 2014, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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