Product knowledge used to be a key part of the sales role. “Tell me what you have, how it works, features, benefits, etc.” Google has changed all of that. Today the purchase starts with Google. Since most high-tech sales are done by referral and lead follow-up, the prospects tend to be people who are already in the research process. They are Googling to learn what they can about technologies under consideration, and given the technical bent of the IT people doing the shopping, they likely spend more time reading and researching the bits and bytes than you do. Sales has become a commodity, and the basic sales person is no longer worth their wages. An electronic chat person online does almost as good, and the prices online can’t be beat. So what’s the answer?
Reaching back to the 70’s
In the 1970’s Mack Hanan wrote “Consultative Selling.” He describes a process of measuring return on investment over various clients, creating a database of norms from which the sales person can now draw justification based on ROI, and predict hurdle rates to sell the product. While I tend to steer away from ROI with most sales (given our inability to face CFOs with confidence), I do whole wholeheartedly embrace the idea of focusing on value (in this case, financial justification) to improve the client’s position. Every budget has business purposes behind it. The sales person must become enough of a consultant to figure out what these are and then demonstrate a connection between the proposed sale and the client’s business needs. If you want to beat the online e-tailors, you’ll have to change your value proposition; you’ll have to become a consultant.
So What is a Consultant?
The first thing people think of here is billing time, but that doesn’t do it for me. When I hear someone say, “I’m a doctor”, I get it, same for insurance rep, teacher, police officer, etc. But when I hear consultant, I have no idea what they really mean. They might be anything from a PWC partner to unemployed…I’d rather hear what they do than what they call themselves. “I work with manufacturing companies, helping them improve efficiencies in the widget manufacturing process.” This works for me. It’s an improvement in the client’s situation, taking them from current to future state, with improvement, cost reduction, efficiency gains, or risk reduction (you can fill in yours), in mind. They provide the analysis/discovery, make recommendations, and point them in the right direction with practical, specific information. In the end, it may be a product sale, but the real sale is in helping the client acheive something specific. Note: the later you are in the sales cycle, the less likely it is that you actually do this.
This doesn’t mean that every consultant bills time. Some make their money through the sale of products or other services. But they consult with the client to bring this value, delivering it through the product or people they then sell, others will do the follow-through work themselves with an associated fee. So in 2011, consider this; what problems do you specialize in solving, what business benefits or gains do you specialize in giving? Can the value you bring be provided through Google and e-tailors, or are you unique in some way that requires you be there? Is your value worth the additional price of the product or is the client better off buying it from a major distributor? This is the question we all need to be asking as Google grows.
© 2010, David Stelzl