Lately I’ve been thinking about the beginning of my sales career and how different things are for today’s salesperson. I don’t believe salespeople have exclusivity to the story “How the Internet has changed Business”, but it is the business story I know the best.
I was fortunate my beginnings in telecom in the 1980’s was in project management (PM), not in sales. This allowed me to work closely with sales people, as well as learn the technical side of the business first. The company I worked for, InfiNET, sold and installed phone systems of 100 users or more. After a few customer meetings of discovery, we would typically “cutover” the phone system after 5 pm on a Friday evening. Our customers had no tolerance for phones to be down for even a moment during business hours, at that time it was their most critical application.
Inevitably, there would be unplanned problems we would resolve on site. This allowed me to create a close relationship with my best technician, a bi-polar genius named David. David knew more about the phone company network, and the equipment we installed, than anyone I’ve ever known. It was on these working weekends, watching David systematically troubleshoot issues, that I sharpened my technical expertise.
The owner of that company, as I was just getting comfortable in PM, asked me if I would like to try sales. I laughed out loud, and gave an emphatic “NO!” Soon I realized that it really wasn’t a question, and my sales journey began. My technical and application knowledge was deep, and my customers trusted me already, so my sales career began with huge success. It wasn’t long before I needed to sharpen my sales skills to keep my funnel growing.
At this time I discovered at the time that the salesperson was a trusted counselor, educator and guide through the process of acquiring goods and services. When I would first meet my prospects for large phone system they had no idea how these systems worked, the components and how to make the right purchase. Business Telecom was still young and businesses were used to paying rent to the monopolistic phone companies for their phone systems. For that reason, the decision makers were primarily financial leaders, not the IT managers that handle the process today.
Fast forward to today, the technology has matured and the advent of the internet has affected the purchase process greatly. Cold calling has become very rare with voicemail and email. Telecommunication has integrated with IT and the primary decision maker is the IT manager. The IT manager, as with most buyers today, has a completely different process for purchasing. The trusted counselor, educator, and guide is dead. The internet has eliminated the role of intermediary for the salesperson. I recently read that 90% of B2B purchases start with a web search, a complete turnaround from when I started.
Where does sales go from here?
Contrary to the messages above, sales is not dead, it’s not even sick. It’s changed, so we need to change. My examples above are about the businesses of technology, but the internet has affected all business. Just ask your travel agent or taxi driver the next time you can find one. The salesperson plays a vital role in business and always will. So how can the salesperson still provide value in today’s environment?
- Bridging the Gap– As much as the buyer thinks he knows from his research, the salesperson knows more about the product and service he represents. I’ve seen a gap between what the buyer believes he’s getting and what he’s actually going to get. Once he knows the buyers perspective the salesperson can then see that gap. At that point he can help the purchaser by eliminating mistakes and confusion he has seen others make.
- Connecting People– With the demise of traditional prospecting methods, new ones must be developed. Networking is a huge part of this; the salesperson of today spends hours every week building his network. He can share these valuable resources through referrals. It can be a risky exercise to introduce a prospect to others that could offer value independently. Ultimately, he should trust the process of helping decision makers and organizations in this way.
- Provide and Display Expertise– Another technique to be developed is sharing knowledge and expertise. Today this is through blogging and social media. The information should be given away in hopes that when the prospects need help they will come to the expert. I’ve see this process work, you need to trust the process.
These are some of the ways I’ve found, if you have feedback or know of other ways of providing value please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (513) 227-4131