For the past year and a half, we have been answering questions about and consulting with our clients on sales transformation and consultative selling (see here, here and here). One of the key aspects of many of the questions we receive is “what has fundamentally changed, how has it changed and what do we need to do about it?” A recent article from BNET Insight’s Geoffrey James crystallized some of our thoughts on how the Internet has both changed the sales process and created an even greater need for sales skills and support. According to James:
“Sales reps were valuable to a customer because they knew product details and how to write the order. And they were valuable to their own firm because they could convince the customer to buy today, rather than tomorrow (or from another vendor).
“The Internet changed all that. Customers can now retrieve product information, order product, check delivery status, contact customer support, and so forth, simply by getting online. Because customers no longer need a sales rep to perform these functions for them, some pundits predicted that the Web would ‘disintermediate’ sales, leaving millions of sales professionals out of a job.
“What happened instead was that the Internet made the sales function more important, even while changing its nature. While the Internet made the traditional sales function obsolete, it also wreaked unintended consequences. The Internet created what social psychologists call a ‘tyranny of choice’; customers have access to so much information that it can become more difficult to make a buying decision.”
Understanding this juxtaposition between making sales transactions easier and complicating the process with an overwhelming number of choices explains the need for consultative selling to help local advertisers understand and navigate complicated media choices. While consultative selling has been a “nice to have” sales process, broader media portfolios, and, as James coins it “the tyranny of choice,” local advertisers need more insight and assistance to make sense of all the new options and to assure them they are making wise use of their media budgets.
Many sales organizations are seeking new ways to train their sales people, focusing on frequency of contact, proper discovery and fact finding skills, more listening skill development, and local media education so salespeople understand all forms of local media. The goal — enabling salespeople to guide SMB media choices and advise on appropriate investment levels. Salespeople are now expected to be educators, problem solvers and above all local media consultants who can best match media options with budget and business objectives.
This change in sales process expectations has already occurred, but sadly sales organizations have been slow to adapt due in part to the economic slowdown leading to a lack of investment in training and sales strategy development. Adapting quickly means less of an interruption in sales revenue growth and reduced sales staff turnover. Cutting back on capital investments can only take an organization so far, the time is now to invest in transitioning the sales process, fully embracing consultative selling, and developing new sales strategies that make sense in a connected world where information overload is creating new sales opportunities. Welcome to the new world of sales.