Neil Rackham, industry leader and breakthrough thinker, continues to illuminate all of us in sales. Fresh back from a month’s retreat and brimming with ideas, Neil discussed the transformation that has taken place in sales over the past few years and how today’s customers have access to twenty times as much information and twice as many competitors than ever before.
Clearly sales has changed. Neil described the “death of the talking brochure” and how unprecedented access to knowledge has altered the boundaries that have existed for decades between the customer and the salesperson. In the new sales environment the internet has taken away the communication function from the salesperson. It has altered the nature of what customers value.
Neil cited his study with 11,000 customers to understand what it is that customers actually value. Not one single customer identified a salesperson who helped him or her learn about a product or understand how one product is better than a competitor’s. The number one complaint from customers was the “pitch.” The research did however show that customers greatly value things such as problem solving, gaining industry information, learning what their competitors are doing, getting new insights, and looking at a problem in a new way.
So how can salespeople succeed in the new sales landscape? How can they adapt to the new boundaries between them and their customers? Salespeople must approach customers in a new way. Neil saw value in the Sales Executive Council’s research which underscored the need for salespeople to be more aggressive and come up with ideas for customers. But rather than “challenge” customers as the Council’s research suggests, Neil sees salespeople entering an “era of business quality” in which they come to the table as business equals on equal footing with the customer.
At the new sales table salespeople must be prepared to share a point of view and demonstrate creative thinking. Clearly this kind of point of view selling takes a very high level salesperson. The idea is not for salespeople to “challenge” customers but for them to collaborate and approach customers feeling they have the right to an opinion. They must be able to probe and not be satisfied with easy answers even if the answers are the ones they want to hear.
Neil made it clear, “We have reached the end of the road of a better mousetrap theory of selling. Now there are 340 plus ways to kill mice and the customer knows them all.” Successful salespeople will be those who can add something beyond the mousetrap.
In the new era, the product is the tool. The real value is in how the salesperson uses the product to help the customer think differently. As he said this I was reminded of Apple’s marketing slogan of years back and the success Apple has enjoyed for doing just that.
Neil sees salespeople and customers working together to create value and feels in the process both will change significantly. In the best client interactions he said, “Both the customer and the salesperson will come to think differently.” The relationship is the reward for this.