There isn’t a day that passes without someone on LinkedIn or some other social platform publishing something about how much sales has changed, often citing the fact that salespeople are no longer useful to their clients (or necessary), since their clients can learn about products and services on their own (thank you, internet). To believe this is true is to misunderstand what has changed in sales and the implications for salespeople. There is still information disparity, and it is this disparity that allows salespeople to create value.
Indeed, information that is no different than what a prospective client might find on your website doesn’t create enough value to be worth your dream client’s time and attention. However, the fact that information lives on the internet isn’t much different from salespeople who had no more information than a brochure or a sell sheet, a difference without a distinction, and one that suggests a lack of value creation.
We once described salespeople who could not create value as “order-takers” and “milk run” salespeople who showed up and asked for an order, and in cases where the sale was transactional, this approach was—and still is—effective. Where the sale was more complex, this approach was—and still is—ineffective. The long arch of sales development has bent sharply towards greater value creation, increasing the value of the information the salesperson must possess to create compelling, differentiated value. We might call this business acumen and situational knowledge.
The need to provide information hasn’t changed. The value of the information that your dream client’s find valuable has changed dramatically, and it is the root cause of why many salespeople and their companies struggle.
There has always been information disparity between a salesperson and their clients and customers, and it is still true today, even if this isn’t universally true across all salespeople and sales organizations. Where the information in the past included products and services, it now resides in other areas, areas where it is more difficult for clients to attain the knowledge.
Imagine your dream client buys what you sell every five years. They have the experience of making that decision a few times in the course of their career. They might choose two or three companies over time, giving them some experience in making the decision and evaluating what’s important, what they might do differently, and who might make the right partner. Some of the information they need may be on the company’s website, but most of what is essential will not.
Now imagine a salesperson that is part of a sales force. This salesperson wins something like 20 new deals a year. The sales force is made up of 20 salespeople who win a similar amount of contracts, giving them a combined 400 new clients a year. The sales force is supported by an operations team that executes what they sell for hundreds—and maybe thousands—of clients. Because they are selling into different industry verticals, dealing with companies that have different needs, helping their client achieve a variety of different strategic outcomes, and helping all of them produce better results, their business acumen and situational knowledge provides a type of information that isn’t easily acquired by someone who doesn’t work in their industry.
What Salespeople Need to Know
Salespeople know more—or should know more—than their clients about the process the company would use to choose a partner, including the meetings and conversations they need to have to successfully move from their current state to a better future state.
They should also be able to share with their clients how they should change, and how they should tailor their solution to work inside their client’s company, leveraging the knowledge that would be impossible to get from reading the company’s website.
The information about the trade-offs the client might make to produce the better results they need is mostly unknown to the client, as most salespeople propose their solution, believing it to be the right choice, often without exploring options and opportunities, depriving their clients of the greater insight that comes from experience.
Product knowledge is still essential, and it is still an important part of Level 4 Value, a strategic level of value, and one that transcends and includes all the others. It is a mistake to suggest that salespeople don’t need to provide their clients with information and that their clients don’t need more information. The only thing that has changed in the nature and value of the information they provide.
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Filed under: Sales