One of the most significant challenges for salespeople today is remaining relevant and bringing value to the sales conversation.
There was an article in Harvard Business Review several years ago that spoke to this very topic. While there are many reasons the sales job has become more difficult, this particular article focused on the access buyers now have to information.
It used to be that salespeople brought value to the sales conversation because buyers depended on them to provide information on products and services. Of course, buyers are self-educating themselves online, and have for years at this point.
Not only do buyers not need salespeople for the features and benefits information of products, but they are also irritated by salespeople who spend their time discussing such obvious details.
The good news is, this allows salespeople to focus on more strategic topics and to bring more value than ever before. The bad news (as seen by some) is that they have to work very intentionally to participate in these more impactful exchanges.
Levels of Increasing Value
Borrowing some ideas from the HBR article, some shifts in value salespeople should be working towards.
Before we talk about the professional growth salespeople need to commit to, let's establish a baseline. The role of a vendor (as I'm going to use it here) focuses on the most commoditized sales. They compete purely on price and product.
In today’s online world, this role has become all but obsolete. Buyers don’t want to bother with a salesperson when they can find the price and product information on their own. Remaining at this level is beyond dangerous.
A preferred seller is a salesperson who studies and understands their product(s) so well that they can help buyers get more value if they buy from them than if they purchase the same product(s) from someone else. This is the absolute MINIMUM shift you must make as a salesperson.
How to make this shift – Emphasize to your buyers how to most effectively install your products/services and train them to extract the maximum value from anything they purchase from you.
A consultant is a salesperson who takes the time to understand the buyer's specific circumstances before offering any solutions. In other words, they take time to understand the particular needs the buyer may have and to then be more strategic in suggesting solutions.
How to make this shift – Move beyond understanding the features and benefits of your offerings and study the problems you can solve by using them. Lead prospect discussions by delivering a sales process that centers around determining what, if any, problems they have that are holding them back. This becomes even more impactful when you quantify the cost (financial and operational) of the problem to their business.
A contributor salesperson studies and understands a specific industry or, sometimes, the market in general. They can help buyers see needs, challenges, and opportunities they face simply because of the market in which they compete.
How to make this shift – Specialize in a market by studying the trends, current events, and nuanced characteristics that present threats to address and opportunities to pursue.
A partner salesperson studies and understands internal business operations. Because of this level of understanding, they can help buyers see needs, challenges, and opportunities that radiate from within their organization. Even though the buyer is surrounded by these daily, they don’t see their complete reality until a partner salesperson helps point it out.
How to make this shift – Enroll in classes to study business operations or spend time with C-suite individuals willing to mentor you and share their insights.
Invest in yourself
I would never suggest these shifts are easy to make, but I will tell you the ROI you’ll receive makes the hard work more than worthwhile.
For every new level you reach:
- There will be fewer competitors
- The buyer is less price-sensitive
- You will shorten the sales cycle
At the same time, each new level:
- Increases your amount of repeat business
- Results in healthier profit margin
- Makes access to decision-makers easier
- Your credibility grows exponentially
As the professional I know you are, you will make these shifts, not just because it will benefit you but because it will benefit every client you work with.
Photo by argus456.