Is Selling Dead? — Successful Selling - May 2015


By Sandy Smith

Acquisition of goods and services is an integral, vital part of our personal and professional lives. However, the process of buying and selling has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. To understand that shift, consider that buying and selling have three key elements: providing products and services for sale, having information about available items, and making the purchase.

For a long while, in what has been termed the Age of the Seller, the seller controlled both what was offered for sale and what was known about each item. The buyer was dependent on the seller to find out what they needed to know to make a purchase decision. But this paradigm is no longer true, revolutionizing the marketplace.

Now is the Age of the Buyer. A potential buyer is not dependent upon—and in many ways has come to distrust—what the seller has to say about items they have for sale. Instead, the customer can skip right past the seller’s spiel to find out what is for sale, how much it costs, pros and cons, what competitors have to offer, and what previous buyers and consumer advocates have to say about any and all of that. What happened?

In 1991, the Internet became commercially available to the general public, and the web browser was introduced for the average person to browse the World Wide Web. The Age of the Buyer was born, and the advantage of knowledge began to shift from the seller (public relations, marketing and sales force) to the buyer. To quote futurist John Naisbitt, “The new source of power is not money in the hands of a few, but information in the hands of many.”

And so it is that today’s customers are in full control of gathering all the information they need about what items are for sale that meet their needs, and not just in local stores, but anywhere in the world. You often see people researching on their cell phones while standing in front of an item they are considering in the aisle of a store. They may never speak to a sales representative in that store at all unless they reach the decision to buy that item in that store.

So what is the new role of the sales professional? In his book, Selling is Dead, Mark Miller quotes General Electric’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt who said, “My notion is that selling is dead. These days, [salespeople] have to be customer productivity experts.” But to become a customer productivity expert, sales professionals must fully understand what their customers are experiencing on a daily basis. Today’s customers may feel more empowered, but they are often overwhelmed with the amount of information they receive.

Today’s buyers need salespeople to be business people who sell. This means sales professionals must take on new roles:

Become an educator. Make your customers smarter by teaching them how to get the most out of their purchases. For example, improve their skills. Home Depot offers classes (in both English and Spanish) for parents and children on how to use tools and build, install and repair items, and Apple’s Genius Bar employees coach and educate customers in their retail stores. Does it work? A 2011 Wall Street Journal online article said, “More people now visit Apple’s 326 stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Walt Disney’s four biggest theme parks last year,” and “Apple’s annual retail sales per square foot have soared to $4,406. That’s far higher than the sales per square foot and online sales of jeweler Tiffany & Co. ($3,070).”

Become a business advisor to your customers. Naisbitt, the author of the bestselling book Mega Trends, says, “We are drowning in information, and starved for knowledge.” Today’s customers are overwhelmed with information and may not be able to satisfactorily interpret it. Sales professionals can play a key role in helping their customers filter out the information that is most relevant to their business and determine how it applies to their particular situation.

Become a futurist and change agent. Help your customer see current trends that may impact their purchase or their business. Such trends can be threats or opportunities.

While it’s true that today’s customers are more knowledgeable and empowered than ever, they still have needs they don’t always know they have. Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked my customer what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

Today’s sales professional’s role is that of a sustaining resource in partnership with their customers.

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus