Earlier this year the team of Google and CEB published a report that shows that over the last decade that business customers have drastically changed the way they work with vendors. Historically there was a very classic sales model that defined how vendors sold things to businesses, but with the Internet the entire sales process has changed.
Historically sales have been done by the book, and there literally shelves full of books about sales that laid forth the classic sales process. These books preached that the sales process involved the following steps:
Identifying the sales opportunity
Qualifying the opportunity
Making a proposal
Closing the sale
Post sale implementation and follow-up
But the Google and CEB report says that businesses, on average, are already 57% through the historic sales cycle before they first talk to a vendor today. And this is all due to the Internet. A customer is able to do now fully research the products and solutions they are interested in. They can read reviews from other similar companies who have already bought what they are looking for. They can compare prices and service from alternate vendors without talking to any salespeople. And by the time they contact a vendor they are mentally much of the way through the sales process and generally are ready to make a choice.
So how does this change the way that companies sell telecom services? I would suggest it means some of the following.
Listen to Your Customers. First, it means that your salespeople need to become adept at listening, something that is not always a salesperson strength. If a potential customer has already done their research then they want to discuss the nuances of the products they are interested in and they want to ask questions. They do not want to start at the beginning of the above sales process. So ask your customers how much they already know about what you are selling to save you both time.
It’s Harder to Sell on Price Alone. Customers who have done their research are already going to have a price in mind, and this makes it hard to sell on price. So instead you need to be able to define the value proposition of why a customer should buy from you and not one of your competitors. Telecom companies are famous on selling by price alone since we inherited a world with many services greatly overpriced by the incumbents. But web research is beginning to kill price as a differentiator and so you better have other reasons why a customer should pick you.
Be Knowledgeable. If customers are doing their homework then your salespeople need to really understand the products. Again, this is another reason you can’t just send out salespeople who are just going to offer a discount from the current monthly telecom bill. It means sending out somebody who really understands the nuances of what you are selling.
Master Consultative Selling. The most effective sales technique to use with a knowledgeable customer is consultative sales. This means that you are not there to sell them a product, but instead there to find them the solution that best fits their telecom needs. This is the one advantage that a good salesperson can have with a customer who has done their homework. Such a customer will understand only so much about telecom products and is usually going to be willing to listen to creative solutions that might be different from what they thought they needed.
To sell in a consultative way rather than on price alone means you are going to need a well-trained sales staff, and probably are going to have to pay them more than the traditional salesperson. But the upside is that customers become very loyal to a vendor who helps them solve problems. For many telecom firms, that kind of loyalty is going to be a refreshing change.
Most clients I talk to have a marketing plan of some type. Some of them have a really great one and others just do the same thing year after year. But often when they talk to me about the issues they are having, it turns out that what they really need is a sales plan.
Sales is when you go out, look the customer in the eye, and explain to them why they should buy from you. There certainly can be some marketing aspect of sales, such as having door hangers to let people know you are coming, but there are some times in the life of a company when you don’t need marketing and you need sales.
So when is it appropriate to do direct selling and when should you use marketing? Here are some of the times when direct selling is going to give you better results:
When you extend your network into a new neighborhood. This might be new houses built in your existing service area or somewhere you have extended your network. In these circumstances you need to knock on the doors and make your pitch.
When you introduce a major new product and you want to get a lot of customers. If you are launching cable TV for the first time or getting into the cellular business, then knocking on every door in your service area is going to get you the most new customers the fastest.
When you haven’t talked face-to-face with your customers in a long time. I talk to clients all of the time who have never knocked on a door and talked to a customer in a cold calling situation. A company who doesn’t know what their customers won’t be selling the right thing. So if you have never had a door-knocking campaign or haven’t done one for a long time, then get out and talk to your customers. You will get some up-sales, but you will also get a lot of feedback on what customers would like to buy from you.
Any time you sell to a business. You should never use passive marketing campaigns to sell to business customers. It just doesn’t work. Every business thinks they are unique and the way to make them a loyal customers is to learn about their business and their communications needs and to then find them a solution.
So who in your company should sell? If this is something that is going to be needed only periodically, then you and your existing staff should be the salespeople. Nobody knows your company better than the people who work there. Remember that it doesn’t take a slick sales person or polished sales presentation to sell something that people want. It takes knowledge. And when I say you, I am talking directly to the owners and general managers of smaller companies. Get out and go door-to-door. There is no faster way to find out what the public expects from you and to find out what you are doing wrong and doing right.
If you are always expanding your network, or are always selling to business customers, then you need a full-time salesperson. There is a long list of issues to consider when setting up a full-time sales position and I won’t try to cover them in this blog. But there is definitely a right and a wrong way to operate a sales staff.
And finally, here are a few sales tips.
Be organized. If you are going to knock on every door in an area, make sure you talk to somebody at every house. This means keeping notes on who was not at home and making multiple visits. It may mean calling to set up appointments with people who are hard to catch at home. Don’t make one sweep through a neighborhood on a weekday afternoon and think that you have done a good job.
Take good notes. These will come in valuable later. It’s just as important to make notes about why somebody is not buying your service as it is to note the ones who do. If you are going to sell a lot there are good sales tools on the market that make it easy to organize notes. But if this is an occasional effort, then takes notes in whatever way works best for you but then transcribe them into a spreadsheet or database for future reference.
When you picture a salesperson, you typically think of somebody who is assertive, gregarious and extroverted. However, a recent study published in Psychological Science(a journal of the Association of Psychological Science) looked at the actual performance of salespeople and they found that the best salespeople are those who are neither too extroverted nor too introverted, something the study labeled as ambiverts.
Adam Grant of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania did the study and he wanted to look at the relationship between personality traits and success in sales after he found that there was a gap in this kind of research. He was surprised at what he found because the general wisdom is that extroverted people make the best salespeople and would perform better in terms of making sales. But that turned out to not be the case. As it turns out, both extroverts and introverts performed about the same at sales, but salespeople who are not either outperformed both extreme types of personalities. The difference was significant and ambiverts outsold introverts by 24% and outsold extroverts by 32%.
Grant postulated that there are reasons why the stereotypical extroverted salesperson didn’t fare as well as might be expected. There are both pluses and minuses from being extroverted. On the plus side is that extroverts are assertive and enthusiastic which often leave customers feeling wary. And the negative side, extroverts don’t listen carefully and instead often dominate the conversation with their own ideas.
Ambiverts, on the other hand strike a good balance among traits that are important in sales. They can be good listeners and don’t come across as being too enthusiastic or overconfident. They are able to put the customer at ease.
And this has a lot of implication for anybody creating a sales team. It’s typical to hire salespeople who are outgoing and confident. And anybody who is hired who doesn’t fit the typical mold is given assertiveness training to make them better fit the perceived ‘salesperson mold’. This study would suggest that perhaps a far better tactic is to hire salespeople who are not extroverted. And if you do hire an extrovert perhaps you need to provide listening training.
And of course, if you are hiring a telecom sales team it is also vital that they fully understand the product and the value proposition of how products benefit customers. But assuming that there is training on the products, this study suggests that the best salespeople might just be those average people who we would normally assume will not succeed – those who are quite different from the stereotypical salesperson.