To some degree, a major function of sales people has been to be an information or content concierge. Before Al Gore invented the internet, sales people were a principal source of information about products and solutions.
Customers didn’t have the internet, their sources of information were limited to what they read in trade journals, what they learned at conferences, perhaps information they may have received in the mail, or speaking to colleagues and sales people.
Today, while customers can solve a lot of their information needs by letting their fingers walk through Google, part of the role of sales people is tailoring the content to the needs/contexts critical to each person involved in the decision making process.
Sales people either customize content specifically to the customer, or translate standard content to “this is what it means to you.”
Without a doubt, tailoring, presenting, leveraging content to teach customers is an important function of sales.
But is this the primary role of the sales person?
Somehow, I’m just not comfortable with this, I think professional selling is about a lot more. There are several specific areas:
- Inciting change where customers aren’t looking to change. Yeah, some of you are getting tired about the “insight” messaging, but I maintain this is a critical role of sales people. We can’t wait of customers to recognize they need to change, starting to engage them then. We can’t wait until they start letting their fingers walk through Google, looking to do something different—they may never get there! We have an opportunity to help our customers see things they never realized and helping them decide to change.
- Our content will never address the customer’s specific situation. It can’t know they had a bad quarter, their quality is slipping, a new competitor threatens them, they’ve decided to address new markets. The sales person, through their knowledge of the customer recognizes these things, engaging the customer in discussions about risk, about improvement, about new opportunity, and change.
- Our content can’t recognize the complex dynamics of the customer buying group trying to align on priorities, requirements, and making a decision. Yes, we can generate content to address each persona, but the sales person has to understand those dynamics, helping the buying group align priorities and make a decision.
- Content, by it’s nature is one way communication. But our customers don’t want to be told, they want to learn. Learning is an active pursuit, it requires conversation, it’s the tug of war of ideas and points of view. It’s the role of sales people to engage the customer, challenging them, responding to the customer’s challenges, helping the customer learn, decide, improve.
Yes, sales people are important in providing relevant information and content to customers. But they have a responsibility to go beyond this. They can’t stop at curation, they have to actively engage, provoke and be change agents.
How are you equipping your people to do this?
Acknowledgement: This post was provoked by an outstanding post from David Merriman Scott: Successful Sales People Are Content Curators