In the old days, when I used to hail a horse drawn carriage to take me to my customers in Wall Street, one of the most important advantages salespeople had was “information.”
Salespeople were a primary source of learning for customers. Not just information about products and services, but what customers were doing, trends and issues that were happening in the industry. Some of my customers even used me to learn more about what was happening in their own organizations. They were so busy doing their jobs, I spent my days wandering the halls of my customer, meeting all sorts of people. I’d often get into conversations with the international banking group, “Hey, have you seen what those people in corporate banking are doing? They are doing some clever things, but they may impact you….”
We became master information concierges. Getting everything the customers wanted and needed, often inflicting things they didn’t need. Some how providing more brochures, data sheets, and case studies seemed to be goodness (If I was measured on the quantity of content I delivered, rather than quota, I would have always beat my numbers.)
There was an information asymmetry, and sellers had the advantage.
From a seller side, things haven’t changed much. We still believe “she who provides the customer more information wins.” We drown our customers with content. It may not be the most useful content, since it is usually about how wonderful our products are and how great our companies are, but we still focus on providing more and more information.
But this asymmetry with sellers having the advantage no longer exists. In fact the tables have turned, our customers now have the information advantage. They have more high quality information, from more high quality sources than any seller/vendor can provide.
Yet, we choose to ignore this tremendous information advantage customers have. We keep pitching our products, features and functions. We provide endless case studies, testimonials. We provide the same information our customers have been able to obtain through other channels–more efficiently and effectively.
It’s no wonder our customers prefer, increasingly, a rep free buying experience. If our selling strategies focus on trying to provide information access superiority, we have already lost.
But with this information superiority that our customers have, there’s a massive challenge. Which information do they pay attention to? What’s most relevant to the situation they are trying to address? What should they ignore? How do the reconcile differences in the information–particularly when both perspectives are valid? How do they translate this general information to the specific issues and contexts that are meaningful to them?
A key thing our customers need from sellers is not more information but how they makes sense of the information they have. What is most relevant to what they are trying to achieve, what is good, but not useful? How do we help them simplify that which they are faced with?
I see some salespeople trying to do this, but misfiring. “Pay attention to our stuff, we are the leaders in the market, we have the best products……” This isn’t helping the customer make sense of what they are dealing with, it’s just an exercise in our self centeredness. There is great information from many sources, than that we provide. Some of it even comes from our competitors!
We serve our customers best when we help them determine that information from all sources that is most helpful. We serve them best when we help them understand what they should be looking for, the questions they should be asking as they look at different sources of information. We serve them in helping them understand what might be good or interesting, but which is not relevant to their specific situation.
And we serve them best when we help bridge the information gap if what it means to them, their specific situation, and what they are trying to do now. All the information in the world, can never directly address the specific situation each individual buyer faces at this moment in time.
As sellers and sales leaders, we must step away from the concept of being information concierges, of trying to leverage information superiority. It is irrelevant and long gone.
But we must step into that new role of helping the customer make sense of what they encounter and bridging the issues of what it means to their specific situation.