Selling In A “Knowledge Based” Economy


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The days of product, even solution based differentiation are long passed.  We can no longer count on great products to provide sustained differentiation and competitive advantage.

Don’t get me wrong, great products and solutions are the foundation of our businesses and the value we create for customers.  They are the things our customers buy and implement to achieve their own strategic growth goals.  So they are critical to thriving economies and company growth.

But as we look at our customers’ buying processes, great products and solutions are table stakes to getting considered.  Ultimately, the differentiator is the knowledge and experience we bring–both in the selling process and as our customers implement and use our solutions.

There are lots of studies about the importance of the customer buying experience in winning business and building customer loyalty.  CEB data puts this at 53% of why people buy/continue to buy.  It’s the knowledge and experience sales teams (not just sales people) bring to customers that become the ultimate differentiator.

So knowledge and experience become critical assets to our own success and growth.  Not just the knowledge that exists in our labs, development teams, factories, and back offices.  But the knowledge sales team demonstrate every day in working with customers and growing the business.

But then we are smacked in the face with interesting data.  The average longevity of a sales person (voluntary and involuntary attrition) is less than 2 years–add to that, average ramp time to productivity is 7-10 months.  The average longevity of a sales manager/executive is less than 19 months.

It’s an intriguing problem.  If our differentiation and success is based on the knowledge and experience we bring to customers, yet we churn through people before they can acquire the necessary knowledge and experience, then how to we maximize our own organizational performance?

So many of our corporate and individual behaviors seem to be running in opposition to the things that have an impact and make a real difference in our own result, growth, and success!  Knowledge, experience, sheer raw brain power are the keys to our success, yet we don’t seem to treat these as the differentiating assets they are.

Organizationally, too often we have a mentality of churning through people.  If we’ve hired the wrong person, no worries, we fire them, find another, hire them and so on.  We hit road bumps in the achievement of our goals, so we conveniently “right size” adding people when we need to, reducing people when we need to–just to get the numbers to fit.

Individually, we aren’t much better.  We move from organization to organization–chasing bigger paychecks, escaping bad bosses, chasing new dreams–yet never building deep knowledge and experience.  A colleague share the idea, “the same 1 year experience repeated 5 times does not approach the real experience we have in 5 years.”

We are constantly confronted with data about disappointing sales performance.  Declining performance against quota, declining win rates/average transaction value, customers engaging sales people later in their buying cycles.

We try to address these through providing better training, tools, systems, processes—but these seem to address the symptoms and not the core issue.

If we are to compete and differentiate based on knowledge and experience, how do we build and retain a strong asset base of knowledge and experience?  How do we attract and retain the best and the brightest?  How do we develop them, continuing to provide exciting new opportunities within our organizations, so they don’t have to look elsewhere for challenges and advancement?

Too many organizations seem to be pretty short sighted on this.  I seldom see development plans for people (having a decent performance plan is hard enough).  I am rarely involved in discussions about creating exciting growth opportunities to retain our people, providing continued challenges and new opportunities.  Too often, we seem to have a mentality of “renting” talent for a period of time, expecting they will move on.

We talk, mostly about millennials, about the “facts” they will move from job to job to job–accepting that as the way “they are.” But what if we addressed the issue differently, but looking at creating opportunities and challenges within our own organizations.

Too many high performing organizations are defying “conventional wisdom” with millennials, Gen Y, X, Baby boomers, Old farts, by creating exciting challenging work places, competing based in knowledge and experience, providing growth opportunities.

It may be the reason they are high performing companies is they are doing these things–and those companies that struggle with consistent performance and growth are not.

In a global world, where knowledge and experience is the differentiator, we can only be successful by looking at people as our most critical assets, protecting them, developing them, challenging them, growing them.  It’s an issue that’s too important to be left to HR.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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