The polarisation of selling and buying

Watch out for polarisation of sales strategies and sales teams as the middle ground begins to disappear in 2012.

We will see leaders rethink their sales force structures and go-to-market strategies as products commoditise and real margin value shifts to ideas, education, innovation and results. ‘The polarisation of selling and buying’ is the ninth Sales Trend for 2012 voted by our readers.

In the 21st century, a sales-driven organisation needs to focus on helping the buyer successfully navigate and complete their journey.

In the modern world, buyers’ needs are becoming polarised between being completed, simple transactions (usually online) and navigated, complex arrangements (usually requiring people to make this happen).

If it’s the former, the sales journey needs to be supported by systems and processes that make the transaction as quick and efficient as possible. If the latter, organisations need highly skilled people as the primary points of contact engaging in a proactive consultative approach to selling.

In 2012 and beyond, sales and business leaders will need to make brave decisions about how they structure their sales efforts, their sales and service teams if they are to thrive and prosper and remain connected to their buyers.

No longer is it just about driving for more market share and profit; we need to consider how we connect with and engage with our customers; we need to give them a reason to stay connected with us.

As Peter Drucker pointed out some decades ago: “The purpose of business is not to make a profit, but rather to satisfy customer needs. The consequence of satisfying those needs is an increase in profits…”

Now more than ever it is the time to rethink our sales strategies and our sales force design. We need to design the sales force and sales system our customers/buyers need and generate great sales results.

Back in 2008, one of our longstanding clients realised this. They had the same sales force structure over the past 15 years and a very stable sales force to go with it.

While the team and structure had worked very well, the market was changing and the business, and its salespeople, needed to evolve to ensure they were current, fit and productive. Why? The field sales force had done such a great job educating their market about what they did that many of the customers were happy to do their purchasing online or via the telephone. The majority of the customers were telling them they didn’t need to see a sales representative.

The sales director realised she needed to develop a new strategy and, with that, needed a new sales culture and new team structure to deliver it. But she didn’t want to get rid of the current sales team. They were good operators with great industry knowledge and experience.

She knew it would be foolish to start from scratch with a new team and she didn’t want to create confusion or unnecessary unrest or anxiety in her existing team. Her concerns rested around getting buy-in from the team regarding the new strategy and, in particular, their need to adjust their roles somewhat. Despite not wanting to lose people she was prepared to do so if necessary.

So what did she do?

She developed her sales strategy and then presented her strategy to her sales team, inviting feedback and explaining ‘why’ they all needed to move in this direction using a well-researched, evidenced-based approach. The team knew what was happening in the market place so it came as no surprise to them that they needed to shift.

There were several steps involved, which you can read about in ‘Creating your ideal sales force’. But the purpose of raising this story is that nothing ever stays the same and we need to be ever vigilant to how we need to adapt and evolve into the new world we find ourselves in.

Our buyers are telling us what they want – if only we would listen and pay attention. As previously mentioned in a 2012 Sales Trend – B2B Field Sales Forces to halve (in number) the consequences are dire if we do not adapt.

Fashion retailing is an obvious example of where traditional sales methods are being replaced by online purchasing, cutting out middlemen, physical shop locations going vacant and so on. Even advice on how to dress or style up is happening online.

While other retailers realise that people still want to come to their stores, but they make it a great experience. I’m thinking of some of the large hardware chains that make it easy to do business with them; they are helpful, friendly and can offer advice you need and want. Retail won’t die out, just certain types of retail will disappear if they do not adapt.

So what to do?

Look at what you are offering – is it a value-added complex service which requires the exchange of ideas, innovations, collaboration, excellent advice and service or is what you offer available anywhere and easily purchased as a single entity with little buyer education required?

A century after Robert Louis Stevenson coined the phrase everybody lives by selling something – and this is true even more so today – the way we do that has changed dramatically.

We are no longer spruikers of features and benefits; we are educators and facilitators of opportunity.

The ideas and creativity of our people define those opportunities and their talent and skill realise them. If you want to really look at what type of sales force you need look at how and what your customers want to buy and that will tell you what to do.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit www.barrett.com.au

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