‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ is a saying coined in the 18th century that means a small amount of knowledge can mislead people into thinking that they are more expert than they really are.
How true in today’s society.
For example, the medical profession has warned people about their penchant for searching the internet for symptoms of the ailments they feel that they have. Worse still is looking for the remedy without getting professional advice in some mistaken belief that if it appears as a result of a Google search, it must be true.
It’s not that the information is essentially wrong – though a lot of it is – but because usually a little bit of knowledge is more dangerous than none at all. It often misguides the reader or simply confuses them, giving them a false impression that they know best.
It is not only true for medicine but salespeople face the same challenge of the badly informed buyer – people who have read up on a product or service, and without really understanding the complexities, believe they are sufficiently well informed to make a decision regarding a sometimes complex product or technology.
Today, buyers (read customers, procurement, etc.) have more information at their fingertips about products and services than ever before. Yet how much do buyers really understand and know about what it is suppliers can really do for them? How much do they understand the short and long-term risks and benefits of their purchasing decisions? How well can the buyer integrate the various offerings into their complex business systems that generate real value beyond a price?
It wasn’t too long ago that salespeople were faced with the challenge of uninformed or ignorant buyers – people who had no knowledge of what they wanted or needed, and even less knowledge about how different products and solutions actually worked. At that time a key role for salespeople was being able to educate their customers and help them make informed decisions.
In those days salespeople developed expertise in how their products and services worked and could be used in concert with their clients’ businesses or personal situations. These skilful salespeople developed sales skills that enabled them to question buyers and understand where on the continuum of understanding each person stood.
Today the challenge is vastly different. Instead of uninformed or ignorant buyers, salespeople now face the challenge of badly informed buyers. This is often evidenced in the worst of procurement practices currently plaguing and challenging buyer-supplier relationships (see ‘Race to the Bottom’).
Those procurement ‘specialists’ who are fixated (and often individually incentivised and rewarded) on ‘lowest price’ options have little if any interest in the long-term consequences of their decisions or truly understanding the real value suppliers can bring beyond price.
There is a growing level of concern within the procurement profession that procurement teams are ‘dumbing down’, that they are losing or have lost sight of working within complex systems and integrating real value beyond product and price.
All too often buyers visit several sites in order to read up on what a particular technology can do. Without a really deep understanding they then make up their mind about what they want. To them, the product and the price is all that matters, and if they keep pushing hard enough they will find some desperate supplier who will drop their prices enough to give them what they want. Hang the long-term consequences.
Salespeople who represent technical companies are particularly prone to this phenomenon.
To combat this, salespeople and marketing teams need to invest time searching the internet so that they at least know what their prospects are seeing and be prepared for a discussion – robust as it may be – about the pros and cons of what the buyer wants, versus the reality of what full disclosure actually means.
Just as the buyer would visit Google and insert some descriptions and then get the details, so too should salespeople and their marketing teams. Get on the internet, do a search for the benefits that your products or services deliver, and get a view of what is being said – true to false.
That information will equip you with enough knowledge to discuss options with badly informed buyers, and in the process, do what all truly professional salespeople do – guide buyers away from dangerous risky choices to more beneficial ones that address the needs and expectations of customers.
Remember, everybody lives by selling something.