I was asked to identify a luminary in our industry for the first Top of Mind interview for TopWorld. I chose Gerhard Gschwandtner, Founder and Publisher of Selling Power. I’ll admit a bias. I have been a fan of Selling Power and its founder since the first edition of the magazine. Gerhard has a way of looking at the past and present to extrapolate the future. He has his finger on the pulse of what is happening in sales. The focus of our interview was on the impact that the “transformational” and “revolutionary” buying patterns of customers have had on sales today.
Gerhard described how many sales organizations have simply not been able to keep up with the significant changes in how today’s customers are buying. He attributed the impetus for the change in customer buying patterns to the internet so much so that the internet has become a “competitional platform” for all business processes including the sales process. The big change in how customers buy began when customers could educate themselves online (Aberdeen says that by the time a prospect is ready to talk to a salesperson the prospect has gone through 60% to 70% of the steps needed to make a decision) and only accelerated as buyers used the internet to talk to each other to rate providers and products. Not ignoring the impact of the economy, Gerhard feels that many sales organizations, because they have not been able to re-tool fast enough, are falling far behind their customers and therefore not meeting their goals. He shared how best-in-class organizations have taken two steps to meet the challenge.
1) Best-in-class companies realize their prospects are online. Gerhard described how top performing companies have flipped the model of marketing around so that rather than sending out mass emails and “yelling at people who don’t want to hear from them,” their marketing teams have created websites with content on micro-sites that catch customers, allows marketing to study customers’ behavior through digital footprints, determine their interests, further qualify through a demand generation function (not field salespeople), and only then give salespeople truly qualified leads of customers that want to hear to them.”
2) Best-in-class companies have found a way to get marketing and sales to cooperate. In the past, marketing’s job was to target markets, create the brand, provide leads to the salesforce, and produce brochures — all of this somewhat or greatly removed from the actual sales function. With that model, it was common for salespeople to complain that the indiscriminate marketing generated leads were useless as were the brochures produced. In the new world, marketing and sales agree on what a qualified lead is and speak with one voice to the customer in a language the customer responds to. He described how “Smart companies are trying to duplicate Amazon’s BtoC model for BtoB complex sales” by leveraging the internet. (Amazon is selling billions of dollars of sales without a salesperson.). Salesforces in best-in-class companies are developed to meet the highly informed and high expectation customer of today with sharper skills, more knowledge, and much more targeted focus.
Does that mean Gerhard sees a bleak future for salespeople as a profession? Not in the least. He “whole heartily recommends professionals going into sales.” But, he made it clear that for salespeople to succeed they must have a larger bandwidth, sharper skills, immediate access to information so they can react and adapt real-time. The new salesperson is one who helps customers create value and make good decisions.
To describe what salespeople today and in the future must bring to the table, Gerhard used a perfect metaphor that put the picture clearly in perspective — a camera. Think about the resolution of a photograph of a flower taken with a one or five-megapixel camera. The edges would be blurry, the colors flat. But as the number of megapixels increases so does the resolution. A camera with 20 or 40 megapixels creates pictures that are sharp and vivid. Today salespeople are selling in a world where customers are demanding the clarity of 40 megapixels. They demand real clarity of value where and when they need it. Customers have so many data points available to them. A salesperson who cannot function at the 20 or 40 level will not appear crisp or convincing. Without that kind of “resolution”/clarity salespeople will not be able to assess their customer’s knowledge gap and, there, will talk to their customers at cross purposes.
When asked what salespeople can do to increase the clarity to succeed in the new world of selling, Gerhard was specific: interactive training with real-life simulations, coaching, and possible certification. He emphasized salespeople must have the drive to proactively develop themselves using the internet resources and other avenues available to them. He recommends:
- Signing up for Google alerts for areas they want to know about.
- Research the internet to identify the BEST THREE:
- White Papers
Always the humanist, Gerhard closed with this thought, “Many salespeople are diamonds in the rough. There are polishing tools readily available to them. Salespeople must ask themselves what they want for themselves. Is it to be average? Or is it to be the best in the field? If the answer is the best, study the best.”