There is a lot of pressure on those individuals who are in sales. Customers are smarter than they have ever have been. They can access product information, demos, reviews, and other customers for answers to almost any question about something they'd like to purchase.
And it's not enough just to provide a warranty or service package with a product. Today, customers have long-term relationships with vendors and suppliers. For example, subscription models are more and more popular, and a client expects upgrades, new versions, and continuous support from the product sellers.
Customers are way ahead of the sales curve and sellers have to keep up.
I spoke with Byron Matthews, President and CEO of Miller Heiman Group, a firm specializing in sales training and tools that help salespeople be successful with their customers. He and his team have done extensive research on customer experience, what salespeople face, and on challenges and opportunities in the sales process today. One thing Matthews said that surprised me was, "It's not just about EQ [emotional intelligence] anymore. A person in sales has to be smart, informed and be able to inspire the customer."
Essentially, Matthews was making the case for "Inspirational Intelligence". That is, helping the customer think about solving a problem in a new way and how a product or service might assist in that.
"Customers know what they want, they have all the product information, they may even know how to use it, so by the time they get to the sale, they want to learn something they don't know. Customers want to know what the product is going to do for them long-term or how their business will improve by using it," said Matthews.
Salesreps have to know their customers in a much more expansive way.
Not too long ago, someone in sales could do some research on the individual and company they were selling to. They could find points of connection - common interests, schools, mutual contacts and company history. That was the basis for developing a relationship with your customer and even the differentiator in why they would choose your product or service over another's.
Today, that is not enough. The sophisticated customer assumes you may know something about them personally, or even know people in common, but prefers you more about their business - what and who are their challenges, competitors and stakeholders. They expect you to be able to provide solutions they haven't even considered, yet.
Matthews talks extensively about transforming the CRM process in this article. He highlights that below and two other ways companies need to transform their sales processes:
- Think differently about CRM, it has to add relevant value to the seller.
- Re-think sales and marketing alignment, salespeople are content marketers now.
- Add value to your customer by providing perspective. Perspective = Inspiration.
Your customer wants you to be multiple steps ahead of them.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Pieterjan Bouten, CEO of Showpad, an all-in-one sales enablement platform powered by AI. They just, in fact, launched the industry's first augmented reality solution for bringing the product - virtually - to customers.
Bouten elaborates, "Those in sales have to make sure the experience is tailored and personalized. One of the ways Showpad can help, is to provide an experience for customers, which is an evolution from PDF and Powerpoint. Our augmented reality solution will give customers the ability to test, try-out, and experience products without the actual product being in their hands. For example, the customer can test heavy machinery that isn't easily transportable."
Think about being able to experience riding a bicycle before you actually touch it or a coffee machine before you use it.
Bouten went on to say, "It's not enough to do traditional sales training or product training anymore, the landscape changes too rapidly. Salespeople need access to immediate, bite-sized, yet comprehensive data they can use to understand product functionality and customer need. Often there are multiple stakeholders involved adding complexity to a deal. Salespeople will need to be able provide continuous value to customers, and therefore they have to keep up to date all the time."
Some say salespeople and sales departments won't exist in the future. That they will become obsolete. But according to Byron Matthews, Pieterjan Bouten and other experts in the field, a sales team will still be needed, but the sales cycle will be a more comprehensive and collaborative process aimed toward making the customer happy.
And individual salespeople will need to be more intelligent - emotionally, intellectually and inspirationally.