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The Sacred Cow of Selling for Sales People
is Starving Them

Information pushing and product selling's influence is going the way of traditional media. More and more customers are bypassing sales people and getting their information in cyberspace. The future of media is targeted advertising whether TV, cable, or the Internet. The same is true with the sales profession. This type of highly targeted messaging, prompted by the customer, is in direct opposition to conventional product selling.

Prior to the Digital Age sales people were one of the most important elements of the buying process in B-2-B sales. Very little could happen without a call, or a meeting with one. Today in some cases sales people are easily dispensable, an afterthought, extraneous, a last resort, or a mere tolerant. At my training sessions some of my participants, when being brutally honest, are hard-pressed to come up with something truly compelling that a prospect couldn't get elsewhere easier, faster and with less flim-flam.

Social media and the Internet are creating a huge change in how customers are buying, accessing information and utilizing sales people. The new facts of life are it is tougher and tougher for sales people to maintain relevancy by pushing information in the Information Age. In the age of transparency, customers are hyper vigilant in questioning the accuracy of information. Sales people continue to be on the bottom of the list of transparency, trust and accuracy of information. Yet sales people are saying with their actions damn the yellow lights, damn the red lights, I am going full speed ahead with my scholarly, product tones.

With information traveling at the speed of light, sales people are unaware that in a fair amount of cases their information strategy has a planned obsolescence built into it. After a brief product overview and a few questions their product information gets lost and becomes obsolete because of the avalanche of information it is competing against. Remember, good product information is the absolute least amount of information that gets you out of first gear and into the highway of asking questions.

Traditionalists are stuck in the equivalent of the industrial complex of manufacturing, distributing and exporting information, where the real opportunities are in the importing of knowledge and information from customers. I start all my training sessions by telling everyone they are not in Kansas anymore. The days of entitlement are gone for product pitchers; captive audience, information demand, information monopoly, domain leverage and information acceptance. Today these types of entitlements simply promote defiant disorder in customers. The more you push your advantages and sell the more they resist.

Conventional sales people are dismissed as a contradiction in terms; they provide value that customers can easily and quickly get elsewhere. The traditional model for selling of sender – message – receiver is flawed the way most sales people do it because there is no feedback. Without feedback you are broadcasting, not communicating.

My goal in my seminars is to get sales people to realize that the customer so often has a lot more to say as to whether they buy or not, than the sales person has a say as whether they sell or not. Product pushers really miss this point. You should use your product information as a means not an end. Predominately use your information to discuss problems not fixes. How you demonstrate your understanding of your customer's issues and challenges often is a better preview of your product offering than the actual demonstration of your product.

Great acts of selling are not done by flair, personality, command of language or great products. Rather they are the product of deep understanding, intense listening, superior insight, trust and emotional Intelligence. Unfortunately, the trinity of me, myself and I is the unspoken rallying call for most information pushers. This sales narcissism is a very inflated view of self and product and has serious unintended negative consequences. "Our culture encourages self-absorption in the belief that it will improve our lives," says Keith Campbell. Not only will it not improve our lives, but it is disastrous for client relationships.

Orthodox selling is so rewarding because it gives you a wonderful, blissful sense of false security. It is totally fulfilling to the seller's ego and very unfulfilling to the buyer's ego. A whole class of sales people are preoccupied with form over substance and they wonder why their relevancy is being called into question.

Selling is an input business, not an output business. Inflow from the customer must exceed outflow from the sales person to create any semblance of value. Doing a sweeping once – over with a few superficial questions, and then running off to the main event with your signature, cut and paste pitch will get you squarely into the e-commerce zone.

Product pushers pour every fiber of their soul into selling leaving very little room for their customers to bear their soul about their most pressing challenges. Product pushers crave every advantage they can get, they seize the moment and do not let go until they have been thoroughly heard and understood. Their need to dictate the terms of a sales call leaves very little room for dissent and open discussion.

There is as much proof about the wisdom and effectiveness of the granddaddy of information selling-feature and benefit selling, as there is in the medical efficacy of the holy water from Lourdes. Feature and benefit selling is on one hand the sacred cow of selling, and on the other hand it is starving sales people.

Feature and benefit selling is the selling professions equivalent of conspicuous consumption. More, more, more. Better, better, better. It is noisy, loud and pushy, and so often it produces its opposite goal. It is wordsmithing gone amok. It is a failure that often looks like success. It is truly a killer sales app. And I mean the negative kind.

There is hardly a prize to be found in the Cracker Jack box of features and benefits. I like to call feature and benefit selling free expression suicide. Is anyone listening? Can you hear me now? No and no.

All features and benefits are fighting to be the exception. All feature and benefit sellers are cookie-cutter, cardboard cutouts looking very distinctly the same. The strategy has in bold flashing lights "salesey" written all over it. All sales people carry the burden of the sins of their profession. Just be aware that feature and benefit selling is one of the worst offenders. Feature and benefit pushers are truly their own worst enemy.

Deterrence in the age of information proliferation is not working. The doctrine of mutual assured destruction is what is happening in today's sales environment. Sales people proliferate information and customers return the favor with a proliferation of non-information. Both parties lose out.

Jeffrey Gittomer coined the phrase, "People love to buy but hate to be sold." If information pushers really understood this they would not persist with their information about their product and company. These sales people are fluent in the selling component, but are incompetent in understanding the buying component of the equation. They sell before they understand why one would buy or not. Information sellers believe if you build it (spec it out) they will come. They should tweak it to if you get off the customer's back, you have a better chance they will come and build it themselves (find their own answers).

You are not in elementary school anymore, so no more show and tell. Most product sellers need to be put into elementary, remedial classes to bone up on their questioning skills. As long as you are not questioning and giving out information you will always be considered a usual suspect, and the suspicion of having an ax to grind will always be present.

Recipients of product information can be best summed up as seeing but not really seeing, hearing but not listening, hearing but suppressing, hearing but not internalizing and hearing yet deriding.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com