Information Selling; A Failed Love Story
Sales people are victims of their own success. Information sellers have gotten so good at being world experts on their product at the detriment of being world experts on their customer's challenges and most pressing issues. It simply does not work very well anymore in the information economy.
Information sellers see it as their God-given right, and sacred responsibility, and moral imperative to evangelize and overindulge in information carpet bombing with no concern about collateral damage. Customers are being "featured and benefited" to death.
Information sellers love their own point of view more than their customer's point of view. If you want to be perceived as being 100% open to your customer's unique perspective without prejudice, then hold no fixed selling points. Any fixed opinions or ideas about your offering is a contraction and closing of an open mind when it comes to encouraging free flowing, constructive dialogue with your customers.
"Most of the things that can go wrong in a sales call is when a sales person's mouth is open and they are uninterruptible," says Bill Brooks. Information selling is not based on logic and best practices. It is based on emotional attachment, ego, tradition, narcissism, self-service and denial. Information sellers are all about comparison, competitive advantages and claims of superior product performance. The flaw is it has little to do with the customer's business and why they will ultimately buy or not. They over communicate their position forcing the customer to under communicate their position.
"Sales people who only communicate the value of their products don't cut it. The suppliers who try to sell product – who try to show their stuff is better – are missing the point. What customers are looking for goes beyond the product. Customers want sales people to add something worthwhile on their own account," says Neil Rackman.
Product placement and showcasing of one's wares is the quickest path to irrelevance. You risk considerable trust and political capital when you take time to sell with information. Neil Rackman concluded, "Most sales people define value-added selling as giving valuable information; We give customers information that they were not aware of. This is far from value-add in today's information economy. Sales forces that see their mission as value communication are living in the past." Information sellers are simply pandering to the obvious and positioning to the lowest common denominator.
Have a product desensitized approach. You need to downplay your offering. Sales people make the mistake of talking about things that most customers are more concerned about talking near the end of the buy cycle, not the beginning. "The buying process starts a lot earlier than the selling process," says Michael Bosworth. The longer it takes you to bring up product information the better your chances are for building credibility and trust.
Research at Xerox in the 1980s showed that feature statements had little or no value at all in the buy cycle. They found information selling frequently put buyers into a negative position because they became hardened to the sales person's blue skying and posturing. Sales people are rightly accused of giving boiler-plate, platitudinous solutions, because they perform boiler-plate, platitudinous sales calls with little or no constructive diagnosing.
"Until the mid-90s vendors enjoyed the luxury of exerting control over buyers because they were the keepers of all information about their offering. If a buyer wanted to learn about an offering the only choice was to contact the sales person. The Internet has turned the table by allowing buyers to determine the majority of their requirements before contacting sales people by leveraging search engines, websites and social media. The reason the majority of buyers want to contact sellers after they determine their requirements is because they don't want to be influenced by sellers that are financially incentitized to make the sale. This defines the problem that stereotypical traditional sales people have today," says John Holland.
Mainstream sales people use the unique qualities of their offering (medicine) to prevent commoditization (disease). Yet the medicine they are using is compounding the disease. "All values are considered equal in the absence of a value interpreter," says Bill Brooks. For most classic sales people their product information is a curse. It contaminates the buying process because it is used prematurely, incorrectly, incessantly and unnecessarily. Information selling and product pitching is a slippery slope and a zero sum game. Bottom line; sales people today have to learn to minimize their product information footprint. "He who will not economize will have to agonize," said Confucius.
"Sales has been curiously resistant to a value driven process approach. No other area of businesses has proved to be so stubborn. Sales has been woefully slow to change because they falsely believe they represent ultimate value creators due to their superior offerings," says Michael Hammer. Customers do not care how much we know (alleged value) until they know how much we care. They do not care about our opinions, until we have earned the right to thoroughly understand their opinions and their unique point of view.