Selling Epidemic:Garbage Out, Garbage In
The demise of classic traditional selling, like advertising has two causes; people do not like one way conversations, and people do not like pesky pitchmen. Customers do not want in their lives more intrusion of empty claims by empty suits. Information selling is going the way of traditional media. Customers are bypassing traditional sales people as their primary source for information and getting their information digitally. This is not good news for conventional sales people who do not adapt.
Information selling fails because more so than ever customers do not want to be told what to think. They have shorter attention spans to pay attention, they trust less and have less time to give up to listen to propaganda. Conventional sales people are selling their products in a make believe world of non-skeptics. The reality is their message has less impact, because we now live in a world of information hyper skeptics.
"This is the first generation to grow up in the digital age and that makes them a force of collaboration," says Denise Schiffman. What this means for sales people is their classic engagement style of information overload and one-way conversations will have less value. Collaboration in sales begins with thorough questioning that elicits sensitive and important information.
"Unlike their parents who watched 24 hours of TV per week, these youngsters are growing up interacting, rather than being passive recipients of mass culture. The Net Generation spends time researching, reading, scrutinizing authority and collaborating," says Denise Shiffman. Passive allocation of information from sales people is less valued than proactively seeking out information by customers on their own. Customers will be more than open to collaborate only with sales people they trust and believe their insight is valuable.
Product pushers do not manage their customer's attention. They assume a captive audience, where as strategic sellers assume an attention deficit audience. Information sellers try to gain attention, master communicators attract attention. Strategic sellers know we live in a short cut society so they leverage the lure of instant gratification—the customer speaking about themselves and their most troubling and problematic issues.
"In a radical break with the past, information now flows like water and we must learn how to tap into its stream. Companies can no longer rely on the stacks of knowledge that they have carefully built up and stored away. There's a diminish power of push in the marketplace and an increased power of pull," says Larry Davison. Sales people can no longer fight information clutter with more clutter. It is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. This is all leading to a selling epidemic—sales people treat their role as an information factory and it results in garbage out, garbage in.
"As business speeds up, each unit of time becomes more valuable," says Alvin Toffler. As it becomes more difficult to get hold of customers as they protect their units of time, it is all that more important to capitalize on the rare moment of time that you have their attention. Do not think your traditional information is going to do the trick here.
All this is happening because one of your newest competitors is Google. You are not only competing against direct traditional competitors, you are competing against new outlets of easy information. When customers value these easy outlets of information, they disproportionately devalue yours, because yours takes more time and emotional investment. So your job is to give them something they do not know and cannot easily access. This new information cycle now starts with questions not answers. And ends with context, not content.
However, there is a problem. "When you ask customers what they want they invariably say they want more of the same, only with better features at a lower price. This is a recipe for me-two products with pint sized product potential," says Mark Neumeier. Sales people will have to have good business acumen to know the hypothetical problems their customers are facing to start their inquiry. Otherwise, your traditional selling approach will end up in a death spiral of sameness and you will be seller dead weight.
Bill Ford of Ford Motor Company said of his company in 2006, "We can no longer play the game the old way. From now on, our automobiles will be designed to satisfy the customer, not just the factory." Wise thinking. Unfortunately, the marketplace said a day late and a dollar short. This is also happening to traditional sales people every day. The progressive sellers in the profession are adapting by no longer trying to appeal to everyone. When you try to appeal to everyone with your product information, which 95% of conventional sales people try to do, you risk appealing to no one.