Willy Loman is arguably one of the most pitiful characters in the history of theatre. In Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman”, Willy has big dreams that never materialize. Ultimately he ends life as a broken and bitter man. He is apparently unable to sell his products or ideas. This may not be the fate that awaits the typical sales professional. However, there is a shift afoot that requires many of us to fundamentally change our selling process. This is the only way to achieve lasting success.
Death of a Salesman: Selling in the Information Age
Originally salespeople were responsible for disseminating product information. This was often achieved by traveling extensively and pitching products to any and all audiences available. The lack of mass media created opportunities for those who could spin a compelling tale. These stories highlighted the benefits of their product or service (or in some cases seriously exaggerated them).
Over time, advertising replaced selling for many consumer products. Ultimately, this included business solutions. While this resulted in a shift in the profession, more complex solutions, especially when targeted for less sophisticated buyers, still required the involvement of salespeople to help buyers understand the key benefits.
However, with the explosion of information accessible via the Internet, more buyers than ever before are evaluating and selecting products with little or no engagement from salespeople. In some industries, the internet actually provides the exchange market for buying and selling. This eliminates the need for any interaction with a salesperson. Furthermore, it slashes hundreds of sales positions. Does this signal the end for professional selling? Absolutely not!
However, the availability of product information does mean that salespeople aren’t needed to provide product information. This doesn’t mean we can’t still achieve lasting sales success and big commissions. However, doing so requires that we add value. And for many sellers, this means a significant change in how we engage our customers.
Activities that build “relationships” that afford us no advantage beyond an opportunity to provide a quote or get the “last look” in what will be a low price decision are not a sign of an effective selling process. In today’s environment, our sales process must help us become significantly more consultative. We must help our prospects and customers identify problems that can be addressed by our products/services and then aid them in developing clearly defined decision criteria including:
- Understanding precisely what impact a given solution would need to deliver in order to compel them to want to buy it.
- Differentiating criteria that will help them determine which of several alternatives is the best option for them.
Whether we sell consumer products such as automobiles or wireless technology or advanced technology or professional services to business customers, the future of selling is clear. Success requires that our engagement, the very conversations we have with our prospects and customers, bring value to them and help them make better, more informed decisions.
Consultative sellers who better understand their customers and then use this knowledge to add value during the sales interaction have a long and prosperous future ahead.