Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Sales Force Of The Future Its Not About Selling

Writen by Rick Johnson

Jeff Gitomer coined the phrase at a recent convention: "It's not about what you are selling, it's about what the customer is buying."

In reality, the customer is not buying your product, he is buying fulfillment for a need. Salespeople need to diagnose customers' business needs and create solutions that help improve customers' business performance. What is the customer really buying? Thomas Winninger, America's marketing strategist states it simply with the following examples:

"BMW doesn't sell cars, their customers buy a driving experience."

"Kodak doesn't sell film, their customers buy a magic moment."

"Hertz doesn't rent cars, they get you out of the airport faster."

Nowadays, salespeople must be problem solvers able to generate solutions for customers in their time of need. Therefore, they must possess a great deal of knowledge about their customers' business. Often, they must actually define what those needs are because the customer may not know, nor take the time to explain.

Customers want the "Sales Force of the Future" to have the knowledge and intelligence to comprehend and analyze their problems before showing up at the door. Customers will listen and buy from the salesperson that finds the "pain" and takes it away. They want solution providers, not the "coolest technology" with three adjustable speeds.

The "Sales Force of the Future" recognizes that it's not about what you are selling. It's not all about the product. They are knowledgeable about the customer's problem, what he/she is really buying, and translates the solution into the sale.

Old and New Formulas

As today's sales environment leans toward a more multifaceted atmosphere, salespeople must become strategists with a plan. This plan requires more knowledge about the business, better relationships and better solutions. Some old school salesmen may believe they know what it takes. They have the experience. They've been around a long time. They also may be wrong. The world is changing. The "Sales Force of the Future" is doing things differently. They recognize we can't afford to become complacent. Complacency destroys competitive advantage. As sales professionals, we can't become full of ourselves, no matter how long we've been in the field, no matter how much experience we have. Thomas Winninger emphasizes my point in telling the story of the tortoise and the hare.

In the fable The Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoise didn't win the race. The hare lost it. He lost it because he was stupid. He was too busy looking over his shoulder wondering what the tortoise was doing instead of taking advantage of his strengths. He was better, faster, quicker and smarter - but he forgot, he became complacent.

On the flip side, the "Sales Force of the Future" understands that everyday is a new learning experience. In the old days when I was a salesman growing up in distribution, sales success had a simple formula: Relationship Selling. A mentor of mine drilled that formula into my head.

Formula of Past Success: Develop a strong relationship with your customer, make friends with him, and he will find a way to buy from you.

Relationships alone will not get you the sale today. Of course, they are still very important, especially to get a chance to even apply today's formula for success. Today's formula is just as simple as in the past, but remember, it's not about what you are selling, it's about what the customer is buying. Figure out what he is buying - what solution the customer needs. Formula of the "Sales Force of the Future:" Figure out what the customer is really buying. Become a total solution provider by taking away the pain.

Find the pain and make it go away, even if it has nothing to do with your product. It's about being a total solution provider. Today's formula works because it creates competitive advantage. It is the secret to success for the "Sales Force of the Future."

In times past, salespeople were trained to focus on their product. They knew everything about it - what features it had, the benefits, how long it could last and what the red button did when pressed. Salespeople talked about the product until they were blue in the face. Armed with brochures and warranties, they were ready to attack. But, in today's environment, customers want more, not just the latest technology and the best "widget" a person can buy. They want complete solutions to all their problems. Suddenly, the brochure and other marketing materials are simply support functions. Buyers are more educated, more professional and seek more than just products. They want efficiencies, market share and profit generation.

As Jeff Gitomer says, "You cannot puke all over your customers with features and benefits." In the old days, we were taught to spray the purchasing agent's office with talk about these features and benefits. When they asked questions we were trained to watch their lips, and when they took a breath, that was our sign to talk some more. In contrast, the "Sales Force of the Future" needs to LISTEN more than 80% of the time. UNDERSTAND the customer's behavior, goals, industry, problems, his way of thinking, how he makes money, his customer's customers, and ultimately, their problems. Again, it's about what the customer is buying.

Caution: The Solution May Not Be What it Seems

That is why it is important that the "Sales Force of the Future" understands the customer's customer and the customer's industry. Sometimes a solution that seems obvious is obviously wrong. My eight-year-old grandson, Zayne, drove that point home to me just last week. We got in the car to go down to the store. Being a responsible grandfather, I put him in the back seat and told him to buckle his seat belt. "Gee, Grandpa we're only going down to the store on the corner. Do I have to?" "Zayne," I replied, "It's a proven fact that more than 75% of accidents happen within 20 miles of your home." With the seriousness and pure innocence of an eight-year-old, Zayne looked at me puzzled and said, "Then why don't we just move? "

Finding the Pain

Be more knowledgeable and conscious of your customer's problem. You're no longer selling a product, you're selling a solution to make their life easier, happier, better, less complicated, or more fun. By understanding the customer's business and his customers, you help them make a profit through both cost reductions, improved efficiencies, increased value and increased sales. Those solutions come in many forms and may have nothing to do with your product. That's okay. Look for the pain regardless of what it is and focus on the solution.

Customers don't want products, they want profits - or ways to make profits. They want satisfaction, feelings of comfort, pride, praise and self-esteem. They are people just like us. Well, maybe they don't have the same crazy genetics that we have as salespeople, but they are just as smart, just as caring and have similar personal needs and feelings.

So, how do salespeople find the customer's pain and identify the problem? How do we figure out what they are really buying? You gain much of this knowledge by listening. I mean really listening. You don't focus on pushing product. You focus on the customer and what he is telling you. You research his industry. You talk to his customers and even his competitors, but carefully. Once you have this knowledge and understand your customer completely, you can provide intelligent solutions to almost any challenge. You have raised your customer's expectations of you and your company, which creates competitive advantage. It's all about value - not the value-added built into your product or your service, but it's about adding value to a situation, to your relationship. Do this and you create a real partnership with your customer and his company.

It's Not Rocket Science

Steps to follow:

1. Relationships are still very important - Build them.

2. Analyze the situation - Understand the customer's problem before you talk about the solution. Listen, listen, listen.

3. Be familiar with the customer's past, present and future goals and adjust accordingly.

4. Put yourself in their shoes. What would you want to hear? What would you do?

5. Talk to the "head man" - the hub - the one who makes the decisions and knows the company inside and out.

6. Know the industry - Talk to your customer's customers.

7. Do your homework - Surf the net and do research. Learn your customer's business, his market, his competition, how he makes a profit, his customer and, most importantly, his personal pain in doing business.

As stated earlier, relationships are still important. In fact, there should be multiple layers of relationships between your customer's firm and yours, not just one. What's the difference today? The relationship is just the ante to play in the world of professional sales. Once we've established those relationships, we must manage them well to provide maximum value to our customers.

The lone wolf sales approach of the past, the one I too grew up using, won't work in today's environment. The "Sales Force of the Future" understands that. Times have changed. Consolidations continue to occur. Purchasing is a profession. Customers are smarter. They gain more market power everyday. The "Sales Force of the Future" understands that it is no longer about Power & Politics, it's now about Principle & Process. Success for the "Sales Force of the Future" depends on an architecture aligned with customers' needs and profit opportunities. Remember, it's not about what you are selling!

Dr. Rick Johnson ( is founder of CEO Strategist LLC. an experienced based firm specializing in strategic leadership . CEO Strategist works in an advisory capacity with company executives in board representation, executive coaching, education and training to make the changes necessary to create competitive advantage. You can contact them by calling 352-750-0868, or visit for more information. Rick received an MBA from Keller Graduate School in Chicago, Illinois,a Bachelor's degree from Capital University and his PhD in strategic leadership.

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