Bursting the sales bubble

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:21 pm

Don’t be fooled by the dot-com collapse; the role of the sales force still faces inexorable change
The dot-com implosion is already yesterday’s news. But if you’re in sales, the Internet is still in the process of changing your life.
The collapse of many Internet-based companies, and the free-fall of tech stocks in general, over the last year might seem to undermine the message I’ve been preaching in these pages that the digital revolution is transforming the sales profession.
Indeed, for most industries, this so-called revolution has turned out to be anything but that. Many in sales may look at the dot-com bubble bursting and think, “I dodged that Internet bullet!” Even my own clients have asked me if that bullet was just another phony trend, one they don’t have to worry about after all.
The answer is, absolutely not. Complacency is deadly. People in sales need to be just as concerned now – in fact, even more so – as a year ago about the fundamental changes technology has brought to the way they do business.
As Business Week noted in its March 26 issue: “Strip away all the highfalutin’ talk and, at the bottom, the Internet is a tool that dramatically lowers the cost of communication. That means it can radically alter any industry or activity that depends heavily on the flow of information.”
So your local furniture store probably won’t close its doors soon because it lost all its customers to furniture.com, because the flow of information plays only a small role in the furniture business. That’s partly why furniture.com has joined scores of other on-line companies in filing for bankruptcy protection.
But information flow is central to a business-to-business sales operation – it’s what sales does. Consequently, sales and salespeople remain squarely in the crosshairs of a very real Internet bullet.
Make no mistake: the Internet will continue to play a key role in the go-to-market strategies of forward-thinking companies, affecting how a company employs its direct sales force, resellers, and other channels. The model of a single sales channel – particularly if it is a direct sales force – remains an anachronism. Despite the current hiccups in the tech economy, the Internet and other low-cost channels will be the channels of choice for all but the highest-value sales activities. Intel founder Andy Grove’s observation that “salespeople are not going to be involved with order taking and information flow at the most basic level” is no less true today than when he made the remark four years ago.
So what will remain for the direct sales force? Only those activities that bring high value to the seller and the customer alike. Identifying those activities, however, may bring some surprises.
Direct-sales people must think about shedding a wide range of low-value activities, especially when they’re conducted face-to-face. They include:

  • Demos and product presentations. Do them over the Web.
  • Needs assessments. Use the phone, the Web, or e-mail.
  • Closing deals. No explanation needed.
  • Overcoming objections. How retro.
  • Most correspondence. Put it on your Web site.
  • Looking for a “decision-maker.” It’s a meaningless term.
  • Discussing proposals. If you’re not using a presentation, just e-mail it.
  • Traditional approaches to qualifying deals. Stop relying on hunches and instincts.
  • Servicing the account. You’re in sales, not service.
  • Negotiating. This is what you do when you haven’t sold it well.
  • Most entertainment. Drop ‘Let’s do lunch’ from your lexicon.
  • Prospecting. The Web can do this for you.
  • Cold-calling. Duh!
  • Operating in “tell” mode. The world does not need a human product catalogue.
    So what are those high-value activities? Many have parallels to the low-value ones. They include:
  • Business presentations. High impact – and a place where you can also demo and talk product.
  • Building a strategic base of knowledge on customers. Learn the need behind the need.
  • Creating demand. Remember Andy Grove: “Intel reps don’t sell products. They create demand.”
  • Positioning against the competition. It’s not your product against theirs – it’s your strategy against theirs.
  • Executive access letters. The best way to get in the door.
  • Analyzing the customer’s organization to identify the true power players. Your sales plan is only as strong as the contacts that support it.
  • Marshalling and deploying your own company’s resources appropriately. Your customers will respect you, and your shareholders will love you.
  • Operating in “seek” mode. You’ll know when to turn on the “tell.”
    Notice that the list is much smaller. Someone once said the secret to good management isn’t just doing things right, it’s doing the right things. The same is true in the new era of selling. The difference? In selling’s old era, no one really knew what the right things were.
    Jerry Stapleton is president of the IBS Group based in Elm Grove; www.theibsgroup.com. He can be reached directly at 262-784-0812. For a copy of the IBS white paper, “From Vendor to Business Resource”, fax your request on letterhead to 262-784-0841. His column appears in every other issue of SBT.
    April 13, 2001 Small Business Times

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