Buying and Selling: Do We Still Need Traditional Sales Reps

When did you flip the switch? For me it was gradual. Until something happened three years ago that altered my behavior forever.

I moved.

I’m talking about the change in our buying process. From academia where students use Rate my Professor to evaluate course choices to corporate purchasing departments where the buyers poll user groups before they even let a salesperson into the door, we no longer place our faith in experts. In today’s environment, past customer experience matters the most.

Individual experts and sales professionals still matter. In fact, they matter more than ever, but their role in the process has shifted.

Which brings me to my move, when I had to buy lots of things very quickly. As a buyer, I saw how many organizations are still unconsciously operating under the old paradigm. There are three new rules every business – commercial or consumer – must understand:

  1. How your team treats the last buyer decides whether you get the next buyer

When we purchased an older, home three years ago, one of the first improvements was replacing the 1990 oak stair railings. In the old days, I’d look through magazines and go to a store to get information.

Now, after pouring over Pinterest and Houzz pictures to settle on a style, I’m searching suppliers and prices. Upon finding a local store, I read their Google and Yelp reviews. When I’m just about positive they’re my choice, I poll my neighbors, via Nextdoor to get their feedback.

In sales vernacular, I’ve moved from interest to information gathering to evaluation without ever speaking with a live person. EY research suggests 50%-80% of buyer’s decision-making processes are complete before a salesperson gets involved.

My chosen supplier actually had two bad reviews. But I could tell they were from cranky people with unrealistic expectations. The reviews about their on-time service and craftsmanship won the day.

Customers are assessing every aspect of your business before they ever meet your sales team. Buyers can filter out the cranks, but multiple bad reviews about your billing team, or your onsite implementers will prevent people from even considering you.

Implication: Every person on your team who interacts with clients is in sales and must be trained accordingly.

  1. Deep knowledge is required and must be tailored
    When I entered the store, the cheerful salesperson was eager to tell me about their offerings. She whipped out the fabulous brochure. The problem was, I’d already seen the brochure online. I wanted answers to some specific questions about my installation.

Many of our clients sell complex high-ticket solutions to corporate buyers. Their sales teams are subject matter experts prone to feature heavy presentations. Buyers don’t have time for that anymore, all that information is online.

Implication: Sales interactions should be organized around the buyer’s unique objectives, not the product offering.

  1. Consumer buying behavior is business buying behavior

In the old days, women shopped for consumer items and men bought business solutions. Now, everyone buys both. Our business clients are dealing with younger digital native buyers, and they’re more frequently female. They grew up comparing Amazon reviews and they’re bringing that behavior to work. They expect more authenticity and customization.

I’m the same person in the stair railing store that I am when I choose a software vendor. I don’t want people to waste my time, and I still want experts to help me decide. But they need to match my pace.

Implication: Your sales process must match today’s buyer not yesterday’s buyer.