May 30 by Patrick Wolf
If someone wanted to purchase a car back in 1950, they would have to go down to the local car dealership and talk to a salesman. Most people coming in to buy would have to rely completely on the knowledge of a salesman, hoping that the given information was coming from a trustworthy source. Those were the golden years of the car salesman. The salesman had a monopoly on information, giving them a lot of leverage over the potential customers. Those were the days….
Well, those days are gone. In reality, the selling process, especially in B2B sales, has become much more complex and the job of a salesperson has become more difficult, or at least nuanced. This post will be getting into why and how sales has grown in complexity, and what companies need to understand about it going forward.
The Causes of Sales Complexity
One of the first things people think about when someone brings up modern day sales complexity is the internet. Customers know have all the information they could ever need, directly at their fingertips. No longer does the salesman have the monopoly of information, if fact many times customers know more than the salespeople. Although this is probably the most important factor, it is also the most recognized and is therefore common knowledge. Below of a couple factors that are less talked about, but no less important:
1. Product Complexity
In the last decade the complexity of product offerings and packages has drastically increased. This can largely be attributed to the evolution of “solution selling.” Salesman, especially in the B2B world, rarely sell one stand along product (like cars). Instead they sell the solution to a problem. These solutions generally encompass a platter of products that the sales rep can pick from to meet a prospects needs. Not only do salesmen need to have a deep knowledge of numerous products, but they also have to be able to distinguish the needs of the customer and configure a targeted product. This is not easy.
2. Price Increase
In conjunction with or, more likely, because of increased product complexity and solutions selling, we have seen an increase in product prices. As the products become more complex, and customers are purchasing bundles of products instead of stand-alone products, it makes sense that prices of these solutions would inflate. This comes with its own set of problems, two of which I will be getting into below. In general though, the more prices increase, the more time customers will spend researching and shopping around for products, making the job of salesman more difficult.
3. Input of Multiple Influencers
As the price of the products increase, so too does the number of influencers around a prospect company that need to sign off (or agree) on the product. Executives are increasingly relying on the opinions of numerous other decision makers, and influencers, around the company to make the decision. This drastically increases the number of people that sales reps need to target within a company, each with their own pain points that need to be addressed. Tailoring individual pitches for each of these influencers takes time and subtlety, creating more of a grass roots movement around the product you are selling. Patience is necessary as grassroots movements take time to foster.
4. Pricing Complexity
Another component is the growth of pricing complexity. The large number, and variance, of products that go into creating a solution is expanding the range of possible prices. This makes it more complicated to match the right solution to the customer’s budget. In addition, individual sales reps need to have a firmer grasp on the numerous product possibilities and prices. As the number of products and prices increase, this becomes more complicated. Lastly, there is need to individualize discounts according to need and importance, only further convoluting the process.
3 Keys Going Forward
Sales reps, new and old, need to adjust to this new reality. Below are 3 points reps need to understand if they are to succeed in this constantly changing environment.
1. Knowledge is Power
Sales continues to face a more informed customer. If you think they are informed now, imagine how much they will know in 10 years. Sales reps can no longer win deals by taking advantage of superior knowledge. Instead reps need to focus on demonstrating value your company or product brings to the table. Try teaching them something new, or give them a new prospective on their business and how your product relates. These customers are nearly done with their sales cycle by the time they talk to you (they have finished their research, they know the space and the products available); adjust to where they stand and immediately begin with value.
2. Changing Business Models
Model and best practices have been changing rapidly these last couple of years, and one can only imagine this continuing. Sales teams and leaders need to accept this, keep an open mind, and remain fleet footed. Business models need to take this into account. What works today might not work in a year.
3. Business Agility
Piggybacking off of the above section, businesses need to focus on agility and the ability to pivot. Companies must continually push forward, and avoid getting caught complacent. Constantly train reps, provide innovative content, and maintain driven sales leadership. If you are not on your toes, you will inevitably fall behind. That is just the nature of this current, fast paced environment.