According to Forrester, “we are living in the age of the customer”. I admit, when I first heard the phrase it caused me to wonder when was that ever not true? Hasn’t it always been about the customer? From a selling process point of view, I suppose researchers think that isn’t the case.
So, why is it that now – at this point in time – we live in the age of the customer? And, what does that actually mean anyway?
After a few web searches, it seems that what it means is not anything different than what many of us in the sales industry have been saying for 10+ years. Living in the age of the customer is simply a reference to the fact that with the internet and social networks, buyers have access to the information they need to inform their buying decision process.
“In the Age of the Seller, salespeople were the original internet of prospects and customers.” – Jim Blasingame
From a selling point of view, what this means is that technology has shifted the balance of power to buyers, because they don’t necessarily need you to tell them about what your product or solution does, or even what it costs. That’s where I still see a big disconnect in selling today. Defaulting to product feature dumps – on the phone and in email, doing demos or even pushing discount offers at month end to try to hit quota is de rigueur in selling today. Ask a salesperson to clearly articulate what problem their product solves for a customer, which by the way, it what the customer actually cares about, and one of two things happens. Either said salesperson starts rolling into their scripted pitch, regaling you with stories about their products amazing features, or they stare back at you blankly having no idea how to respond.
The game has changed.
When Joan and I wrote The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media, we took you back to the early days of systematized selling largely attributed to the work of John Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Company now simply known as NCR. His N.C.R. Primer published in 1887 detailed a specific process and language that salespeople were to use to sell their goods. The system turned the company into a dominant force in the industry, while also having a major impact on the development of the modern sales industry.
Other companies began using variations of Patterson’s system to train their salespeople to sell. Emphasis was placed on uncovering a buyers need for the product and then making a persuasive pitch to induce someone to buy. Without the benefit of the internet or social channels, customers had to sit through presentation after presentation from salespeople pitching their wares, and they’ve been selling that way for over 125 years.
Wake up. It’s 2016.
The problem, unfortunately, is that most companies haven’t realized – or maybe that’s accepted – that the a-typical approach to selling — rooted in obsolete selling approaches — isn’t as effective as it used to be. With pressure to increase pipeline, close deals faster and increase revenue, the leadership response is usually to insist that salespeople do more. But more calls, emails, product pitches and demos isn’t the answer. The customer is already way ahead of you.
Selling in the age of the customer means doing things differently.
Buyers can gather a lot of data before talking to a salesperson, but that doesn’t mean that you as a seller don’t have an opportunity to add value in the early decision making process. Better yet, you can get in front of that early stage research. How? Use social networks to increase your visibility to buyers. Use email and social networks to demonstrate that you are a business resource for prospective buyers. Get in their head. Think about what’s important to them. Then share information that adds real value, something that they can use and that speaks to the issues that are important to them.
I believe that we have always lived in the age of the customer, in that putting the needs of any customer and potential customers should always come first. But today’s customer demands more than your PowerPoint pitch or demo, and they are really making their voice heard. At the top of their lungs they are screaming at you to approach them differently! Otherwise, you are of no use to them at all.