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Selling In The Age Of Google

By Expert Author: Parvez Pestonji

During the best of times sales force productivity is the centre of focus for the senior management in most organizations. The subject gains critical significance in the current times of economic slowdown when volumes have shrunk and profits are under pressure. Over the years organizations have been spending considerable amount of time and resources to improve salespersons productivities. Companies spend huge amounts of money and resources on selling skills programs every year, but mostly the productivity graph refuses to budge while the sales targets remain stubbornly rigid.

Traditional methods of sales rewards and incentives have a short term and limited effect. Pushing the sales teams for higher activity levels only ends up tiring out and frustrating the sales force. Lead generation activities and road shows to generate immediate sales has a limited effect because the cost of sale/acquisition cost shoots up and sometimes does not even justify the expenses made for the incremental sales.

The answers to the problems mentioned above are not hard to find if we study how the sales concepts have evolved over the decades and take the new knowledge and the changed dynamics of the information/knowledge age and the changes that it has brought about in how we do business now.
To find answers to these nagging questions we will need to understand the changes that have happened during the last two decades in India. First let us look at how the selling concepts have evolved therefore necessitating the need to look at a fresh approach to selling.

Let us begin by examining sales generation from the salespersons’ point of view that will give us some understanding of what needs to be done and what changes we need to bring about in our approach so that the sales generation activities give us the desired results.

Let us investigate the subject of selling by asking the question; “What is selling?”

Surely we all know that selling is persuading or motivating people to buy a product or service profitably. Some people consider selling to be based on skill, others on natural ability. Some argue that selling is a profession, a science, an art or simply a job.

The truth is that although selling can be described as a method to motivate people to buy, it is far more complex than such simple definitions suggest. It also means different things to different people.
How a company views personal selling is dependent on a number of issues. Essentially these issues reduce to two factors; cost of sale and effectiveness. Even though personal selling is effective, it is expensive.

So what does this mean to the salesperson, the person whose job it is to go out in the marketplace to meet and persuade people to buy company’s products? Well, it does not suggest that the salesperson is a declining species. On the contrary the number of salespeople is growing. Neither is earning dwindling. The successful salesperson continues to be an accepted high earner in the west. What these changes do mean is willingness and ability to adapt to changes in the market, always looking for ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness, and ensuring that the salesperson always offers his company a good return on investment in him.

Needless to say, this focus, on maximizing the effectiveness of the salesperson, has changed many assumptions about salesmanship. The majorities of these changes is not new, but result from a better understanding of how successful salespeople go about their jobs. At this point it is pertinent to briefly study the history of ‘selling concepts’ and see how with the developments in the manufacturing processes, goods being massed produced, dissemination of information & knowledge, new technologies being developed and customer awareness; the concepts have evolved and changed and so with it the new ways companies have devised of taking their produce to the market place.

Based on psychologist William James’s work in the early 1900s and popular for over a hundred years as a sales training tool AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) got used extensively by companies and salespeople. By this approach the salesperson had to take actions in a sequence. He had to first make the prospect aware of the product and foster any interest shown. He was then required to stimulate the desire to buy and possess the product and finally encourage action to purchase.

In the 30s principles from Dale Carnegie’s book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ and Dr. Strong’s buying formula started getting applied to train salespeople. In the 50s Hauk and Festinger’s work in Cognitive Dissonance began to be applied. Closing skills to persuade customers became integral to a sales training program design.

The 60s saw the advent of the ‘Benefit Selling’ approach. The underlying principle being that people buy to satisfy their needs and the salesperson had to sell by satisfying a customer’s specific needs. So, the sales people had to ask a series of questions to identify the needs and satisfy these needs by benefits derived from the features of the product. In this method of selling, benefits relate to the specific needs of the customer.

In the early 70s two sales approaches were developed. In the first, Mark Hanan’s Consultative approach suggested that the salesperson must sell what his product and service does in financial terms to the person at the top. In the second approach Neil Rackham deduced that people buy to resolve problems and successful salespeople used a set of structured questions to cause people to realize the implications of not resolving their problems.

Most selling programs being delivered today to train the salespersons are based on one or more of the concepts discussed above. All the concepts have merit and are useful, but there still seems to be something missing which baffles companies and sales managers alike. To address the sales issues holistically companies will need to address not only how the sales people position themselves, their companies and products but also the sales management processes and train sales managers to manage the processes and salespeople effectively.

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