Wow! Look around at what’s going on in the B2B world….
Mergers and acquisitions among strategic competitors and even unrelated industries. Amazon, Wal-Mart/Jet, and EBay all playing in the wholesale B2B world. E-commerce strategies and platforms making it inviting, and easy, for you to shop with them. An internet loaded with information begging you to search it and willing to give you almost everything that you wanted to know about that one special item. Warehouse space at the lowest vacancy rates in over a decade, driving lease rates higher than has been seen in years. Automotive companies advertising their delivery van offerings, not passenger vehicles, on network television; something that we have never seen before.
Price! Service! Next day delivery! Same day delivery! You name the delivery! Yes, the race for companies to sell direct to consumer continues to drive new behaviors and moves like we have never seen before. What is the expected outcome of all of these moves (and those not listed here)?
Companies are successfully making the transactional sale easier than one could have imagined. However, not all sales should be conducted online. Simple example…I wanted to buy a golf shirt online to support my alma mater. I was able to see several different styles online and get price and delivery information as well. But I wasn’t able to feel it or to hold it up to see which size actually works for me. Yes, there were sizing charts, but anyone who has shopped for clothes in the last decade knows how unreliable a chart is when compared to the actual product. But, from a transactional point of view, it could not have been easier to make the purchase if I didn’t have questions.
And that’s what companies are betting on…. that the ease of the transaction will outweigh the importance of “true knowledge” and “relationship”. But, I do not believe that this premise will ever be completely true in the B2B world.
There will always be a place at the table for someone who creates real value. Real value comes from the intellectual property that you bring to the relationship with your customer. This is both the differentiator and the challenge for most reps. The problem that most front line teams have is that they define value in their own terms, not the customer’s. Compounding the problem, sales reps define “value” in product terms only. This is because this is all the reps know and how they were trained to do their job. For many years, this approach worked, but the world has passed by this old approach. Real value comes from aligning your products, services, and capabilities with the customer’s goals. If you can do this, then you begin to represent real value to your customer, thereby, insulating yourself from “just becoming a transaction”. Failing to align with customer goals automatically has you working at cross purposes with your customer. You are working on (or selling) things that are not important to your customer.
Ease of doing business is highly ranked on most customer satisfaction surveys, so I do not want to minimize its importance to the process. Conversely, we can’t minimize the impact of knowledge in the process either. Without knowledge, I can still buy the wrong product no matter how easy the process is. However, the knowledge and creative thinking skills that a high performing rep brings to the relationship outweighs ease of placing an order.
Sales reps have a choice in the matter. They can either be marginal at what they do, and therefore, can easily be replaced by the online transaction. Or they can be a creative force who makes their customer’s business better and becomes an indispensable partner to them.
The choice is yours…. are you a transaction or a partner?
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