NetAppVoice: The "New" Role Of Sales In A Social-Media World

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  • NetAppVoice: The "New" Role Of Sales In A Social-MediaWorld

    "I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want." says Willy Loman, in Death of a Salesman.

    His words describe why he decided to become a salesman: He'd realized that the job wasn't so muchabout selling as it was about building relationships with customers.

    Arthur Miller's Pulitzer-winning play was written in the late-1940s, but ironically, the 20th centurysaw most salespeople moving as far away from building relationships as they possibly could.

    We Forgot What Selling Was Really About

    The job of the sales team became to "move units." The ultimate scorecard became the number ofsales displayed on a chart.

    In fact, the entire relationship between those who did the selling and those who did the buying wasfounded on monthly targets, bonuses and self-serving marketing.

    All this added to the mentality that "the end justifies the means." Indeed, customers became anecessary evil, who needed to be carefully managed and controlled in order for each sale to be asprofitable as possible.

    Because profit is also worked out in terms of the effort it takes to make a sale, contact was

  • something to be minimized before closing the sale, and all-but eliminated afterwards. Sales were allthat mattered, so "making the sale" ultimately became a game of manipulation, half-promises, raisedexpectations, and unwarranted hype.

    But Is It Really That Bad?

    If all this sounds like companies saw customers as a faceless mass with scrawled dollar signs onthem, it's not far from the reality.

    I use the past tense here--when you fast-forward to the present, there's been a marked shift inattitude.

    To understand the shift and why it' is happening, it's important to ask why it didn't happen sooner.After all, selling hasn't changed fundamentally: Units still need to be moved and profit needs to bemade.

    Time is, still, money.

    Safe In Our Boxes

    In the pre-social-media world that was the 20th century, communication happened along rigorouslycontrolled lines:

    o Companies advertised.

    o Brand messages were carefully controlled.

    o The only acceptable models were top-down and one-to-many.

    The world and everything in it was compartmentalized into handy "boxes," where information stayedlargely where it was.

    The journey from brand awareness to purchasing decision was controlled by advertising, with thesalespeople as ultimate authorities on product-specific information. They could, as a result, bend thetruth a little to close a sale.

  • In that world, information--data, opinions, reviews and product specs--was cumbersome andexpensive to move. There had to be a really good reason for all the barriers to be overcome and apiece of "trivia" to reach the public domain.

    In the 21st century, things are different: Data flows everywhere.

    The cost of moving information has been reduced to virtually zero. Advances in productiontechnology have driven production costs down, and widespread competition has significantlyreduced margins.

    Surviving in an environment where everything is a service, requires scale--marketshare, even. Andthat demands loyalty.

    Sales targets that focus solely on "moving units" are now the wrong strategy to deliver loyalty--nomatter how successful a one-off marketing campaign may be.

    Today's prospects are already informed: They're perfectly capable of sourcing their own informationabout everything. So rather than listening to the sales pitch, they use the exchange to draw theirown conclusions.

    Selling Is Different Now

    While it still takes a salesperson to close a sale, the modern approach is more about building arelationship than presenting the merits of the latest offer.

    It's a subtle repositioning that changes the buying-and-selling process from a negotiation to acollaborative partnership--where both the salesperson and the customer want the exact same thing.

    In this dialog, potential customers listen for three distinct things:

    1. Expertise

    Do you really know your stuff? Sales has to be more than how product A is better than product B.

    Customers want to know what this does, why, and how it's perfect for them. They're listening forexperience, confidence and solid knowledge.

  • 2. Authority

    Salespeople who understand their customers are confident that the solutions they propose will reallywork for them. This comes through in the conversation--and it's hard to fake.

    3. Trust

    Potential customers want to be reassured that you're on their side and will be there for them, shouldsomething go wrong.

    The Bottom Line

    The sales conversation is different now.

    When customers are as informed about a product or a service as the salesperson, closing the salerequires building relationships that will deliver value in the long term. It also helps that this leads torepeat business.

    It really is Willy's world--the reason he became a salesman.

    Can you build relationships? NetApp is hiring great people for its great workplace--worldwide. Clickhere for more info.

    What's your take? Weigh in with a comment below, and connect with David Amerland (Google+) |@DavidAmerland (Twitter).

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    Image credit: Megan Anne (cc:by-sa)