Continuous interviews of buyers have convinced me that buyers have become so successful in creating their own “recommendation engine communities” that they are now able to learn just about everything they need to know about a product or service, without reading a single word of marketing copy or without talking to a salesperson.
In other words, customers are making marketing copy and salespeople irrelevant. In this article, I’ll focus on the selling side.
Customers always hated talking with salespeople, but before the web, online reviews, and social media, they had no alternative. Now they can efficiently find people like themselves, with similar interests, who can steer them in the right direction. Marketers see social media tools as marketing tools; customers see them as their buying tools. And they are really getting good at using them.
They can search online, visit relevant sites, read blogs, watch videos, ask for advice from social media contacts, read reviews by other customers and journalists, ask questions – and get answers – in discussion groups, and more.
They trust the information they receive from these sources. They mistrust anything a salesperson tells them. They go to salespeople as a last resort, only after they have exhausted the other sources of information, and usually at the end of their buying process, when they only have a few very specific questions left to ask.
Am I saying that salespeople are obsolete? That buyers need something different than a “salesperson” in order to buy your prouct or service? Yes. I am.
What buyers really need and want are “Buyer Support Reps,” similar to Customer Support Reps, but for people who haven’t yet purchased a product.
These “BSRs” will hear out customers, asking appropriate questions to clarify what the buyer is trying to accomplish, what the buyer already knows, and what the buyer has already learned or done. They will find out which solution will be most suitable for the buyer: Bare bones, or deluxe? Do-it-yourself, assisted, or full-service? Older, good-enough model, or a current model that will do additional things that might be useful? Once they buyer’s needs and preferences are clear, the BSR will help the customer make an appropriate and regret-free decision.
Some companies, especially those selling tech products, already have BSRs. They just aren’t officially recognized as such, and they are often held in distain by the salespeople. But if you talk to a buyer who has worked with one of these people, you will hear how valuable they are.
Savvy buyers of tech products will try to get someone like this on the phone (telling the receptionist, if a human being answers the phone, that they have a “technical question,” in order to avoid being put through to a salesperson). The technical guy who takes the call gives the customer straight answers to their questions.
Buyer Support Reps should be knowledgeable, helpful, and not “hunters.” They should be on salary, but should also get a bonus based on overall company revenue – so they are encouraged to work nicely with others in the company, and also less likely to push during the conversation with the customer. I would also suggest compensating the person in a way that ensures the customer will be happy in the end. The sale shouldn’t become eligible for a bonus payout until the person is satisfied with the product or service and happily using it.
The typical sales call – such a disappointment
Prospective customers don’t want to talk to someone who can’t answer questions, who ignores their questions, or who answers even though they don’t know what the true answer is. They want to talk to someone who patiently listens to their story – their whole story. Who asks intelligent questions. Who thoroughly understands, and only then starts presenting the options open to the prospect, including those that may not even include that company’s solution.
Salespeople think they do this, but they really don’t. They just listen until they hear a “trigger” word, then they launch, non-stop. Customers hate this.
Companies are still hiring aggressive, driven individuals who are out for the hunt, and compensating them for being aggressive. They are siccing these hunters on buyers who will turn to the alternatives if they are preyed upon.
Is hiring Buyer Service Reps rather than salespeople a risky move?
Not given the reality of how customers buy now. By the time a prospect talks to your Buyer Support Rep, that prospect has already decided that you are likely to have solution to his problem. He doesn’t have to be convinced that you might be right for him; he’s past that point. If you really can meet his requirements, he’s nearly ready to buy. Because it’s easy to buy from your company when he’s already on the phone, if your BSR completely satisfies all of the customer’s concerns, the customer is likely to buy at that moment – and not spend any more time on the buying process because the solution to his problem is right in front of him.
If your product is not a good solution to his problem, it’s better for the customer and the BSR to face up to this show-stopper during the inquiry call, rather than after he has made the purchase. If this same show stopper keeps coming up with other prospects, you have a major market opportunity staring you in the face. If you fix the show-stopper, then let folks know, you will develop a reputation as a responsive company, rather than a deceptive company whose products don’t work. Deceptions are no longer secret, isolated incidents. It won’t take long before plenty of other prospects hear about your customer’s disappointment, and avoid you altogether.
Should you get rid of your salespeople and start hiring Buyer Support Reps? No. You should first figure out if there is any way to turn your current salespeople into Buyer Support Reps, with retraining, more customer awareness, and intense, hands-on coaching. You should also consider repurposing someone who already works in your company who would make a good Buyer Support Rep.
Buyers don’t like interacting with salespeople. They need help from a different kind of person in order to make a decision. Buyers will buy from a Buyer Support Rep, because they will be getting the kind of help they need to make a good buying decision. They will assume that your quality of buyer support is a positive indication of what your after-sale support will be like.
It’s time to catch up to your buyers. The sooner you do, the more you will sell.