“While personal selling as a communication vehicle has the advantage of allowing salespeople to treat each customer differently, in practice, salespeople cannot take the time to treat each customer in a totally unique manner.”
This is a quote from a 1988 article by Dr. Harish Sujan, Barton Weitz, and Mita Sujan titled Increasing Sales Productivity By Getting Salespeople to Work Smarter. I wrote an earlier article on this and noted that the authors had “10 Ways To Increase Salesperson Productivity.” The first of these is “teach salespeople to better categorize customers,” and the above quote is the first sentence of that recommendation. I wouldn’t argue with that, but maybe I can expand on it a little.
The remainder of this first way to increase productivity is spent discussing the social styles of the individual customers as defined by Merrill and Reid in their 1981 study and publication, and the need for salespeople to be versatile in their own social styling to gain rapport with the customer. Again, I wouldn’t argue with that, but is that really the only customer categorizing we need to do? I know there are nine more ways to increase productivity in the article I’m referencing, but none of them deal with other categorization techniques, so I am assuming the authors only felt this one was necessary.
Relying on adapting your selling style to the customer’s social style says you are in the relationship selling business, that the probability of your winning a sale is heavily biased toward your customer being comfortable with dealing with you, personally. That is still true, but less so than it might have been in 1988. In 2013 we’ve built a lot of distance between ourselves and the customer, and we’ve implemented a lot of fully acceptable, if not fully-effective, non-personal ways to close that.
What distance, you ask? Well, the first is actual distance. We’re further away physically from our customers than we’ve ever been. In some cases, infinitely further as we never meet them. We’re more distant in our products, with on-line demos and videos and slide decks substituting for the real thing. And we’re more distant in our relationships, with team selling and inside sales and product specialists and sales support and high-velocity selling.
And there is customer-induced distance, as well. Just as we have sales teams, customers have purchasing teams, and it’s hard to relate personally to a disparate team. Just as we sell over the Internet, customers buy over it and are much better informed, and therefore much less reliant on relationships. And with social networks and social selling, it’s harder to customize yourself for different customers.
All of this means that today, the other face of selling has become relatively more important – the sales process itself. We always had methods and processes in our selling, but for many of us they got camouflaged by the relationship we worked so hard to build with the customers. Now, process has become the foundation of much of our selling, to the point where our relationships themselves are often built on how well we design and execute our process.
Customers have come to expect and accept the distance of the modern sales world, and communication via electronics rather than the spoken word, but that doesn’t mean we can get away with anything. Your process says a lot about you and your company, and in this day and age, you need it to say good things.