The Sales and Marketing Magazine (www.salesandmarketing.com) recently provided to their members and subscribers a series of free white paper downloads. One of the white papers available was written by a consultant working for ZS Associates (a highly regarded firm that does much of their business in “pharma.” www.zsassociates.com). The specific white paper was titled, “Value-Based Selling Moves from Theory to Practice to Results.” One of the claims in this white paper clanged off of my ear and caused me to question the research, the analyst/author, and the findings. The author made the statement:
The reality is people are not going to buy on personal relationships in this kind of environment – they’re buying on economic value and trust
I read that and had a visceral negative reaction. Buyers are able to do research on products, companies, competitors, etc. on their own via internet searches. Therefore, one of the previous roles of the sales person has certainly changed – the introduction of a product, explanation of features and to a certain extent, the education about what a product or service can provide the prospect or client. In this age of “self-help” buying, the prospect is certainly better informed than s/he may have been previously. And, I can certainly agree that the notion of economic value (which is not always the same as “the cheapest or least expensive option”) has a critical weighting in the final determination made by the buyer. However, I cannot get past the belief that people are not buying on personal relationships (if that were the case, there is no need for sales people!). What further galls me is that the author then contradicts his own beliefs by adding – “they’re buying on economic value and trust.” How can trust be anything but personal?
The New Role
It is in this environment where data is so ubiquitous and pervasive that the sales person’s role is even more heightened in terms of the importance of the personal relationship and trust. Previously, the buyer was at a disadvantage in that s/he was reliant on sales people to keep them apprised of developments in the market. So, while there was a belief that the differentiation between successful sales people and unsuccessful people was found in the sales person’s ability to build rapport – the reality was that it was LESS important then than it is now. What now replaces that rapport-building is the ability to develop trust – and that is at least in part - VERY personal.
Trust has different components to it. Good sources for identifying trust in selling behaviors can be found in the books of Stephen Covey (Speed of Trust) and Charles Green (Trust-based Advisor). In short, the components include:
Caring – to what level does the sales person demonstrate that they have the best interests of the prospect/customer at heart?
- Communication – is the communication open, honest, and completely truthful (or is it filled with “half-truths” or outright lies)?
Competence – does the sales person have the right set of skills and experiences?
- Character – does the sales person make the hard decisions that may even impact them negatively so that the customer may benefit?
- Commitment – is the sales person engaged or motivated to take the actions necessary?
- Clarity – is the sales person clear and focused on their objectives, steps required for the sale, goals and strategies, etc.?
Clearly, trust is personal and value-based selling is contingent on how well the sales person is able to demonstrate both trustworthiness and trusting behaviors. To think otherwise is to completely miss the point of what value-based selling includes, the importance of personal relationships in making the sale, and the meaning of trust.