“She could sell icecubes to eskimos!”
Most people who’ve been involved in sales or marketing for any length of time have come across SuperSalesperson.
SuperSalesPerson is someone who you feel could sell pretty much anything to just about anyone. They’re usually extremely personable, gregarious, and often the center of attention when in a social gathering. Observing the way they act (and react) in public, it’s almost as though they see their entire life as being one big sales pitch. Psychologists may characterize them as having “alpha” leadership personality traits.
A few years ago, SuperSalesPerson ruled the sales roost. They steamrollered their way to success. They knocked sales targets out of the ballpark, and ran rings around the competition. They felt that they were the single most important element in driving forward revenue.
And you know what? They probably were.
Knowledge Is Power: Sales Holding All The Cards
One of the main reasons for SuperSalesPerson’s success was information. In the majority of customer-facing buying scenarios, it was the salesperson who held all the trump cards. They knew more than the customer did.
SuperSalesPerson was able to control the flow of information to their advantage. Back in the day, much of the product and industry information that customers relied upon came from salespeople. This even included information on the competition, allowing savvy salespeople to play down (or even conceal) product inferiority. Pitches were full of misinformation, and even disinformation.
In other words: in the old days it wasn’t too difficult to sell stuff to people that, to be honest, wasn’t that good.
However, in today’s connected-customer environment where such information is now freely available, what we could call the ‘traditional’ hold of SuperSalesPerson no longer exists. The sales division can no longer cover-up product weaknesses in the same way it used to.
At the same time the customer has a far greater and broader knowledge of a product’s good points and bad points – as well as how it stands up against the competition. Your customer probably knows more about your product and its shortcomings than you do.
In situations where the main sales tool is the product itself, the salesperson’s role (and value) becomes incidental. If your product or service is lackluster when compared to everyone else’s, you can no longer rely on SuperSalesPerson to get you through. Those days are gone.
A Great Product Beats A Great Salesperson
There’s always been a balance between Sales and Product. In the old days Sales lead the way. However, thanks to the internet, today the pendulum has swung firmly into Product’s favor. Today a compelling, innovative product or service is more important than having an army of SuperSalesPeople.
So what does this mean?
It means that if your company is struggling to grow (or even maintain) revenues, all things being equal take a long hard look at your product. How as your industry and the commercial landscape changed since its introduction? Is there new competition, better value elsewhere, or has your customer found another way of solving their problem? If you’ve exhausted the possibilities and not come up with answers then – and only then – should you go and give your sales team a hard time.
Of course all this focus on the importance of Product has another implication. It means that Product Development and Product Management, as well as parallel business units such as Manufacturing and Customer Support, should have greater accountability towards company revenue. Holding the people behind the creation and building of the product more answerable to how it sells. By involving everyone directly or indirectly involved commercially invariably results in a better product, greater working integration between Product and Sales teams and – ultimately – greater revenues.
That’s not to say that the sale process – and having top-drawer salespeople aren’t as important as before. Sales has a critical role to play, even as that role has fundamentally changed over the past few years. What I’m saying is that a poor product can no longer be artificially propped-up by Sales for long, as was the case in the past. Eventually, you get found out.
If you’re looking at Sales as being the primary factor in generating revenue and turning around your bottom-line, then you’re probably looking in the wrong place.