Competing with Google

The below blog was posted by me a couple of years back in another blog. However, going through the same, I just realized that even through these years – the fundamental question to be answered in the sales profession remains the same, only perhaps even more acute: How does one show value to a customer in the process of doing a sale – in this era of Google?

Over the last couple of months, I had the opportunity to conduct a series of sales training workshops. These workshops were across different geographies and across different product categories. One of the persistent themes that I noticed in all these workshops was about how much the frontline sales folk overwhelmingly feel that the product / service they sell is pretty much commoditized.

What then is the role of a salesman in facilitating such a sale? In other words, how does a salesman actually show “value” to a customer, so as to squeeze out a premium for his offering?

For anyone curious enough to delve deeper, yes – there are answers. However, in this post, I only want to touch the surface of this intriguing inquiry into the role of a salesman in todays’ world. What exactly does a salesman currently do in a sales call, to communicate “value” to the customer?

In Economics 101, Value is defined as below:

Value = Benefit – Cost

Let us not look at the value of a product or service here. Let us look at the value created in a sales call. The “cost” that a customer expends in meeting a sales person is his Time & Energy. In an increasingly fast paced corporate world, our customer has limited resources of both, which he spends with due care. Hence, in his eyes it is a very valuable commodity.

Now, what is the “benefit” that a sales person can possibly give this same customer of ours in a sales call? The answers I generally hear are in terms of, “A good value proposition”, “A cost effective solution” and other such terms. Invariably though, I feel there is too much stress paid on the “cost” angle. This is despite the fact that we know that as consumers ourselves, we do not always buy “the cheapest” item on the block. Anyways, without debating that further, to stay with the sales call, I ask, “ok, so what does that translate to in terms of what you actually speak in the call?”, “Tell me the actual words”. Far too often, what I then hear is about a whole list of features and their related benefits.

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Let us take a pause here and think for a minute. Rewind to a few years back, when you had to buy a car. How did you go about that purchase? You perhaps had a few cars in mind from the advertisements you saw on TV. You then went to a few showrooms, heard out a few sales guys and chances are that, one particular sales guy got you hooked with a few interesting features in his car. You negotiated ofcourse, but since the few features really caught your fancy you did not mind paying a little more than you had budgeted for.

Circa 2015. Same scenario again. How will you go about buying your car? Chances are, you will first log in to the internet. You will check out all the options of all the brands, available at the click of a mouse. You also browse through all the feature and product comparisons. You also have a good idea of the price ranges. Now, fully armed, you still visit the showroom. But this time, the difference is that you perhaps know more about the cars and how they compare against competitors than most of the sales people there. What is the only benefit, you think, a sales person can now give you? – a better price! From being one of the factors at the point of purchase, “Price” has truly been crowned the undisputed king in your purchase criteria.

Let us now return to our sales person who has to take his sales call. If all he can talk about in his sales call is about product features, their benefits and at best, comparisons with his competitors, is there someone else who can do a better job of that? Ofcourse there is – and the answer is GOOGLE!

Google-SearchIn less than 0.5 seconds, Google can throw up all that data for me and more. Can ANY sales person in the world compete with that? I think not.

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So, does that mean that Google has effectively killed the sales profession? The answer is an emphatic NO. What Google has done though is to elevate the requirement of an effective sales person from being someone who “communicates” value, to someone who “creates” value. People still pay a premium while buying certain products and services. But this happens only when the sales person, due to his knowledge of the industry and his offerings, brings in his “expertise” into play, to deliver “insights” to the customer that he cannot find from a Google search. An example of this is perhaps in the selling of Client Virtualization solutions in the IT Hardware space. The same customer who often cannot be sold a PC at any kind of premium, readily shells out a hefty premium to buy these solutions. Why? Because Google may tell him the specifications of the components involved, but it cannot give him or help him with the insight of how to go about it and how it can help improve his business metrics. That is the benefit that the salesperson can bring in.

The first step towards redemption of the sales profession, I think, is for sales people to understand and acknowledge that their job is not to compete with Google. The benefit that a sales person can deliver in a sales call, has to be the “insights” that come from their unique knowledge of the industry & the customer situation. That is something that Google cannot compete against.

I challenge you to think about your next sales call – what can you say that Google cannot?

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