Before deciding what to order at a restaurant I’m visiting for the first time, I frequently ask the server what he would order.
I might be in the mood for fish, but the variety and how it’s prepared are endless. And the menu rarely tells the whole story. The description says “Local Blackened Swordfish”, but without asking I wouldn’t know that crusted Parmesan and caramelized cauliflower (yum!) are in the mix.
The server is the restaurant’s sales person. He’s got a self interest in what I order to maximize his earnings for the evening. But if he’s talented, he’s likely to be extremely knowledgeable about the dishes and has a self interest in making certain I’m satisfied. Even if I’ve read the reviews on Yelp, hearing what he has to say is worthwhile.
Consulting a sales person is a critical part of the process of buying a B2B product or service too. A talented and knowledgeable sales person knows their product, has probably spoken with others in your situation, and is motivated to make certain you’re satisfied.
Yet more and more purchases are made, even purchases of complex products and services, without consulting a sales person. This kind of sums up the fashionable view with the in-bound marketing set:
“The balance of power has shifted from sellers to buyers. Buyers now have much more control over their journey through the purchasing funnel, able to turn to search and social sources for information instead of relying on the canned pitch of a salesperson or the perfect spin of a glossy brochure.”
There’s no denying that the web and social media level the playing field for buyers and sellers. And that the modern company’s reputation, attention to customer service, and public- facing web and social media presence are critical.
But how did this idea that you can learn everything from a company’s web site and social media gain traction? And that avoiding sales people when buying a complex product/service is a good idea?
I’d suggest just the opposite. In most cases, it would be reckless and irresponsible to make a significant investment (in money and, perhaps more importantly, staff time) without consulting a sales person.
Here are the advantages:
- You don’t know what you don’t know. B2B technology/services can be complicated and customized. Even the best web site is unlikely to explain the product/service in the detail required for your unique situation. Case studies of others like you are helpful, but may not answer every question you have.
- Social media opinions tend to be unreliable. Super fans and hyper critics are most likely to post about a product/service. Assessing credibility is difficult.
- Having a relationship with someone in the company has benefits. Your sales person becomes your advocate with her management, and is a valuable resource when negotiating service level agreements, training allowances, and other parts of a product/service buy…including most importantly, price.
Bottom line: Significant investments demand significant commitments from sellers and buyers. Skipping the critical step of a conversation with a sales person can result in missed opportunity and cost savings.
About Chris Elwell: Chris is a founding partner and CEO of Third Door Media, the publisher of Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. TDM accelerates customer acquisition for its clients by providing trusted content and targeted marketing programs that deliver qualified prospects. You can reach Chris at chris[at]thirddoormedia.com.