Sales strategy, web strategy

Consider the following statistic.

59% of companies online say cutting out the middleman is a benefit -by
Business Week/Harris Poll

Are your customers and prospects part of the 59%? How does this affect your industry? Your company?

As a sales person, are you at risk of having your role dramatically altered because your industry or company isn’t proactive and lacks a strategy? Do your customers and prospects view you as part of the “middle” or an integral part of the process?

You’ve probably seen articles with clever spins on Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman and other fatal predictions for the sales profession. In the just sell sales mine we featured an article on kiosks that are designed to replace certain functions of salespeople on the floor and leave them with nothing to do but sell add-on services (e.g., extended warranties) or handle price negotiations. Not a great position for the sales person to be in when the prospect’s relationship is with the kiosk and not the sales professional. There have been articles about the rebirth of the salesperson, assuming, of course, that the passing on has already occurred.

Sales professionals, like all fields, are being forced to deal with a rapid level of change, whether it’s a new SFA project or simply shrinking margins due to online discount providers. The role of salespeople will still be the same (to generate revenue) but the manner in which they do it, and the skill set required, will be different.

When you talk about the Internet with sales managers, often you hear people say something like “Ours is still a value sell” or “It’s a relationship sell.” This apparently presumes that value and relationship are not possible on the Internet and, therefore, they are in safe harbor with their prospects. This is false hope.

The Internet is not a doomsday experience for salespeople. It’s a challenge to corporations to adjust their sales process (and train their people) to effectively sell given the Internet’s impact. This series is about how sales professionals can engage the Internet and how companies can employ strategies that integrate your sales, web and business strategy.

Questions to ask yourself about the Internet’s impact on your business?

Are you at risk of disintermediation?

Disintermediation means taking someone out of the middle. It happens when customers go directly to the source and skip doing business with a distributor or retailer. It happens when the customer relationship is lost to another party—this party interacts with the customer and you’re left fulfilling the transaction. Perhaps that’s what you do best, but can you afford not to have the relationship? Are you disintermediating your resellers? Do you want control of the relationship?

Is your product a commodity?

Right now things that sell well on the web have been commodity products. Items that are standard and uniform making price the issue. Consider the success of the online auction sites…auctions are nothing but price. Other success stories are books, tapes, airline travel, insurance, stock trading. A copy of a book is the same from the corner book shop as from an online supplier. Price and selection are important, but the buying decision is centered on the fact that you know the product is the same. If you don’t know if it’s the same, it’s not a commodity.

Can you customize your product?

At the other end of the spectrum is the customized product. Made to order–built one at a time. This is Dell computers (like they need more press). Take the middleman out; ship direct to the customer. Dell has a great direct sales team and sales through their site. They’ve integrated the two and saw that they could have both channels. This is also happening with clothes (Levi custom-made jeans) and creates opportunities for companies that can use the Internet to sell their products and integrate the order process.

Does your sales process provide value to the customer?

Perhaps the most critical part of this trend is whether or not value is found in the sales process. Customers who do not find value in the process can replace it with a kiosk or a website. When was the last time a clerk in a book store or a customer service rep at an airline created added value? Sure, some do, but it’s hardly the norm. If your sales process and reps don’t create a buying experience through information or problem solving for the customer, an order form will work just as well.

Sales strategies using the web…<.h2>

Different industries and companies are using different approaches to increase sales via a web strategy. We’re not talking about how to do online sales or other elements of e-commerce; we’re talking about what type of presence your company should have on the web. Here’s some options beyond your company web site…

Infomediary

This strategy puts the sales professional back into the role of adding value to the process and maintaining the customer relationship. Infomediaries help prospects and customers sift through all the information facing them on the Internet and in the real world, and provide a means to make selections and decisions. Infomediaries offer more than just one product or product line. These companies bring buyer and seller together, but most importantly they facilitate a transaction.

Is your company or industry right for an infomediary?

Portal

Don’t think of the portals as we know them now such as the search engines and directories (e.g. Excite, and the great and powerful, Yahoo! etc.), but rather think of portals for industries. Right now portal’s direct traffic to other sites, and most believe you need agreements with portals to have meaningful web traffic. This may change as strong brands find a niche to serve as a portal to an industry, group of people or some other commonality. These new portals may offer more relevant content and sites and may be a brand that has long been established with customers.

Is there a portal for your industry?

Community

A web community focuses on the common interests of a group of people. For instance, WritersClub.com is for professional and aspiring writers. The content, products and services are geared towards their interests. It is a place to hang out and interact. The balance communities strive for is between content with editorial interest and value and electronic commerce that doesn’t make you an infomercial on the web. Communities are by their nature supported by multiple sponsors or partners, perhaps even competitors in other businesses.

Is there a community or communities that serve your customers that you should sponsor?

The web is not going to wipe out the sales function. It’ll be one hell of a business model that doesn’t rely or benefit from increased sales. The sales function is already changing based on the web. Your choice is whether you react to the changes (which at Internet speed will mean death) or if you proactively (sure, it’s an overused word but it fits) engage the web and use it to develop all channels and improve your relationships with prospects and customers.

Now go sell something…everywhere.

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