It is 7AM and I just read my first blog of the day:The New Buyer Conversation, Goodbye Sales, Hello Google”. The blogger asserts that no one wants to speak with sales people any more—“those days are over.” This may be true for consumers on Amazon or WalMart.com where they compare features and surf for the best deal on widgets or commodity type products, but not so for many other types of purchases.
You see, there are different types of sales: retail, industrial, and consulting for market segments. There are also inside customer service reps, which in some cases are the same as inside sales reps. Then there are those outside reps who travel and work in the trenches. These are the folks who get the best feedback from customers, report to marketing, and allow the company to survive and grow. Then there are those who are in sales as a stepping stone into another position, and those who are career sales people. It would have been more thorough if the blogger would have differentiated the different types of salespeople; the context of the blog seems to be related to sales people who make cold calls, or who solicit prospects via unwelcome phone calling or other contact method.
Even though I offer a store front for my website, I’ve found that there is still a large segment of buyers who prefer speaking with a human being. Count me as one of those. In fact, I placed 2 orders this week, both for promotional items, but had to speak with inside sales reps/customer service folks to help me place the orders. I was simply running out of time and the websites, as progressive and inviting as they were, were not good enough for me to make the purchases. In the first case, I had to make sure about a print color question, and double check a lead time. She also helped direct me to some helpful options to consider on her web site. In the second case, I had to call to tell them while they were advertising 128 bit security encryption, my browser told me otherwise.
In the business world, buyers typically need to know what they are paying for, and in my case, I offer service with my products. Folks who are investing in long-term software and hardware purchases, or who are evaluating label suppliers for an important project, often prefer human contact to help them better determine who they are dealing with. Email is extremely useful, but not in this case. This probably explains why I prefer the human element when I purchase non-commodity items, and also explains why when people call me with questions, they typically buy from me. My conversion rate for callers, is much higher than emailers—those who call seem more committed, whereas, the emailers tend to be a lot of tire kickers. Of course, receiving unsolicited calls from sales people is not welcomed by most, including me. But in cases where sales people can genuinely help and solve problems, the most successful companies realize that their sales reps are worth their weight in gold.
Trying It On
Web sites have evolved to allow buyers to create their own custom print jobs, offer immediate quotes, and provide rock bottom pricing. They also have harnessed the power of video for tutorials, and sales demos. Some sites will soon offer the ability to upload your body dimensions, create a model of you, and allow you to “try-on” various clothing via the web. Virtual reality is here. But how many will purchase a fine suit or prom dress without trying it on?
These are tools that are not necessarily replacing sales people, but are aiding them. Buying a new car? Sure, shop on-line and find the best price, read product reviews, and compare features. But how many will buy without taking a test drive? What will you do with your old car? Most people value their time, and dealing with certain salespeople often times translates to receiving the best (and quickest) value for our hard earned bucks.
Yes, the non-human element will continue to increase as we move along. The younger generation seems to prefer texting over calling, and they practically live on the web. Even so, sales people have existed for as long as humans have, and my prediction is that as human interaction continues to dissipate, the requirement and desire for buyers to deal with professional sales people, for non-commodity purchases, will increase as well.