It’s time to break the chain of product-centricity, argues Tibor Shanto
People are creatures of comfort – they stick close to what they know and who they know, and will often go out of their way to stay in their comfort zone. Staying within your comfort zone can have negative repercussions when hiring sales people, especially when especially where “product knowledge” is deemed of paramount importance. This happens at product companies, specialty service providers, and throughout IT, including in the channel.
In many of these environments, the hiring managers will tend to look for people with product knowledge rather than sales ability. Their reason is usually rooted in the theory that it will be hard to teach someone all the “ins and outs” of the product.
You can understand why – they know the product; they understand what the product does and how it fits buyers’ needs – and in the channel many have built their business on that knowledge. They have a perception that sales is about being personable and having the gift of gab, so when they find someone who can talk product, they see a good sales person.
Many of these “smooth product talkers” have never sold. They may have taken orders, answered to market demand, followed up on trade show leads, or responded to tenders, but they have not out and out sold.
I mean sold, as is in identifying targets, creating an action plan to engage with the right prospects, converting leads to prospects and prospects to clients. As a result of their distorted view of sales, they hire product specialists, who run around the country side like a solution looking for a problem, and not unlike the blind squirrel who runs into a nut sometimes, these product folks too run into enough customers and call it selling.
For long-term success these hiring managers/owners should be taking the opposite route: hiring qualified and successful sales people with product knowledge being very much a secondary factor. Of course all within reason, you wouldn’t hire a successful sales rep from Best Buy to sell managed services; but there is no reason not to hire a successful rep form the wireless industry to sell IT related services.
It is much easier to take someone who is a good seller and teach them the product. Good sellers, by nature, have two attributes. The first is a blend of curiosity winning – they want to and like to learn how they can help a client and profit from it at the same time. The second is the ability to differentiate on things other than product specs. In an age where most leading products have over 80 per cent overlap in features and specs, knowing the product and regurgitating it just like the next guy will not deliver sales.
Since many hiring managers are themselves product guys in sales clothing, they will teach the rep what they know. And that’s product, perpetuating the product-centric approach, but not sales. This kind of cycle results in the status quo being re-enforced, not really evolving the skills of the reps or the fortunes of the company.
On the other hand, if you had a product guy working with a good seller, you can truly create something that is greater than the sum of the parts. Think of the profit possibilities given the cloud and managed services!
So product guys, like anyone else, will stick to their comfort zone, and that means they will usually call on and try to sell to the “user.” That’s important. Many of them are influencers. Strong influencers. But in an age where all spending is scrutinized and decisions are made based on business benefit rather than product specs, you need a seller who can work across the buying organization, from top down, bottom up, and side to side. The one consistent comment I hear from executives in product-driven companies, is that their reps are not calling on the right people.
But finding the right people to call upon takes an understanding of sales, and no wealth of feeds-and-speeds knowledge will help.