• April 15, 2011
  • By Lior Arussy, founder and president, Strativity Group

There’s No Substitute for Experience

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In this era of transparency, social customers, and customer experience, several realities are converging that call for a rethinking of the role of sales. For starters, more customers are counting on informal channels to support their purchasing decisions, eroding the role of salespeople, who no longer operate in isolation.

The days when sales and marketing could make promises irrespective of their organization’s ability to deliver them are gone. Customers are not only skeptical but they also are vocal. They voice their disappointments through any available social vehicles and damage your future sales prospects in the process. In addition, with customers seeking complete experiential value, exaggerated promises would doom the organization because it simply would not be able to exceed expectations.

It is time for sales organizations to rethink their strategies and their approaches to customers. Sales organizations need to get on board and design an experience that would make customers invite them into their offices. The trend toward consultative selling started several years ago. It represented an attempt to empower salespeople with more knowledge to share with customers. It was a first step and, by and large, it did not spread beyond certain industries.

Experiential selling is designed to position salespeople as valuable advisers, in the same manner consultative selling was attempting to do. It is targeting the very core of sales challenges: getting a chance to be part of the decision process and addressing price sensitivities. When buyers are able to obtain information informally through what they perceive as more reliable sources, salespeople are perceived as biased. Their main contribution to the buying process is providing good discounts. And that brings us to the next problem: customers demonstrating price sensitivity.

When a customer is asking for a discount, he is basically saying, “I do not see any rational linkage between your price and the value that you propose to deliver.” Simply put, the discount is the gap between what you present and what the customer needs. You have a choice, which is to reaffirm the customer’s perception of inferior value by providing a discount or enhancing the experience enough to justify the price. Most salespeople opt for the latter.

Indeed, the time has come to redesign the sales process and make salespeople critical and natural participants in the buying process. Following customer experience design principles, sales leaders ought to rethink the sales process as follows:

• Educate—Provide your customers with relevant knowledge that makes them smarter.
• Engage—Demonstrate a personal understanding of the client’s unique problems.
• Empower—Provide your customers with capabilities they did not have prior to your sales visit.
• Personalize—Make the customer feel that he is the only one who matters to you.
• Easy—Make the buying experience as easy and simple as possible.
• Authentic—Make the buying experience as human as you can so that the buyer feels he is buying from people.

These design principles need to be applied before you have collected any money. Bring valuable experiences to your customers prior to any business being transacted. As they receive certain experiences from you, your customers need to feel that they cannot possibly acquire those experiences from any other place. Therefore, they would seek your salespeople.

The litmus test is simple. What memory did you create? How long would the buyer remember the experience he had with your salesperson? Most sales experiences are quite boring and forgettable. The rare ones are memorable to the point at which the customer feels he must have it. These salespeople do not really sell; rather, they educate, empower, engage, and individualize. In short, they create the right environment for the customer to make a decision. So, stop selling and start delighting.

Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience research and consulting firm. Arussy is the author of Customer Experience Strategy—The Complete Guide From Innovation to Execution (2010).

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