A few years ago I started having bouts of irregular heartbeats, so I decided to consult a physician. The question was should I go see my internist or a cardiologist?
The decision was a no-brainer. I respected my internist but I consulted with a cardiologist because he had treated hundreds, if not thousands, of patients with a similar problem. He had the experience to hone in on the questions that enabled him to quickly and accurately diagnose and treat my condition.
Now let me reframe the specialist-generalist discussion in the context of sales. Which type of person do you believe can better help customers alleviate their pain? A Specialist or generalist?
Building a sales team that can accelerate the prospect’s buying process is a matter of aligning your information resources with the prospect’s information requirements. But, in my opinion, many sales leaders hold misguided hiring beliefs that prevent them from achieving this.
The first misconception is that a salesperson with generalized sales skills and education is more likely to have a “sales aptitude,” that is, possess superior questioning and discovery skills—and are more adaptable to change than a salesperson with specific expertise.
I’ve made a career out of coaching people with deep product and industry knowledge, like engineers, to become extremely capable sales and business development professionals. The reason for their success is that they are curious problem solvers by nature and training. That’s likely why they chose a technical career path to begin with.
When confronted with a problem, they synthesize data and formulate a potential solution—without having to waste a prospect’s time running back for support.
Gartner Group published a study in 2013 that showed IT buyers preferred dealing with experts vs. salespeople by more than a 2 to 1 margin. The respondents want to quickly gather the information to make sound decisions and their experience was that salespeople were less likely to help them achieve that goal.
The second counterproductive belief that sales leaders cling to is that sales reps who come from technical or product backgrounds do not possess “people skills.” My experience has shown that buyers derive way more value from answers to their questions than they do from a congenial relationship with a sales rep.
In my 30 plus years of sales management, I’ve never once had a customer complain to me that a less “salesy” sales rep with strong technical knowledge didn’t know enough about selling, so could I please send someone over who does.
Quite the contrary. I’ve had prospects complain that a salesperson didn’t know enough about their needs and potential solutions to really add value, so unless I wanted them to take their business elsewhere, could I send over someone who did.
The buying process is an organized search to gather data and information to make a smart purchase decision with the least investment of time. What prospects value most in salespeople are answers to their questions that move their buying process forward. Keep that top of mind as you build your sales team.