Have you become a commodity?
By this, I don’t mean the products or services you sell. I mean you. Have you become a sales commodity?
There is an economic theory being advanced by an increasing number of analysts, which says that technology and science, unlike in the past, are no longer reliable drivers of economic advantage. Technological advances are so rapidly copied and widely adopted that their power to differentiate is on the wane.
The unabated pace of technological innovation, combined with the globalization of the economy and widespread and relatively inexpensive access to information and information technology, has lowered the barrier to entry to so many markets. New competitors rapidly flood markets and confront customers with an unprecedented array of choices.
This results in a hyper-competitive sales environment in which your buyers’ perceptions of the differences between your products/services and those of your competitors inevitably narrow. In the view of your prospects, virtually all vendors in a given market segment increasingly look alike.
This means that your products and services will rapidly be reduced to commodities that primarily compete on the basis of price. Unless…
Unless there is value delivered to the customer by the salesperson.
Neil Rackham, in his 1999 book Rethinking the Sales Force, discussed this challenge facing sellers today. Rackham suggested that a seller’s ability to control their pricing will depend in large part on their ability to deliver value to the buyer through their sales channel (i.e., how the product is sold.) The less value the customer perceives that they receive from the sales channel, the more they will focus on price as the primary differentiator between vendors.
In other words, if a salesperson can’t deliver value to the customer during their buying process, then he or she will also become an interchangeable commodity, just like the products and services they sell.
What will happen to your career if you become a commodity too? Nothing good.
Markets change. Business models change. Sales processes change. And so do the required knowledge, expertise and skills that salespeople need to possess to deliver differentiating value to their prospects. The challenge for salespeople is to ensure that they don’t fall into the trap of becoming commodities as well; one seller indistinguishable from the next.
How do you prevent becoming a sales commodity? By investing your time, and money, in an effort to continually enhance your knowledge and skills in four areas that will empower you to deliver value to your prospects. This means transitioning yourself from a sales generalist to a sales specialist with differentiated knowledge and skills that can help buyers gather the information they need to quickly move from their initial interest to making an informed purchase decision.
1. Increase your domain expertise: Even as business and sales models change, industry knowledge is an increasingly valuable asset for salespeople. Research shows that buyers want to make faster decisions. This means that they need sellers to have a deep familiarity with their business, the problems that they face and the best solutions to these issues to help them more quickly navigate their buying process.
2. Elevate your product knowledge: To avoid becoming a commodity you have to move beyond a general understanding of your products and how they work to a specialized, detailed understanding of how they are used and create value for your customers.
3. Develop your sales skills: Invest your time and money to acquire the coaching, knowledge and training that will help you develop your sales skills. You can’t rely on your employer to provide all of this for you. Maintain a focus on mastering the fundamental sales skills (delivering value, being responsive, active listening, asking insightful questions) that will separate you from the herd of competitors.
4. Enhance your business acumen: This is the sum of all of the above. Combine your product knowledge, domain expertise and sales skills to provide the insights and value that will a) help your prospects gain a better understanding of the problems they are trying to solve, and b) shape their vision of a solution that creates greater value than they were able to conceptualize on their own.
Don’t settle for being a commodity. Set aside some time everyday to build the specialized knowledge and skills you need to ensure that you are always a source of value to your prospects.