Sveriges ledande intäktskonsult

Kundvärde kräver bra säljare

e-handel kommer inte att ersätta säljare

I England brukar man skämta om försäljare av ”double-glazing”, och hur de trycker igenom försäljningen hos vanliga konsumenter. Vi har liknande produkter/säljare i Sverige och frågan är om/när de kommer att försvinna då köparna går över till att handla via nätet istället.

I en krönika i FT görs några bra, och komiska, slutsatser runt detta. Kortfattat kanske det blir så att försäljning på pris kommer att ske via nätet med stöd av telefonförsäljare, medan försäljning baserat på kundvärde kommer att fortsätta vara personligt, men med ökande krav på säljarnas kompetens.

Läs mer och fundera på hur du vill köpa, samt hur ditt företag borde sälja…

The web has not yet killed the art of sales

Call me naive, but somehow I expected more from the double-glazing salesman I recently invited into my home. I knew about confusing pitches, pressure tactics, cowboy installers and fly-by-night manufacturers. You do not have to do much research to appreciate that sellers of double glazing are in the hard-sell hall of fame, alongside used-car vendors and estate agents.

But I had also read the latest literature – such as Dan Pink’s book To Sell Is human – which points to a change in the selling culture. The internet has evened up the odds. Customers are now as well, if not better, informed that the sales agents. I needed new windows and I reckoned I would at least gain an insight into a more transparent era of selling.

I reckoned wrong. The national company I asked to quote first sent an old-school salesman with a box of all the worn-out tricks I thought the web was supposed to have eliminated: the “limited availability” discount; the sign-now, pay-less offer; and the “why wouldn’t you?” financing deal. He insisted I should sign up to the last, even after I had mentioned I worked for the FT and wanted more time to examine the terms. Until I made clear a local supplier had got the job, the company kept harassing me with follow-up calls.

Why have these techniques survived? In part, because of the nature of the product. In all except newly built homes, windows are non-standard, tailored to the size and condition of the hole they fill. Online double-glazing companies do exist, but the choices, befuddling jargong (espangolet or shootbolt locking?) and risk of getting the order expensively wrong, would drive even dedicated bargain hunters back to a more old-fashioned intermediary.

Life is harder for sales forces in other areas. Take another bespoke glazed item – prescription spectacles. Giving a cruel twist to the competitive challenge, online rivals prosper in part because incumbent opticians carry out the all-important eyetests for them. Armed with this information –equivalent to my window measurements – customers order lenses with relative confidence online, while browsing limitless options for frames. The cost of going wrong is low. Opticians are left fighting a rearguard action based on limited stock, sketchy personal service and customer’s residual fears about trusting their vision to an anonymous website.

Online competition and comparison have turned mobile phone purchase on its head, too. Phone contracts in the UK are notoriously complex. Yet as a sales tactic, obfuscation has its limits these days. When I upgraded my phone recently, I had a clear idea of the model I wanted and the package of voice, data and texts I needed. Unable to cut her price, the nice saleswoman at my existing operator was powerless to prevent my switching to a competitor, whose offer I could see online while I negotiated.

The notion that in this tougher environment most sales teams are at best weakened and at worst redundant is not as compelling as it may look, however. Mr Pink says the data show salespeople are still “a stalwart part of labour markets around the world”. But to survive, they have to learn to “upserve” customers rather than simply upsell to them. He cites companies such as Microchip Technology, a US semiconductor company, which decreased the variable element of its vendors’pay, and saw sales rise. Apple hires brand converts for its stores because, as FT contributor Philip Delves Broughton has written, they sell “out of enthusiasm, not just for commission”.

My unpleasant encounter with old-style sales was, in some ways, rather reassuring. Techniques have not changes as much as some evangelists claim. The human touch remains vital. The way my double glazing salesman got me to provide clues about myself as he ran through his patter was impressive, even if he then went on to ignore them.

But while I suspect it will take time for online competition to smash double glazing, sales agents who narrowly on closing the deal could still benefit from a wider perspective, as a final personal sales tale suggests. Facing a big bill to repair our ageing people-carrier, I consulted a former car salesman, recommended by a friend, who now helps buyers navigate the used car market. Should we repair or replace the vehicle, I asked, expecting a self-interested response. He suggested repair. Guess who is the first person I will call when replacement becomes our only option.