Share By Sachin Shenolikar
It’s 2014, and Jeffrey Gitomer keeps hearing the same old spiel when he’s out shopping.
“The salesperson says, ‘Let me tell you a little about our product,’” says the business trainer and best-selling author. “Dude, I already Googled it. Tell me something I don’t know.”
These days, customers enter stores armed with plenty of knowledge about what they’re going to buy — and they know if they’re being given a runaround. The biggest mistake a retailer can make is to try to “outwit” a consumer, either by withholding information or creating confusion, says Jim Wright, the vice president and general manager of Naked Lime Marketing, a consulting service that works with car dealerships.
“It’s not uncommon now for consumers to pull out their smartphone with the salesperson standing right in front of them to verify in the marketplace what was just told to them,” says Wright. “So what is being communicated to a consumer must be current, accurate, and relevant — or the dealer can lose the consumer on the spot.”
Simply put, technology has turned the relationship between the seller and the buyer on its head.
The modern seller must know more and do more. The car salesman is a perfect example of how the role has evolved. Car interiors have been transformed in recent years, as more automakers have incorporated technologies such as navigation and entertainment systems, and mobile device connections.
“The salesperson has to be knowledgeable in what technology options the car has and how they work,” says Wright. “And they can’t just talk to the customer about those features — they have to be able to show the customer, too.”
Wright says many automakers are now offering advanced tech tools for dealerships, which can be accessed on smartphones or tablets. “The goal of those tools is to improve the customer experience by making sure the salesperson can get to the same — or better — information as the customer,” he says. “In some ways, it’s a shift to a more consultative approach by the salesperson, rather than a hard-sell approach that dominated when consumers had less access to information.”
The salesperson-as-consultant role does serve a very important purpose: While the modern consumer is much more informed, there’s also a “TMI” factor — there’s so much information from so many different sources that it can be really tough to comprehend it all.
“In the past, the salesperson was the ‘authority’ simply because that person was the only one with the information,” says Wright. “Now, the salesperson fills the role of ‘authority’ differently by helping the consumer to make sense of all of the various sources of information.”
“There will always be a need for a face-to-face salesperson — always, always, always,” says Gitomer. “But that face-to-face salesperson is going to be a different type of person. They’re carrying an iPad and an iPhone, and they’re walking in ready to do business with information on how the customer wins, how the customer profits, how the customer produces more.”
Transitioning to the new age of selling may sound daunting for people who are used to an old-school approach. But for Gitomer, this new role boils down to a salesperson’s ability to answer two simple questions: “What’s the difference between you and your competitor? How would I profit from using your product more than by using your competitors’ product? If a salesperson doesn’t know that, then you have a huge problem.”