The book Achieve Sales Excellence by Howard Stevens and Theodore Kinni reported on 14 years of research with 80,000 buyers who were surveyed, in detail, about what they want from salespeople.
The most fascinating aspect of this business-to-business sales research is that the buyers’ statements about the qualities they desire in salespeople were correlated with their actual buying behavior. So this isn’t just what buyers say they want in sellers, it’s the types of the kind of people from whom they actually bought things!
This is exactly the sort of book that those who sell should read, to become aware of the ways in which their own approach to selling differs from what this huge group of buyers reports wanting from sellers.
Leading up to the book’s discussion of the capabilities that define “the highly effective sales professional,” there is a mention of a trend toward business customers demanding “solutions rather than products and services.” That might be seen as contradicting my advice against offering “solutions,” but a closer reading clarifies: by saying that buyers want solutions, the authors mean that buyers want salespeople to understand their desire to operate efficiently, and to meet the “needs and demands of their own customers.” Buyers are NOT interested in your generalities about what makes your product or service great (unless, of course, they have asked you for that, and even then, you should tailor what you say their specific circumstances, to whatever extent that’s possible).
A seller should explain how what he or she is offering helps the buyer to operate more efficiently, or to lessen some of the pain he feels from his own customers’ needs and demands, rather than just talking about the features of his service or product.
Another finding from this study: “The sales professional is the sale!” Services and products are seen, more and more, now, as being similar or commoditized; quality isn’t seen as a big differentiating factor anymore; but “the competitive advantage conferred by sales effectiveness has just begun to emerge.”