Retail selling has undergone a subtle, seismic shift. For most heating and cooling salespeople this shift means that the nature of the “job” of “selling” no longer exists the way that it did last year. So what happened and what are we supposed to do about it?
First, a networked economy and a networked consumer has created an open-sourced market in which product, price, and process information moves faster than ever. According to a recent study commissioned by Google and published in The Harvard Business Review, a typical consumer contacts 10.4 sources of information before picking up the phone to schedule a sales appointment. They’re reaching out to websites, social signals, review sites, their friends, blogs, tweets…you know the list. In other words, they’re dismantling a sales model that has not changed for decades.
Second, consumers are shopping in their own “ego-systems.” Personalization, customization, specialized curation all mean that a consumer can easily target a purchasing process that is a buying singularity. Geo-targeting and post-sale influence trends also point to the fact that businesses themselves are learning how people buy on an individual basis and designing messages that are designed to motivate those individual buying habits. In other words, consumers want to buy products on their terms and in ways that are most convenient to them.
Third, the sales cycle itself is being compressed to the point of transparency. Mobilization means that a consumer no longer needs (or wants) to wait for an appointment, return call, or lengthy visit with a salesperson. 25% of shopping that occurred on Black Friday was done via a mobile device. There’s no reason to believe that trend will decline. As a lead source Twitter outpaces Facebook 9:1 because of it’s simple rapid format.
Finally, product benefits have reached the point of parity. Leading products have similar performance, warranty, quality claims. “Why Us” benefit statements are similar (“family owned and operated” “quality installers”). Many of the tried-and-true talking points have degenerated to white noise. Left with choices that all feel the same an informed consumer will take the path of least resistance and look at price.
The good news is that there’s a better way to find a competitive advantage. Caring. That might sound absurd, but caring is the new selling in the age of transparency. Consumers want to feel valuable, unique, informed, alleviated. They expect a salesperson to listen and learn rather that push and persuade. They’ve been trained to expect an intimacy from a service provider because, ultimately, their emotional connection to a company and product will be the difference between a decision to buy and a decision to continue shopping. This speaks to the old adage that “the heart and the wallet are connected.” And that starts with caring.