All Work & No Play

What's in It for Me?

Creating and fulfilling demand these days starts with changing your sales strategy. It's not enough to be the cheapest, not enough to be newest, not enough to be fanciest, not enough to be an interesting idea. Customers are looking for solutions to problems, and those solutions have to relate to cutting costs or increasing profits.

"If it can't make you money or save you money, I wouldn't bother trying to sell it," says Blair Singer, a Zephyr Cove, Nevada, sales consultant and author of Sales Dogs (Warner). "Because that's where people are."

If salespeople present products and services in that light, they have to know how their customers generate sales and profits. And that's the second major shift in sales: Now salespeople must understand customers in a way that was optional a year or two ago. "People don't have the time to hear what you have to offer," says Cavanaugh. "People want to hear, 'Here are your needs, here's the solution.'"

To get insight into solutions, salespeople have to study customers thoroughly before they even meet them. Cavanaugh directs his people to scan company Web sites, read corporate annual reports, and talk to competitors in the industry so they can get a feel for prospects' issues. McClennan assigns employees to interrogate nonsales contacts in organizations where he hopes to get sales. "They ask questions about challenges they're facing today and what initiatives they have underway," he says.

The need for knowledge is exacerbated as customers seek greater oversight on spending, salespeople must sell to higher-level managers now more than ever before. Senior executives have less time to spend listening to salespeople, and it takes salespeople longer to get a chance to be listened to. That means every presentation is more valuable, and it's more important not to fumble it. "The first meeting you're in," says Cavanaugh, "you'd better have options for them."

Take a Closer Look

When sales are hard to come by, experts and entrepreneurs recommend hiring more salespeople. Luckily, there are more available today than there were a few years ago-although the market is a long way from being loose. But you have to look beneath the surface of today's sales job applicant. Internet companies and telecommunications firms, two hot-growth industries of the late 1990s, are the source of many of the unemployed salespeople available now. Try to keep that in mind when you are scanning applicants, warns New York City sales consultant Stephan Schiffman. "I see these resumes where they increased the company's sales by 100 percent. But anybody could in those days. The thing to ask now is, 'Could they do it today?'"

He and others recommend looking for sales experience extending beyond the go-go years, as well as evidence of solid sales training and business understanding, before taking on a new salesperson.

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This article was originally published in the August 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: All Work & No Play.

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