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Senior Money Memos

DOES THE INTERNET SIGNAL THE END FOR THE TRADITIONAL SALES REPRESENTATIVE?

It is very clear that the Internet is dramatically changing the nature of marketplaces. Buyers are now in control. They can easily get the information they need from the Internet. They do not wish to see sales representatives. So what does that mean for our business organizations. If potential clients do not wish to see sales representatives, does that mean we should respond by eliminating them.

Certainly the traditional sales representative role has been a tough one for many years and is getting tougher all the time. An examination of what exactly a sales representative is trying to achieve may suggest better ways of organizing our human resources to sell and serve customers.

HUNTING FOR PROSPECTS

There are two halves to the traditional sales representative role. These involve very different skills and even different temperaments. The first half consists in finding leads, qualifying the appropriate leads as prospects and then making the initial contacts. This is almost like a "prospect hunter" role. A great number of leads need to be followed, given the difficulties of making contacts by telephone or by email prior to meetings. There can be much rejection. Often at times the "prospect hunter" and the potential customer may be in slight conflict. The potential client must be persuaded that the company is an appropriate supplier.

WORKING FOR THE CUSTOMER

When this first introduction has been accomplished, then the second half of the traditional sales representative role swings into action. The potential client now requires a "customer champion", who will make sure the supplying organization puts together the best possible package and delivers the best possible service. This is someone who works inside the company to make sure the customer gets the best possible deal. With the power of new IT (information technology), this customer champion can become very close to the potential client.

A champion is someone who actively promotes or backs something. Related words are supporter, backer, booster, promoter and protagonist. As a potential customer, wouldn't you feel great if you felt someone inside the company was there to be your champion. However customer-centred an organization may try to be, it may still have occasional lapses. The customer champion is there to make sure such a lapse doesn't affect his or her customer. Customer champions may handle a limited number of customers, but each customer may from time to time require a great deal of the champion's time to make sure they receive the best possible service. The customer and the customer champion are pulling together: it is very much a cooperative relationship. This "champion" role requires somewhat different skills from those of the "prospect hunter".

IT'S NOT JUST "CUSTOMER SERVICE"

Some may say that this "champion" role is what their Customer Service group does. Unfortunately, Customer Service means different things to different people. In some cases, all Customer Service does is provide a relief valve for complaints. Nothing happens but the customer has a chance to express his or her frustrations. Our potential customer may assume that is what customer service means. Such a customer needs to hear a more proactive title in order to feel impressed that the organization is committing to deliver what it promises. "Champion" expresses exactly what is intended but some organizations may prefer a more traditional title such as Customer Representative.

ORGANIZING THE SALES FORCE

The role of the "prospect hunter" could carry a title such as "Company Representative". The exact makeup of the sales/customer support organization in terms of how many "company representatives" and how many "customer champions" depends on a number of factors. However this division of tasks will allow personnel to fill roles, which better use their skills. This is particularly important in a small company, where the owner is often both the president and also the traditional sales manager. By dividing the traditional sales role into two halves, the owner can select that part which he or she is best suited for ("hunter" or "champion") and involve others, perhaps the spouse, to handle the other role.

This redefinition of roles can improve the effectiveness of the organization very significantly. At the same time, team members can be much more effective in handling the tasks they are best suited for. Most importantly such customer champions signal to potential customers that they will get the best possible service.

CONCLUSION

If you wish to use this approach, SMM will be happy to work with you. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience, creativity and practical common sense can complement those of your company. So write us a Message today on what you're looking for without obligation.

Barry Welford

Added to site 17 September 2001

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