If you're reading this article on iMedia, chances are that you'll relate to this story. If I am going to make a considered purchase (e.g., a car, a computer, a TV, etc.), I already know what I am going to buy before I walk into the store. I have likely talked to friends who are experts in the category, I have researched on the manufacturer's website, and I have read product reviews from people who have the product. The last person I want to talk to is a salesperson. When I walk into a store (which is only because I want the product right now), I want to buy -- yet not be sold.
There are, on the other hand, people out there who want to talk to the salesperson. They want to be walked around and have various features explained and be coaxed into the sale. They may possibly drive to another top-of-mind location to compare prices or review another product line, as well. I have a name for those people; I lovingly call them Mom and Dad. And, somewhere in the purchase process, depending on whether it involves a computer, I, their Gen-X son, have been consulted via phone. Thankfully, I always have the internet close at hand to answer such questions.
The reason I paint this familiar picture is because companies need to adapt to the changing environment, in which the next generation of consumers (the biggest generation by far) doesn't want to talk to your salespeople. And, for you, this should be great news! As you know, your single biggest expense in a business is your payroll.
Consumers want information about your sophisticated product from reliable sources, just not at the point of sale and, most likely, not even from you.
So without salespeople, how are you going to move product?
Ask yourself this question now and answer it with the single requirement that you can't insert a person into the consumer's decision-making process. I don't have the answer for you here since each company and product is different, but I can say that in every circumstance, it can be done. Some ideas may be far-reaching, but those ideas will become reality sooner than you can imagine.
Consider the tools you have at your disposal even today. You have more sophisticated mobile devices, nearly ubiquitous internet access, social media, powerful search engines, wikis, and more. If you're not currently leveraging these tools to help a prospective customer become your customer, then you're missing a great opportunity to remove some cost from your sales cycle. Granted, these tactics and tools also cost money; however, over the long-term they likely cost less than your inside or retail salespeople do. Plus, they're always working. No vacations, no benefits, and they don't mind the long hours.
So, if you can remove some of the cost in the sales process, then you can feasibly win the price battle with your competitors because you've extracted significant cost by getting your product more efficiently to your customers. You are happily on the other side of this cultural and technical shift where your customers are selling to prospective customers on your behalf. You're providing all the details prospective customers want either in their hand on their mobile device or safely at home (far away from pesky salespeople) at all hours of the day or night. The effort, formerly called "cost," has moved to the consumer, and they're more content as a result.
Generally speaking, your customer does not want to foot the bill for something they don't want. In fact, they will punish companies who keep unnecessary cost in their goods because they can simply purchase from the cheaper guy next door or on the other side of the world. Thank you, internet. So, prepare yourself for the next generation of buyers by removing salespeople from the process and find a way not to sell.
P.S. I am sorry if I have offended anyone with the word "sales" in their job title. Hopefully, you can get ahead of this shift, too, and consider alternative ways of putting your valuable skills to use. Some people will still need traditional sales support; however, companies will need to consider how to monetize that time similar to how consultants charge for their time. It will be much harder to "bake" your time into the cost of products when the vast majority of prospective customers simply don't want to pay for your effort, nor do they need it.