Adapt sales techniques to industry

Disrespecting this rule leads to being disrespected by the sales team and limits effectiveness

Selling isn’t, er, selling. Take the salesman who moves from say, selling fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG) to, say, selling electrical engineering products.  The former includes selling soaps, chewing gum and cooking oil, while the latter, monitoring switchboards, control panels and transformers. As the name suggests, FMCG products are fast moving (selling). The electrical engineering ones aren’t. Sometimes employers and salespeople alike make the mistake of assuming a stellar seller or sales manager in one will easily assimilate into the other and so proceed to poach or recruit based on this.  Many times, both get quickly frustrated.  Here’s why:

Different selling techniques            

Whereas selling across all industries will at some point require a one on one pitch, the differences in each industry call for different approaches. The FMCG salesperson has the marketing wind propelling him. This works well in business to customer (B2C) industries. The same cannot be said of business to business (B2B) industries where the electrical engineering products fall. Not that marketing is entirely absent, but its selective nature is not the kind that propels a sale like the FMCG one. At the end of the day, B2B demands a face-to-face interview with the end buyer; in FMCG the face to face is with the distributor or retailer through whom FMCG’s sell. For instance, you don’t need a sales person from a bakery to convince you to buy his bread, but you do need a salesperson to take you through the dough mixer you want to buy in your bakery even if you saw it in an engineering magazine. At this point, the FMCG seller quickly realises that he’s learning curve is going to be steep  and long; and the employer, quickly realizes that the immediate returns he expected from the superstar salesperson or manager will not be forthcoming.

Lack of respect from the sales team

It’s been proven again and again that salespeople have little respect for a sales manager who cannot sell, or worse, doesn’t understand how a sale is made. And without respect the managers capacity to lead is limited. Salespeople and managers, who find themselves in the fast-moving- slow-moving dilemma, will find it wise not to compound their already steep learning curve by alienating themselves from their teams.  To manage the team successfully, the manager will find it prudent to incorporate them in his learning. Whereas team members don’t respect managers who don’t appreciate their selling pain, the same team members have high regard for managers (and members) who will step down from their high horse and show a willingness to learn. It’s not a case of losing your self-respect. No. It’s stooping to conquer.

Product knowledge

Closely related to marketing is the seller’s knowledge of his products. The FMCG sales person doesn’t need to know the ingredients in the seasoning that he sells any less than the insurance sales person the actuarial science behind the pricing of his polices. Neither needs an intimate knowledge of their product. In fact, just the fact that it’s a seasoning is enough. Buyers are happy it colours their food and gives off the aroma that they want. They believe the safety and quality issues are catered for. The electrical engineer seller does not have that luxury; in fact, he must first be technically competent before he can even sell the product. He must be able to technically explain how he’s product solves the buyer’s problem. And to do that he must have a firm grasp of his product; a superficial one won’t cut it as it would for his FMCG counterpart.

This does not mean that sellers should remain cocooned in what they know. But it does mean that they should exercise caution when shifting industries; and, employers shouldn’t get too caught up in the need to have a “stellar seller, because that is what we lack” and forget that technical competence is sometimes just as important.

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