If you walk into Starbucks and ask for a cheeky hazelnut latte, then the barista making your coffee will ask you your name. Alan, you will reply, or Rosie, or Lord Voldemort if you're feeling silly - and then they will put your name on the cup, ready for you to pick up. That way you know that that hazelnut latte is yours and no-one else's. And what's more, you know that Starbucks know your name. They care.
The same model can be seen across the corporate world. P&G care about your mum. Facebook wishes you a happy birthday. Companies now recognise that the way to sell a product in an increasingly impersonal, globalised world is to establish a connection; make it personal. The same principle applies in both B2C and B2B selling. The internet has revolutionised the role of the salesperson. It is no longer enough for sales representatives to be walking brochures, explaining the nature of their company's offering, and lauding the benefits it provides. Anyone can Google that information in a matter of seconds. Modern salespeople have to listen, not just talk. They have to get to know their customer, understand their needs, and work out how it is that their offering best fits with and fulfils the client's specific requirements.
A recent survey of sales directors found that 96% want their sales force to sell solutions, not products. This overwhelming statistic indicates the extent to which the sales value proposition (ie. selling on value, not product) has come to the fore. But at the heart of the effective SVP is an understanding of the customer; an individualised pitch, demonstrating that it's not about you and how great your offering is, it's about them, and why they should care.
Research indicates that salespeople, on average, score just 32% against best practice in articulating value. It's not always an easy thing to do. Salespeople have to engage with the client, identify their hopes and expectations. And then construct a pitch that's different and carefully tailored to the client's specific needs. Apple's IPad advertising doesn't just feature a man in a suit typing on an IPad. It shows the value the product offers to different people: the busy parent, the ambitious student, the curious child - a well-crafted SVP must function in a similar way.
E.M Forster's classic novel Howard's End contains the famous epigraph "Only Connect". The phrase is an apt mantra in more ways than one. By establishing a connection with your client you will not only be better equipped to convey value, but you will also be better able to fulfil their needs. The thing about solution selling is that one must actually provide a solution, not just a pitch. This is the ideal that businesses everywhere ought to strive for.
Starbucks may not have your best interests at heart when they ask you for your name. Perhaps that's why people react facetiously to the request, opting instead for Harry Potter themed monikers. But there's no reason why companies that strive to connect with their customers can't back it up with genuine thought and care. If your offering is good quality then you're half-way there; you just need to demonstrate what you can offer each interested party. It's not all touchy-feely nonsense. Businesses are now grappling with an increasingly clued up, increasingly competitive global market. These days, if you want to make the cut, you have to make the connection.