A Concierge Sales Model for Complex B2B Sales

Ed Marsh | Mar 26, 2018

Why can't we sell the way we buy?

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to episode

  1. Let's start by defining a great retail buying experience
  2. Then extrapolate to what is satisfying in an online B2B complex sale environment
  3. How could we adapt our sale model to satisfy buyers like us?

Transcript follows

Hi. I'm Ed Marsh. Thanks for joining me for this episode of Signals From The OP. On Signals, I talk about issues that are a little bit outside of the ordinary conversation in the B2B sales and marketing and revenue growth and strategy area, but I think that there are things that are impacting companies that there's a benefit to actually uncover them, unpack them, talk about them before other people are.

Today, I'm going to talk about personal shopping and concierge services. Now, you're saying to yourself, "What does that have to do with industrial sales and manufacturing?" Well, here's the thing. I've spoken about this situation we've got with silos between marketing, sales, customer service. You may put PR up here. You may put technical support somewhere in here. Fact is that organizations are structured according to silos with their organizational tradition, not according to how customers buy. We've also talked recently about conversational marketing, conversational sales, a dialogue, a two-way interaction, real time or near real time, and how that is enabling customers to have a better interaction with manufacturers, but both of those, I think, still kind of miss the point.

In order to put it in context, let's talk about retail experience. I'm not much of a shopper, but we all go shopping at times and, in my experience, you find that the retail sales people fall into one of four categories. You've got the hoverer, the person ... you walk in the store, they say, "Can I help you?" You say, "No, I'm just looking. Thanks." Next thing you know, they're in your shorts. I mean they're not giving you room to move. It's as though facial recognition has alerted them that you're a shoplifter and they need to keep a close eye on you.

You got the ignorer. You walk in the store, and there's some sullen salesperson that's talking to their buddy at the cash register or fiddling with their mobile device or something that just ... I mean trying to find somebody that can answer the question for you is tough.

You've got the clueless or the ignorant. I mean we've all had this situation. You go through the rack. You look at the shelf. You find what you want, but they're not the right size, not the right version, not the right color, whatever, or you find something, and you're wondering, "Geez, will this work with such and such?" or, "What size connector do I need?" So you ask somebody. Here they come, and they look at the same rack. They look at the same shelf. They read the same box that you did as though, somehow, that's assistance. I mean that's not. That's silly.

Then, every once in a while, you end up kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears. You end up with a retail sales experience that's just right. The person's pleasant. They're engaging. They are very willing to help. They're kind of appropriately positioned physically in the environment but also kind of understanding what you're doing, observing casually, and able to make suggestions. If they say, "Geez, if you find that interesting, you might also like to look at these over here. Let me show you. They're a little bit different, but you might find them interesting," or, "Let me look out back. Let me see if I can find that for you," not the kind of perfunctory, dismissive sorts of interactions you have, but really engaging, making you feel like they're friendly. They're happy to have you there, and they want to try to make your experience good.

As hard as that is to find that in person, it's even harder to find it online. I mean think about it. How often do you have an online experience that doesn't fit into ... I mean so you've got the website that's impossible to navigate, full of specs, doesn't offer any context, doesn't explain the solutions, doesn't give you the sense of what's involved in buying the product, how to implement it, anything, that it just tells you product, product, product, here's the details, and kind of leaves you on your own.

Then there's the stalker. Many of us hesitate to submit forms now just because we know we're going to get deluged, pestered, hammered by these phone calls and emails relentlessly over the course of the next couple weeks. I mean why fill out forms anymore when you know that's what you're going to be subjected to?

Then there's the company that makes you adapt. As you move through this process from early research and awareness through consideration and decision to actually commissioning or implementing and then kind of ongoing work, they tell you, "We are the company. This is our process. You're going to work with marketing now, and then you're going to work with sales. Then you're going to work with customer services, and you will do it the way we tell you to do it because that's the way we're structured to do it. Screw you buyer. We know what's best for us, and we're going to make you do it the way we want." Now, that's obviously not a very satisfactory experience.

Then, every once in a while, just like those hard-to-find retail stores, they're harder to find online, but you do find a digital experience online that can be engaging like that. It's rare, but when you do, it's almost like they anticipate the information you need at different times. They match chat and email. They'll call you occasionally at the right time, or they'll make it easy for you to reach them by phone when you have a minute to work on something. They'll help you understand the context. They'll help you understand what's involved in implementing the solution, and think through the various implications, and provide the materials you need for your team members, your buying team members to get everybody on board with it and make the same kind of decision for the company. Those are rare, but some companies do it.

What can a company do to really become better at that? That's the question, and that's where I think I'm going with this conversation. I would say the first piece is to just philosophically embrace the fact that customer experience needs to be the most compelling objective for the business. A great way to do this, it feels silly, but I'll tell you, you get a mascot, get a big stuffed animal or a mannequin or something. Put an extra seat at your conference table and put that person there for every conversation you have. If you can't explain how that conversation is ultimately helping that mascot or that customer, if you will, the alter ego of the customer, that mannequin or that stuffed animal sitting in the chair, then you're talking about the wrong things. That's a very concrete way to help your company make this mind shift to be thinking about customer experience.

Taking it even a step further, I suggest that we change, not only the model of silos to a continuum, but change the mindset about what the role is of that salesperson, and then we begin to call it a sales concierge. Now, is that the right term? I don't know. Certainly, there are issues to think though. There's different technical skills, different business acumen needed at different steps along this buying journey, and we need to understand that, but the point is we need somebody, whether it's virtual using bots and AI or a real person, and I think the preference is for a real person, but we need some way to just weave that perfect contiguous experience for the buyer based on whatever time pressures they have, priorities, shifting priorities, different needs, needs for information, other buying team members that have other mindsets or ideas, all of that sort of stuff. You do that by kind of that personal shopper or concierge model who just instinctively understands how to make that experience as rewarding and rich and satisfactory as possible.

Many of you are probably shocked at the idea if I talk about industrial manufacturers having personal shoppers, concierge models. Again, that may not be the right term. I'd love to have that debate about what we call that role, and I'd love to have the discussions about how exactly we implement it, but that's where I think this whole thing is going. Companies are going to succeed, are going to have that kind of a mindset and that kind of a role, sales concierge, instead of marketing, sales, and customer service.

I'm Ed Marsh. This is Signals From The OP. I have periodic episodes, once a week, once every couple weeks, and I tackle these issues that industrial manufacturers may be wrestling with, will be wrestling with. If you enjoyed this and you like this kind of a ... maybe a slightly offbeat look at some of those issues, I'd welcome you to subscribe. You can do so at signalsfromtheop.com.