Did the internet kill selling?

Before the internet, we didn’t speak to many people about the things we were looking to buy

There are two basic ways to sell. And the internet, and the things consumers do these days, powered by the internet, have changed them dramatically. Let’s take a closer look.

Features benefits selling

So called low level selling. This involves, as the name implies, simply listing the features of  product or a service, and it’s associated benefits. For example, the Apple computer I am using right now has any number of great features. But I might not be aware of why these features might benefit me. So a low-level sales person might list these features and explain the benefits.

Features Benefits selling is often the basis of retail selling, and a lot of those unsolicited phone calls you get selling insurance or mobile phones or whatever. It needs you to be ready to buy to work. Its relies on you either walking into the store or being actually in the marketplace for the product or service when you talk that phone call.

Consultative Selling

So called high level selling occurs when the sales person first takes the time to understand what problems I may be facing and then, using their skills and experience to match me with a product or service they can provide, they fix that problem. It’s often the case that a high level seller will input into the organisation at a high level. Sometimes called a strategic level. For instance, a consultative seller may help a business decide what product to take to market first, based on the marketing advice they can give, or the IT support their company can provide to support that product.

Conversely low-level selling almost always occurs low down in the organisation.

Where the internet comes into the equation

In order to understand how the internet affects us when we sell, its first necessary to understand how people buy. I’ve been through this before in this blog, but just to recap, everyone that buys something goes through these 5 stages.

1. Need Identification: Understanding that a ‘thing’ is wanted or needed in the first place – without this recognition, sales will not be made

2. Information Search: This is when the prospective customer gathers as much information about the purchase as possible

3. Evaluation of Alternatives: The drawing up of a shortlist

4. Purchase Decision: The choice is made, the purchase decided upon

5. Post Purchase Analysis: After you have bought, what you though of the purchase, good or bad, and how that informs future behaviour

Nothing ever changes, it only stays the same?

Even a quick glance at the above immediately reveals how the internet has changed the game. Years ago, our information search was limited to the people we knew, the shop assistants we spoke to or the manufacturers paraphernalia available to us. Our evaluation of alternatives equally limited to the same sort of group. We may have had very limited opportunity to evaluate taking others opinions into account too, given we may have been the only people to own a particular product in our relatively limited networks (a brand new car for instance)

And the purchase decision was again limited to what was reasonably available as opposed to what was the best for us. Whether something was in stock or could be delivered in a sensible time was likely to offset the cost, and if a store didn’t have what we wanted or needed, we would often settle for second best.

And maybe the biggest change? If we were happy or unhappy with our purchase, we, and our immediate circle may have been the only people to ever know!

Now, more than ever, the customer is in charge

Whereas these days there seems to be limitless information available on any product you can think of. Everything from video instructions to manufacturers specs are instantly available to us, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Our evaluation will be aided by consumer sites listing the best buys, and does anyone buy anything anymore without scrutinising peer review sites?

And then the knock out blow: You find the right product. You may even have the right product suggested to you by a consultative seller. But once you are settled on it you don’t buy there and then, oh no. These days you then go online and find out where you can get it the cheapest.

And it doesn’t matter if its down the road, in another part of the UK, or another part of the world. Next day or super fast delivery from anywhere means you can now buy from anywhere. And you can buy when you want. In the middle of the night, on a bank holiday, during your work day lunch break.

What does it mean to the seller? 

It’s easy to imagine that selling has changed too. We seem to see more and more discounting for sure. The giant brands have piled online with more and better websites to help us buy their stuff. Things feel ‘cheaper’ somehow. And certainly easier to buy, freed as we are from the tyranny of the badly trained and unmotivated sales staff.

It seems as if features benefit selling is king. Here are the features, we say, pour over them on multiple websites, and see what benefits we the seller can identify as well as the benefits your very own networks have identified. Consumer choice is all.

But that’s not what seems to be happening? 

Luxury products are doing better than ever. Tailored and bespoke is most highly regarded. We want specialist solutions for everything from our pens to our mountain bikes (remember when they were just ‘bikes’?)

We want expert input, opinion and direction. We want specialised solutions. And we want to really know the brands we are buying from. Who are you? What do you stand for? How will you help me, going forward, with this product? What is it going to say about me?

Am I going to get off on sharing my purchase and my ownership of this product on my social networks!

It seems like we are more starved of engagement in our low-level selling than ever before. And so perhaps we seek ever deeper relationships with the high level purchases we chose to make. And the high level sales people that sell them.

What does it mean to you?

So whats its to be? How are you going to respond? Are you going to stay in features benefits selling, pitching at customers and hoping to come across a customer when they are ready to buy? Or are you going to make the change and up your game and become a genuine consultant?

Are you expert enough? Are you able to solve problems? Can you create value? Beyond the value of that all-powerful internet and it’s ability to find it cheaper and get it delivered the next day?

You’d better become that if you’re not already, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below, on the Facebook page, or tweet me on @radiojaja. You can even email me on [email protected] I’ll be happy to continue the conversation!

  1. mrsmoti
    mrsmoti says:

    Lovely post, most thought-provoking…

    Lots of talk in decision-making psychology at the moment about fast and slow thinking – the impulse buy to make us feel better and much deeper analysis which makes our brains work harder and takes longer. Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize for his work suggesting we need to do more of the slower, analytical stuff…

    ‘Get rich quick’ merchants then are aptly named – they want us to impulse buy and there are plenty of them online… But to build sustainable long term profitable relationships whether in high street or cyberspace then you’re right – it’s about trust and expertise.

    I can’t help thinking human nature is essentially social – and that to reinvent themselves high street shops are going to have to see themselves as venues for interaction as much as retailers.

    Interesting that John Lewis’s main strategic objective ( described on telly last year) is to become their customers ‘editor’ of choice. Not shopkeeper – but someone who has done very discerning buying and sifting and selecting of information…

    Way to go, eh?

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Two great points here Pippa, I like this idea of Slow and Fast thinking. I wish the nobel board had asked me about it, I could have told them slow was better!
      And I love that quote from the John Lewis strategy. Its so powerful an idea. They are sort of saying, given the choice now available and the potential for disaster if you get this shopping thing wrong, take the risk out and come to us. Let us take the strain of choosing from you – leaving you to shop in peace – brilliant
      thanks Pippa – as ever, the comments are more interesting that the post!

  2. Nick Smith
    Nick Smith says:

    I think the key here is retailers, B2B businesses and everything in between need to raise their game.
    A coherent and joined up strategy that encompasses face to face, search engine visibility, social media and mobile marketing is essential if a brand wants to get ahead and stay there.
    I found a stat that stated something like 80% of every single purchase on the planet was Googled first (wish I had bookmarked it). This staggered me in that this was every single purchase from a mountain bike to the casing on a machine to go in a space shuttle!
    No matter how specialised you think your business is, the future is in getting these strategies right for your buyers or you will be left behind.
    Taking your buyers through the buying cycle whether that be your reps or you website is always key and as consumers become more informed the best trained staff and the most well developed websites will win.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      thanks Nick, once again I find myself agreeing with your analysis. And what a great stat! I shall be using that, let me know if you ever find the source

  3. Peter Watson
    Peter Watson says:

    Common sense should evolve to match need analysis; there is more information available than anyone will ever need, or could even assimilate, to sate creative progress. If you don’t know what your computer is capable of, or how the TV is able to separate colour and sound signals received along a single wire, and even wire-less, perhaps that knowledge, although no doubt of interest to some, would be as irrelevant to most as knowing how many breaths we take each day.
    As human laziness increases in ratio to comfort-commodities, supplied by trade-growth, it stands to reason that sales methods and techniques would keep pace, more or less; hence the Internet, and junk-mail. In spite of protests from environmentalists about the depletion of planetary resources, these two abuses continue to expand and flourish.
    Alongside these two annoyances, fuel-bills rise and scarcity increases. Perhaps, logically, the former could be adapted to supplement the latter, so that junk-mail would be made into log-sized fuel for the boiler, and Internet junk-advertising redirected to prisons and homes for the terminally-ill where distractions may be more welcome, and decent entertainment is especially scarce and at its lowest levels.
    Without an awareness of the seductive lures back of these sales-intrusions, and how to deal with them, one runs the risk of being sucked into their vortex, and participating, and thereby furthering and adding to their destructiveness. Some may see a profit in this activity, but it will probably prove as vitally useful, and long-lasting, as last season’s fashions. Surely the ability to create this trade-playground – the illustrious human mind – is designed, and intended for a higher purpose. I dunno.

  4. Tony Dowling
    Tony Dowling says:

    Some big themes there Peter, thanks for the comment, that must have taken a while to compose!
    Im not sure that many people these days are sucked into these sales intrusions these days, which is one of the reasons selling has gotten ‘harder’ and much more plentiful. Its harder for low level approaches to get through these days, and I think thats the reason why we see the plethora of tactics employed.

  5. Peter Meredith.
    Peter Meredith. says:

    Good article Tony and a bit difficult if one is a bit blinkered, I work for myself in print sales and while it is a bit of an uphill job which means keeping on top of it, I find that my customers like to see me popping in every now and then, having a chat, cup of tea / coffee, While the internet is a great help to me I think that unless I call in person to see my customers, then the personal touch is lost and once that happens then so to is the customer.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      As a face to face seller of many years I’d agree Peter. I think thats at the heart of the article. The features / benefits ‘low level’ sales are really ‘helped’ by ecommerce, but there is clearly an appetite out there for us F2F guys too
      thanks for the comment and welcome to the blog!