In the beginning, there were salespeople. The origin of any commercial enterprise began with a salesperson and relies on sales indefinitely for stability and growth. Sales are the lifeblood of any organization, but salespeople have even more to offer. Despite their value, salespeople risk being misunderstood, or worse, underutilized.
A business starts an unmet need, so an ongoing understanding of customer needs and creating value propositions to meet them is fundamental. Salespeople are on the front line with customers. At their best, they listen to customers and help deliver promises. Because of their proximity to the customer, salespeople are in the best position to hear customer needs and receive the most valuable information. Salespeople think they know what customers want. Just ask them!
However, salespeople don’t always separate the signals from the noise. That is, customers can tell you what they want, but they can’t tell you what they need. Nobody asked for a smartphone. Trying to please customers by giving them what they want may obfuscate what people really need. Listening and hearing aren’t the same things. Non-salespeople begin to question salespeople’s advice when customer requests turn into merely reacting.
If they can rise above the static, the best salespeople often know, in their bones, what customers are truly after. Product and marketing groups should leverage salespeople’s wisdom. Coupled with primary user research, teams can better intuit what customers need. It may mean not listening directly to customers or even salespeople, but each offers clues to understand people’s behavior and motives. These are the seeds of real market differentiation and customer loyalty.
For some organizations, sales mean conversions, participation, recruiting, or donations. For others, sales functions are automated systems, content programs, and free trials. Regardless of the means, smart organizations will leverage salespeople and sales systems not only for their explicit role in sales but also in their implicit role in better understanding the customer.
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