Today's client expects a knowledge-based conversation. However, the topic of the conversation has changed. Knowing your product only gets you in the door. What really matters is how well you understand the client's world and what you know about the challenges and opportunities they face. With this knowledge, it will be easier to initiate contact with a new client and to conduct a partner-to-partner conversation about more than just the price.

A completely new order now prevails in sales. The mass migration to the internet has changed what clients know and where they shop. Buyers have access to a huge amount of information, which makes them smarter. They don't really need to talk to a salesperson to learn about products. They do the research themselves, look for objective information from other providers, and do a preliminary selection of providers using social media. And that’s all before they even contact a salesperson.

What does the research say?

This situation requires salespeople to take a new approach when conducting sales activities. A Forrester study found that only 15% of high-level decision makers thought their meetings with salespeople had any value 1. Another study by CEB found that the sales experience itself had the greatest impact on client loyalty. Brand, quality, price - here, clients don't really see a big difference between one supplier and the next (Box 1.) If we look at another survey which found that for 80% of clients, an important attribute of a good first sales meeting is the salesperson’s expert knowledge of the solutions they offer 2, the conclusion is obvious. To reach clients effectively and talk to them in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect, you must be an expert. Clients don't value what you know about your product, but what you can do with that knowledge to solve their business problems. Therefore, more important than what you know about your product is what you know about your client, their current situation, and the results that your product can provide.

What client information should we collect?

Talking about challenges isn’t easy. You may be able to predict certain benefits provided by specific product features (for example, long battery life makes a certain laptop suitable for clients who spend a lot of time on the road), but determining the client’s challenges and business opportunities and focusing on more complex results requires a higher level of commitment and knowledge.

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