Consider the following situations:
- At the beginning of the chapter, we described a real-life situation—a cardiac surgeon with a high-risk patient is wondering what to do. The physician calls Ted Schulte at Guidant to get his input on how to handle the situation. Schulte recommends the appropriate pacemaker and offers to drive one hundred miles early in the morning in order to be able to answer any questions that might arise during the surgery.
- A food wholesaler is working overtime to prepare invoices. Unfortunately, one out of five has a mistake. The result is that customers don’t get their invoices in a timely fashion, so they don’t pay quickly and don’t pay the correct amounts. Consequently, the company has to borrow money fulfill its payroll obligations. John Plott, a salesperson from Sri-IIST, a document-management company, recommends the wholesaler purchase an electronic invoicing system. The wholesaler does. Subsequently, it takes the wholesaler just days to get invoices ready, instead of weeks. And instead of the invoices being only 80 percent accurate, they are close to being 100 percent accurate. The wholesaler no longer has trouble meeting its payroll because customers are paying more quickly.
- Sanderson Farms, a chicken processor, wants to build a new plant near Waco, Texas. The chambers of commerce for several towns in the area vie for the project. The chamber representative from Waco, though, locates an enterprise zone that reduces the company’s taxes for a period of time, and then works with a local banker to get the company better financing. In addition, the rep gets a local technical college involved so Sanderson will have enough trained employees. These factors create a unique package that sells the company on setting up shop in Waco.
All these are true stories of how salespeople create value by understanding the needs of their customers and then create solutions to meet those needs. Salespeople can adapt the offering, such as in the Sanderson Farms example, or they can adapt how they present the offering so that it is easier for the client to understand and make the right decision.
Adapting a message or product on the fly isn’t something that can be easily accomplished with other types of marketing communication. Granted, some Web sites are designed to adapt the information and products they display based on what a customer appears to be interested in while he or she is looking at the sites. But unless the site has a “chat with a representative” feature, there is no real dialog occurring. The ability to engage in dialog helps salespeople better understand their customers and their needs and then create valuable solutions for them.
Note also that creating value means making sales. Salespeople sell—that’s the bulk of the value they deliver to their employers. There are other ways in which they deliver value, but it is how much they sell that determines most of the value they deliver to their companies.
Salespeople aren’t appropriate channels for companies in all situations, however. Some purchases don’t require the salesperson’s expertise. Or the need to sell at a very low cost may make retail stores or online selling more attractive. But in situations requiring adaptation, customer education, and other value-adding activities, salespeople can be the best channel to reach customers.