Few companies coordinate marketing communication efforts in support of the sales force. Salespeople are often separated from marketing communications specialists because of both the structure of the business and difference in perspective. Most salespeople view other marketing communication activities strictly as a means to help sell a product or company. Advertisers, sales promotion managers, and public relations experts rarely consider the needs and suggestions of salespeople, and salespeople seldom pay attention to information about a marketing communication campaign.
Integrating personal selling with other marketing communication elements may seriously affect that salesperson's job. Regis McKenna, international consultant, contends that although marketing technology has made salespeople more effective, it may also decrease the need for traditional salespeople who convince people to buy. As we move closer to "realtime" marketing, he believes customers and suppliers will be linked directly, so that customers can design their own products, negotiate price with suppliers, and discuss delivery and other miscellaneous concerns with producers rather than salespeople. McKenna suggests that the main role of salespeople will no longer be to "close" the sale. Instead it will be to carry detailed design, quality, and reliability information, and to educate and train clients.8
Don Schultz, a professor of marketing and proponent of IMC at Northwestern University in Illinois, USA, supports this notion of the modern salesperson. "If you create long-term affiliations, then you don't sell. You form relationships that help people buy." He observes that because products have become more sophisticated, the businesses that buy are often smaller than those that sell. "Today, I think the sales force is primarily focused on learning about the product and not about the market. We're talking about flipping that around," he concludes. In short, effective personal selling must focus on customer relationships.
To integrate personal selling with other marketing communication tools to forge strong customer relationships, top management should lead the integration effort. Unless managers understand what salespeople do, however, integration may not be successful. Before considering how to combine selling efforts with other marketing communication tools, we first examine the job of personal selling.
The underlying rationale for personal selling is facilitating exchange. As suggested by a personal selling expert, it is "the art of successfully persuading prospects or customers to buy products or services from which they can derive suitable benefits, thereby increasing their total satisfaction". A professional salesperson recognizes that the long-term success for the organization depends on consistently satisfying the needs of a significant segment of its target market. This modern view of selling has been called "non-manipulative selling", and the emphasis of this view is that selling should build mutual trust and respect between buyer and seller. Benefit must come to both parties. This perspective is developed further in the integrated marketing box that follows.
Selling involves everything
Salespeople have been taught for years that the key to successful selling is finding out what people need and then doing whatever it takes to fill that need. There are thousands of books and articles based on this principle alone. Recently, however, many sales professionals are discovering a better way to sell.
The real definition of selling has to do with finding out what people or businesses do, where they do it, and why they do it that way, and then helping them to do it better.
The word "need" does not appear in that definition at all, because there is no need associated with today's selling. A successful salesperson first asks the prospect about the company's goals before trying to fill an imagined need with the product or service being sold.
Critics of this approach say that determining what a business does is the same as determining its needs. "It's all semantics," they say. "The word 'do' is the same as the word 'need'." It is not semantics. There is a major difference in the new sales philosophy.
What does the concept of need-driven sales really mean? For one thing, the word "need" implies that something is missing. For example, if a car has only three wheels, there is a need for a fourth. The driver of the car realizes that something is missing and stops at the nearest tire shop.
A business generally has a full complement of tires, or needed items. Even if a business needs something, it does not want a salesperson to call. The needed service or items is bought as soon as the need is recognized. In a proactive sale, the business is running smoothly when the salesperson calls. The salesperson, having been trained in a needs-driven industry, asks the prospect what is missing. The buyer replies that nothing is needed. The salesperson insists that something must be wrong, and attempts to prove that there is a solution to the "pain" the business is experiencing.
There are two possible outcomes to this scenario. The first is that no sale is made. The second is that the salesperson does uncover some deep-seated problem that can be fixed, and a sale is made. But this is an arduous process that pays off all too infrequently.
The top competitor of salespeople today is the status quo. People continue to do what they do because it works. The salesperson is a messenger of change. He or she makes a sale by helping someone improve the way they do business. 1