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Death of the salesmen

Monday, 14 March 2011 | By Ruslan Kogan

In the world of commerce there is a massive emphasis placed on the role of the salesperson.

 

There are hundreds of thousands of conferences, seminars and books all focused on the supposed 'art of selling'.

 

I think this is old-school thinking. When was the last time you had someone come to your front door and succeed with a hard sell?

 

Whether it was a politician or an insurance salesperson, this mentality no longer applies in 2011.

 

Ten or 20 years ago, information about the quality of products and services was not generally available. In that sort of environment, without any real transparency, businesses successfully relied on salespeople to close deals, many by whatever means possible.

 

They knew that consumers could never disprove some of the outlandish claims that salespeople made, so they educated their employees in the “art of persuasion”.

 

The sort of deception that was generally practiced eventually led the Australian Government to introduce the Trade Practices Act in 1974, which prohibited “misleading and deceptive conduct” by corporations.

 

Today, we live in the information age. It is no longer possible to mislead consumers about the quality or components of products and services.

 

Anybody can now access the truth about any product and service by a simple Google search. Any business that today relies on a salesperson or a hard sell to survive in the marketplace faces deep issues.

 

The internet has done what the Trade Practices Act attempted, but could not do – it has exposed the truth about businesses and their products.

 

Today, products and services are sold on merit, not on how pushy your salespeople are or try to be. The transparency and openness of the internet means that people can find the underlying truth about any product or service (including the views of thousands of past customers), and can always find alternatives in our ultra-competitive, globalised economy.

 

At Kogan, our staff have never been asked to "sell" and never will be. Our staff are asked to "explain" and "assist".

 

The moment I am confronted with a hard sell, I walk away from the transaction, no matter what it is. This sign of desperation makes me think there is no real value in the offering because they have to try so hard to sell it.

 

No salesman in the world knows what I like better than I do. The same goes for every consumer, whether you are looking at an online store, walking through a shopping centre or sitting in a car yard.

 

Further hammering the nail into the coffin of the pushy salesperson are better educated consumers. Shoppers are more knowledgeable than they have ever been.

 

A wealth of information is available at your fingertips, literally within seconds of doing a quick Google search. This objective information means you can scrutinise what a salesperson is telling you and discover the truth for yourself.

 

My message to business owners is that your product or service should be good enough that it doesn't rely on the Midas touch to convince someone to buy it.

 

The best and most mutually beneficial transactions occur when both parties interact based on free will and on a fully informed basis.

 

If you take a good hard look at your business and think the problem is that your salesperson needs to be better, then fire them!

 

Don't waste time or money focusing on your sales force. Develop your products and services to ensure that any potential customer that comes along will buy them because they want them, not because someone manipulated them into thinking they need them.

 

If you shift your focus away from salespeople and towards innovation, you will soon notice you're no longer fighting to drag customers to your brand, they'll be clamouring to transact with you.

 

Ruslan Kogan is the founder and CEO of online technology retailer Kogan