Today’s savvy, tech-driven customers have taken complete control of how they select products and services they end up buying. In most cases, they have made their decision before they talk to the vendor they choose. Which means many sales people are being shut out of the decision making process altogether.
Nikolaus Kimla, sales process expert and Founder of Pipeliner CRM, shares his thoughts on the changing role of the sales professional in today’s consumer climate, how sales people can better align their sales process with how consumers are buying today, and the role sales technology should play to help them stay connected with buyers over the long haul.
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Nikolaus Kimla: I’m originally from Austria, Vienna. I moved two years ago to the United States because I realized I have to bring my product to the next level, and this can only be done here because this is the country of sales.
Small Business Trends: Stats say the vast majority of consumers make up their minds to purchase a product or service before they even talk to vendors. How has that changed the way a sales person goes about their business?
Nikolaus Kimla: The buyer is very different, in my opinion, between transactional sales, classical consulting sales, or enterprise sales. In the consumer side of classical transaction sales, tremendous change has happened. In the future, we will not speak to a person, we will speak to machines.
Similar to when you buy a book by Amazon. Amazon knows you, gives you the right books or even some movies that are related to your books. Amazon knows about your patterns, so everything goes into the pattern recognition systems. It’s very profound and very deep. Transactional sales, I would say, is in the biggest change. We are all, in some form, a buyer.
On the other hand, consulting sales is in an even deeper change for sales people. This is the big challenge for the future because the buyer is not so much interested in the product, he’s more interested in the value that you’re creating – and actually even creating some business opportunities for him. That means you are more a business consultant. There is a tremendous change and I personally believe most sellers are not ready for that.
Small Business Trends: What are the things that sellers need in order to be able to communicate and basically do the job they need to when they engage these customers today?
Nikolaus Kimla: First of all, I would say they need to understand how social can impact getting more information on your prospects. What really drives them? What is really in there? It’s really about investigation. For that reason, it’s a lot of preparation. You have to prepare much more than in the old days. To say, ‘I know the industry, the vertical market. I know about the pains of the buyer. I address the pains because my product is a solution.’ I think this is too narrow-minded now.
You have to be more complex. The seller really has a lot of challenges. He has to inform himself, so he needs a lot of education on the one hand. On the other hand, he needs tools that help him on a daily basis run his shop efficiently, easily, smoothly and effectively so that he can really concentrate on what it’s all about. You have to go into the heart of the buyer and tell them that you understand their needs. You understand where he is heading and that the solution that you have for him can bring this impact to him in the future.
Small Business Trends: So to make a sales person’s life easier today from a technology standpoint and process standpoint, what do they need from both perspectives to do their job today?
Nikolaus Kimla: Vendors are moving in the area of saying, ‘My tool is easier for data entering and for correcting data and keeping up the data.’ Perfect. I strongly believe sales people will never do that. As easy as the tool is, they will never do it, right? This is not in their personality, even if you have the most advanced and easiest tool in the world.
So I think this is a pitfall. The issue is, you cannot change a sales person. It makes no sense. Where are their strengths? It’s about what they’re doing in their job. They should not be bookkeepers. It’s not their job. Their job is to sell and to understand the complexity and everything involved, so it’s about the process.
You have to know your process. If you are not tweaking the process constantly, changing it to the needs of the buyer and to the needs of the industry, to respond to competitors because they’re doing something, and constantly working with your sales team and giving them some insight with dynamic playbooks – then you’re lost in the future.
Most sales managers are just managing data when they should manage people, not data. Technology should help visualize the process. Then you work on the core, and the core is the person. You have to work with the person.
Small Business Trends: Nikolaus, where can people go to learn more about some of the things we talked about, and also about your product?
Nikolaus Kimla: Go to PipelinerSales.com , and then to the blog. You will see a lot of people contributing. Our content is really helpful and we try to give our knowledge away for free.
This interview on how sales is about process and people, not data, is part of the One on One interview series  with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.