Competing With the Internet: A Sales Lesson in Two Parts

Competing With the Internet: A Sales Lesson in Two Parts

I bought a car last weekend. Usually this is the type of experience that’ll have me blogging about how paper isn’t dead, print is still going strong, etc., etc. And it’s true. There’s still about 5 tons of paper and plenty of toner and ink used in every car sale – duplicates, triplicates, impact printers, what have you. So yay, print.

The thing that intrigued me about this experience, though, is how much the Internet has changed the buying process. There was a time when you’d go into a car dealership armed with an issue of Consumer Reports and whatever knowledge you were able to gather from newspapers, advertisements and, if you were lucky, knowledgeable friends. Today, however, there are no unknowns – or at least, no reason for there to be. Thanks to the Internet, every single piece of information you need to make an informed purchase is online. I walked into that dealership knowing the maximum I should pay and the minimum my old car was worth. So when the salesman quoted a price well below my maximum and a valuation well above my minimum, my husband and I just looked at each other for a moment and said, “Well, OK.”

I admit I felt a little empty. I even looked at the salesman and said, “Shouldn’t we be haggling now?” But the prices were all fair and exactly what I wanted. As was the car.

And here’s the differentiator. I went into the car-shopping experience with everything decided – except for the car itself. We had it narrowed down to three. Two of the dealerships were next door to each other, so we started there. We got out of the car at the first lot and started to walk around. Now, I ask you: When was the last time you managed to take more than three steps on a car lot before a salesperson was shaking hands with you? Well, not here. We wandered around for 10 minutes without so much as a greeting or eye contact. The cars looked great – but there was no one to tell us that. So we headed next door. Our salesman greeted us within 30 seconds, asked all the right questions, and had us test-driving our top choice minutes later. We never even made it to the third dealership.

This all struck me again when I was at the recent BTA East event. The final presentation of the day, “Building the 21st Century Sales Force,” reiterated so much of what I experienced while car shopping, and all of it is as true for the imaging dealer as it is the car dealer. Troy Harrison of Kansas City-based SalesForce Solutions explained that the Internet is the new competitor, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. It just means you have to adapt your sales style. No longer will product pitches alone sell a product; customers can find all the facts and figures they want online. Salespeople must use their expertise and bring value through the sales call itself. Customers can click the Easy button and order supplies, but can that compete with the full value of the solutions you can offer them? It can’t. But it’s up to you to make sure they know that through the knowledge, expertise and follow-through you provide. Habitual customers buy because they always have, says Harrison. Loyal customers buy because you’re doing what needs to be done to keep their business.

The Internet makes things easy. It’s up to you to kick things up a notch and make things worthwhile.

Posted by Amy Weiss on 10/17/2013