The latest issue of the Harvard Business Review contains an interesting short article on customer expectations for sales people: “What B2B Customers Really Expect” (requires subscription).
There is a tremendous mismatch between what customers are expecting from their sales people and what vendors think customers expect. Amazingly, there is also a big gap between what vendors think their customers expect from their sales people and what vendors actually recruit for.
The top quality that customers are looking for is salespeople’s subject matter and solution expertise – followed by understanding of customer’s business and industry, and professionalism. Vendors thought that subject matter and solution expertise would only rank third on customers’ priorities – after professionalism and understanding of customer’s business and industry. So vendors have their customers’ priorities for sales people reversed.
Most interestingly is how vendors actually recruit. The top attribute that vendors recruit for is social and communication skills – a priority that ranked dead last for customers. The second top attribute vendors hire for is organizational and decision-making skills – which ranked just before last on the customers’ priority list.
The authors of the article – both partners at Infoteam Sales Process Consulting – recommend that companies hire for industry and subject matter expertise instead of social skills.
It makes no sense for sales people to acquire subject matter and solution expertise, nor understanding of a customer’s business and industry on the job.