The Selling Power without the Search Power

November 1, 2006

I like Selling Power magazine. But I have to admit I don’t understand it. Here is a quote from an article (The Seven Qualities of Top Sales Managers) written by the founder of Selling Power, Gerhard Gschwandtner – “We live in a knowledge-based society where information moves at lightening speed.” Uh-huh. Then why can’t I find articles about how to increase sales through better Internet search skills that can more effectively mine the exploding information universe?

By the way, the above quote came from an article written in 2004. However, it is still listed on “Selling Power’s 10 most Popular Articles.” I guess if you’re popular, you’re really popular for a long time at that magazine.

(Selling Power’s online presence is subscription only so we can’t link you directly to the articles we’re referring to)

This “most popular article” never mentions the words “Internet,” “web” or “digital.” The word “online” is mentioned once, but only to describe someone in an “online media company.” In fact, try to see if you can find any such words in any Selling Power article – good luck.

Now, I’m not picking on Selling Power alone. Pretty much all of the sales training world is missing the power of “information literacy,” which is the ability to effectively target and use the explosion of information now available on the Internet.

Mr. Gschwandtner also says in The Seven Qualities of Top Sales Managers (co-written by Maryann Hammers), “While information suffers from inflation, quality human contact has become a rare commodity.” I don’t know. Does “information suffer from inflation” or does the human contact of the selling process actually benefit from the ability to target and quickly retrieve crucial information?

After all, the Internet is not the cause of too much information, it is the cure for it – but very few people (and sales trainers) are listening to that message.

As the article says, “the best sales-training strategy is to encourage salespeople to spend more time learning about their customers’ situations and then invest more time digging deeper to create better fitting solutions for their customers.” And, what better way to do that than the simple process of setting up Google (or Yahoo or Ask.com) news alerts for key customers, competitors and industry topics? Such alerts can bring you exactly the strategically precise information you need to be better informed about your customers’ situations, your competitor’s moves and your industry’s developments.

And how ‘bout the zillions of other ways to save time, save money and motivate increasingly disaffected employees? Are you teaching the benefits of the online tools that capture hundreds of new contacts with one click of the mouse? Are you arming your sales force with the “cheats” to get around those increasingly exasperating voice mail trees? Does your sales team know how to get passwords for those web sites that ask for yet another time-wasting registration? Can they read the most important parts of a customer’s new book in minutes? Do they know how to collaborate with their other team members and their customers by using the simple and free tools of the “interactive web?”

The ability to target and find just the right information that can help the sales process along is one of the most motivating things a salesperson can learn. It gives them a sense of contribution – something they can point to with pride, “I would have never landed that sale if I hadn’t done a search for…

Josh Krist from SalesLobby.com interviewed Mr. Gschwandtner and here’s one of his final questions:

Krist: So, how has the magazine changed, content-wise? What do people want to know today that they didn’t 15 years ago?
Gschwandtner: Also what has changed is that sales people need to have a lot more business acumen, the knowledge and understanding of a customer’s business. They need to wear many more hats. They need to wear the hat of a potential investor: Does this company have the capital to go for the next 10 months? They need to understand the diversity of business models; there are so many models out there that they need to know which will succeed. Sales people also need a greater understanding of technology, obviously.

I don’t know. I like this guy. I subscribe to his magazine. But, if Gerhard Gschwandtner really means what he says, then I’d say the magazine needs a healthy infusion of Internet search and information literacy training to create real change in the selling business. That’s the industry that he is so clearly a leader of – and an innovative one at that. Keep innovating, Gerhard.


  1. I’m not much of a Selling Power fan either. I think it’s because the entire magazine is a vehicle for Gerhardt’s chronic case of self-promotion. Selling Power says its readers are sales managers and higher but the content isn’t consistent with that demographic either.

    Anyway, I liked your post. I like folks who tell it like it is.

  2. It is amazing to read Dave Kurlan’s self-promoting comments. He posts four covers of Selling Power magazine on his website, bragging about the fact that he has been featured inside the magazine (that he says he doesn’t like).
    Kurlan, you’re acting like a whiny girlie-man. Is it because you never made the cover of Selling Power?
    One more thing: if you want to win friends and influence people, start by spelling their names correctly.
    Gerhard Gschwandtner
    Founder and Publisher
    Selling Power

  3. Michael,

    I don’t get your point. You’re pushing Internet training as a solution – for what problem?
    If you want to understand selling, turn off your computer and go to one of our Sales Leadership Conferences where you can learn more in a day than you can trolling for information for a year on the internet.
    Technology vendors are not helping the sales profession very much, on the contrary, a lot of sales technology ends up on the scrap pile, costing millions. The adoption rate of CRM technology is about 60%. So for every dollar you spend on CRM, you get only 60 cents back. When it comes to research, most salespeople don’t care much about digging for information. That’s why sales organizations sign up with Hoovers or with generateinc.com to get ready-made info about buyers.
    Technologists are always tempted to impose their way of seeing the world onto others. What seems wonderful to them, isn’t always useful for others. Salespeople have to use many different tools to make the sale such as:
    business acumen, selling skills, consultative skills, product knowledge, application knowledge, market knowledge, understanding buying behaviors etc. Searching for information on the Internet isn’t as important as you think it is. It is much more important to find out what’s in the prospect’s mind.
    Any Tom, Dick and Mary can log on and search the Internet, that doesn’t require much of a brain. But putting the prospect at ease, asking intelligent questions and listeing to the prospect’s story and then co-creating the sale with the prospect, that’s an art and a science. It’s not what the screen says about the customer that matters much, it’s what’s hidden in the customer’s mind, that’s where you will find the key to the sale.
    If you want to see an example how the Internet is used creatively to teach sales leaders, check out my daily video report – five minutes of interviews with experts, CEO’s, authors, sales leaders etc. http://www.sellingpower.com/video.
    The information world as we know it is changing from print to video. That may be worth blogging about.


  4. Gerhard is 100% correct that selling is all about understanding the prospect’s pain/issues, and then ensuring your products/services are relevant to what needs to be solved. It’s all about asking probing questions. It is all about getting into the prospect’s mind and learning what they care about. Where Gerhard misses the point in his post is that the Internet, if used effectively, can be an incredible source of information to identify pain/issues BEFORE you even meet with a prospect.

    If you do your research and homework before the meeting, and apply your findings correctly during the sales call, then you instantly establish your credibility, your questions are much more relevant, and the meeting is much more valuable. By doing your homework, you not only learn about the prospect’s company, but you can learn about them as a person, their competitors, and the issues/trends going on in the prospect’s industry. Knowing this information and applying it correctly, in my opinion, is the key to an okay first meeting vs. a great one where you’re almost certain to get invited to the next level.

    By knowing how to locate key information, as a sales person, you can also provide value to a prospect above and beyond what they expect. For example, if I sell advertising services and I only talk about how my advertising can help the prospect, even if I’m a great sales person, I’m still a vendor. If, however, over time I use the power of information to help solve my customer’s problems – even if those problems have nothing to do with advertising – then I become a true business partner. Sales people who practice this approach have reported to me a massive increase in their ability to get invited to the proposal stage, and a significant increase in close ratios.

    A practical example of this would be knowing how to locate information on competitors. So let’s say I meet with a client, Widget Corporation. And lets say that during our conversation, I learn that Widget is nervous about a new product that ACME is coming out with. Because I know how to use the Internet effectively, following my meeting I locate the pending patent of ACME’s new product. I find the CAD drawings, etc. and I even find a PowerPoint document from ACME’s CEO, highlighting the sales strategy for their new product. I then download all of this information, print it, and send it to my contact at Widget with a note saying “thought you might like to see this – look forward to talking next week.” Note that this has nothing to do with advertising. It does have everything to do with providing exceptional customer value and differentiating yourself from 95% of the other sales people. You think if I did the above scenario that I would leave an impression; that I would get invited to bid for the next contract? (By the way, the above example is an actual client example).

    The comment that “Any Tom, Dick and Mary can log on and search the Internet, that doesn’t require much of a brain” is just completely wrong. How do I know? I’ve trained thousands of sales people and executives over the past year on how to effectively use online search programs to locate information on prospects and 95% have no clue how to effectively use even popular search engines, much less the Invisible Web and other premium data sources. There are very few sales people that know how to effectively use online search tools to locate and download patents for products that aren’t even on the market yet, or sales presentations that were meant for a limited audience. But if you know how to look and where to look, that kind of information is out there. And once you know where and how, finding this type of information takes just minutes; sometimes just seconds.

    Again, Gerhard is 100% correct that the art and skill of a great sales person is taking that information and applying it in ways that solves issues. Frankly, to be a great sales person you have to have the mentality that this type of stuff is even important; that sales is about what’s best for the client, not what’s best for you and your commission. That’s where magazines and training like Selling Power is invaluable. This “client first mentality” can be taught. So can using the Internet to locate information. Armed with relevant and credible information, the great sales person can truly differentiate themselves from the competition.

    However, I would argue (and it’s what Michael’s original post was all about) is that 90% of the world, including the great sales person, does not know how to get to the “good stuff” when conducting research. Oh sure…they can get to the basics of finding a company’s Web site, etc. But even for smaller companies, that is very little of the information that is available online — most often for free. The Internet, when used correctly and effectively, can provide a “crystal ball” into the minds of prospects. When not used effectively, you’re “winging it.”

  5. I agree 100% with Sam. As a matter of fact, one of the main areas of focus in “Baseline Selling” (http://www.baselineselling.com,) is how to differentiate oneself from the competition. But not only do most salespeople not know how to find the information that you and Sam talk about, they don’t know how to use it either. It’s a lot like excuse making. Until you’re looking for excuses, everything sounds like a valid reason. Once you’re on the look out for excuses, everything sounds like an excuse. Salespeople don’t know what information to look for and when they find it, they don’t know how to make the connection between that seemingly unrelated information and the issues specific to their expertise, products services and solutions.

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