It was a dark and stormy night. My wife and I were cruising around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts before an evening concert. The Globe Corner Bookstore (http://www.globecorner.com) sits on Mount Auburn Street, half a block from JFK Street, one of the busiest intersections around the Harvard Square. Located in a glass-sided building, brightly lit for all to see, the store looked dry and inviting as we walked in the pouring rain.
“I guess we have our answer,” I said as we stepped inside. The signs over sections of books referred to continents and countries: Africa, Eastern Europe, Spain/Portugal, Canada. We bought a couple of books.
“How DO you differentiate your store from the larger stores around you,” I asked the owner? “They are much larger than your store.”
“There are three main differences,” she said.”First, we focus only on travel guidebooks, maps, and literature. Second, we mix books of many types in each section so you can get a travel book, a cookbook, or a memoir pertaining to a particular country in the same section of the store. Third, and most important, we hire only people who have traveled extensively in some part of the world for which we carry books.”
Pointing to a young woman behind the cash register, she said, “Kerry, for example, has traveled to more countries than anyone I know and has just come back from a long trip to Russia. We hired someone last week who has spent months traveling in Africa. They can’t recommend hotels, but they can tell you a lot about the people, conditions, and travel.”
“Do you pay for some or any of that travel,” I asked? “No,” she said. “They do that themselves.”
Think about this. Here’s a store that sells travel books and maps that is more than holding its own against larger competitors and broad-scoped Internet booksellers. How? Personal expertise acquired and paid for by her staff, themselves.
One of the most important shifts in our sales environments is the shift from product to personal expertise of sales people and their team mates. For the most part, the products we sell, like the books at the Globe Corner Bookstore, are available from multiple sources, frequently online. Our clients can search online, purchase online, and get implementation support online for a wide variety of the products we sell.
Most of the companies we work for do not train us, as salespeople, to develop our expertise beyond “the minimum acceptable level.” Leading salespeople invest in their own expertise and development.
As we begin to develop our business plans for the upcoming sales year, what investments will we make in ourselves to develop our knowledge of our clients’ business challenges or the technology that we sell? What “travel” will we pay for out of our own pockets to increase our value to our clients, to ourselves, and to the companies whose cards we carry?