Knowledge is power! Or at least it used to be in the hands of a traditional salesperson. With the advent of the internet and search engines, information is readily accessible to more people than ever before.
Only 29% of people want to talk to a salesperson to learn more about a product, while 62% will consult a search solution (Hubspot, 2020). This then begs the question of the role of a salesperson, what value do they bring now?
The Google-it culture has also forced suppliers to re-think how they distribute information, when and why and to whom. With the evolution of LED and integration of technology into lighting solutions, supplier sales teams must be subject matter experts not just on the product specifications but on the trends, the applications and the possibilities. Gone are the days of clipboards and chasing orders. Technology and accessibility to information are of significant benefit, but the key is to complement this endless information with that human touch, knowledge and experience gained from years in the lighting industry.
Recent events further impacting the role of the salesperson is the COVID-19 pandemic where face-to-face interactions were so ‘unsafe’ that governments around the world implemented regulations aimed at keeping people apart. This emphasises the importance of how we, the supplier, deliver value to our network. There are endless sources of information, but how do you cut through the clutter and provide relevant and accurate information?
People deal with people. Consultative sales require a relationship between the client and the salesperson based on shared knowledge and earned trust. There is a great benefit to the client to establish a relationship with the suppliers. Creating the perfect and unique lighting solution is not as simple as ordering luminaires online. The client is specifying lighting for a specific purpose. With thousands of options available, it’s about choosing the right ones.
The modern lighting supplier looks at long-term results, not just quick short-term wins. Of course, the company’s ethos and support structures need to echo this ideology before it can be offered to the broader lighting community.
“A lighting supplier should understand that each specifier’s needs and methods of communication are different… stand side-by-side and look through the lens of the individual, rather than what you think they may need.”– Farah Deba, Senior Lighting Designer
Education and Experience: The New Key Performance Indicators
Traditionally, the incandescent lighting salesperson followed a hard-sell approach with a heavily transactional nature. The focus was on achieving a monthly sales target for the reward of a commission. The typical salesperson focused on pushing products that were in stock, upselling to replace the lower commission items and offering discounts for volume sales. Occasionally this approach is present today with low-cost-model suppliers who do not see the benefit of a long-term relationship in a project-based market.
A lighting supplier keen to engage in consultative sales recognises the need for a well-educated and industry-experienced team. Companies are not asking their team just to sell a light globe to light a room, but they are supporting the new generation of outside-the-box thinkers—embracing lighting design and cutting-edge technology as part of their ethos.
To add value, education and learning goes far beyond the catalogue of products. The salesperson needs to have an in-depth understanding of how the lighting products work within the lighting design, how an electrical contractor works with the product and how other stakeholders involved in the building process might want to learn about the luminaires abilities from different viewpoints – this is where a lighting supplier becomes a resource of knowledge.
Advisers, Not Just Salespeople
Brand eminence and value are the key attributes of an authentic thought leader. Problem solvers and strategic thinkers don’t simply concern themselves with a project specification in return for effort. The sale gained from specification of lighting products is not the only benefit. Thinking outside of the realms of personal or company gain to find a solution, or steering your client in the right direction, can be far more rewarding. This long-term approach demonstrates the supplier’s desire to be a trusted adviser.
A lighting supplier who believes in the industry provides support to the broader lighting community. Trusted advisors connect their clients with other suppliers when they themselves cannot provide a suitable outcome. This mindset is completely opposite of the hard-sell approach that pushes a solution even if it isn’t the right one. Overcoming the barriers of competition and fear of losing a sale, results in a well-deserved reputation of being a true industry leader.
Trust at All Levels
You cannot build a relationship without trust. Well, you can, but it won’t last the trials and tribulations that can test it over time. And, those of us experienced in project work know that there are always trying times during the life of a project.
If clients trust the supplier to bring their expertise in lighting to the project, they will find a supporter over the life of the project. Looking from the supplier point of view, to gain the trust of the specifier takes time to understand the unique challenges of each and every project, and on the personal side, understand the preferences and needs of the specifier as a professional and as a person. Trust is not built in a day or from a first meeting but is progressively earned over time.
Projects are becoming more personable, this resonates with the supplier and the specifier, co-working from the beginning phase until it’s time for the supplier to take the reins and follow through with the builder and contractors. This is often an anxious transition when specifiers are working with a new supplier, but for the benefit of the project, it needs to be done.
The knowledge base now moves from just being about the lighting product being fit for the design, to further deep-diving into how it interacts with the built structure. Opening the communication between the supplier and the contractors involved can often resolve potential problems before they arise. For example, an installation restriction or an onsite design change may require a product change. If the lighting supplier is part of the trusted team, they can quickly assess the situation and provide a solution.
But don’t lead yourself to believe that it’s that simple. This communication stream doesn’t get disclosed easily, it takes a significant level of trust between the specifier and the supplier first. Suppliers don’t win trust from winning projects or recommending a luminaire that isn’t quite right for the design. Trust is gained over time based on support, honesty and relevance to the client and their projects.
The lighting industry is comprised of a large pool of manufacturers and suppliers, each competing on price, placement and product development. As a supplier, most strive to be viewed as a reputable, walking database with endless solutions who can consolidate the information to provide value and knowledge to our clients. Knowledge truly is powerful, and if translated and correctly delivered by the lighting supplier, knowledge and ethics are an invaluable support for specifiers and the project as a whole.
What specifiers should expect from modern suppliers is a capable salesperson supported by a forward-thinking company with long-term goals. They should also expect suppliers who are willing and able to pivot their mindset to cater to different stakeholders across the project. If we as an industry encourage education and make use of the human experience, we can create a mutually beneficial working relationship that will aid all those engaged in shaping the built environment.