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Olson on Selling: Customer Centric vs. Product Centric Selling

Posted on July 23, 2007

I have recently started to think more about how products and features should be presented to potential (and even existing) customers. At FeedBurner we always did what comes natural to me so I had never given it much thought (oh, and we also worked 24×7 so I didn’t have any time to give it much thought!).

The natural way to talk to potential customers about products from my point of view is something I term Customer Centric selling. Yes, I know all selling should be “customer” centric meaning that the customer should always come first but that is not what I mean by customer centric in this article. I am referring to the approach of bundling ones products/services/features together in a unified sales pitch which can be tailored to each customer’s needs.

This particular approach allows each potential or current customer to have one sales/biz dev guy they know they can always count on which drives stronger relationships over time and customer loyalty (this should equate to more sales). It should be said that the sales people in this case will have multiple customers though.

What is interesting to me is that most large companies (from what I have seen) do not seem to operate in a customer centric way. They typically sell products separately with different sales people representing the different products. This is what I term Product Centric selling since the products are what divides the sales team not customers.

I can see a handful reasons why larger companies may want to break things down by product rather than allowing all sales people to sell every product they have.

1. There are too many products so sales people won’t be able to experts on all of them and therefore won’t be effective.

2. The products are vastly different from one another so it doesn’t make sense to bundle them.

3. Account managers are part of the team and they jump in post sale to handle and build the relationships.

Those are all valid reasons to keep products separate but I would have to argue against number one on the list by saying that people are smart enough, generally, to handle working with more than one product especially if the products make sense to sell in a bundle.

It seems to me that the goal of selling should be to get the customer exactly what they need in an efficient manner while building a relationship that can last a long time. Bundling products can help the business and its’ sales people deliver the most complete solution to the customer in the fastest amount of time while creating a one on one relationship that should continue to grow. Easier cross selling is also enabled in the customer centric model since multiple sales people do not need to be involved to cross sell.

What do you think? Should more large companies look to create a sales force that can sell anything they offer? It seems to me that a cross trained sales force could be deadly to a companies competition and very helpful to a companies customers.

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2 Comments so far
  1. Sudhir Hasbe July 23, 2007 9:41 pm

    I agree philosophically with your reasoning but you correctly point out the challenges in implementing it. I think for large companies differentiating between Account management or front line sales and core technical sales is critical. I think the account managers should know breath of products and if customers really need indepth information technical sales can chip in. This should not be that difficult to implement, I guess.

    Enjoy. Good blog.

  2. Fraser July 24, 2007 10:56 am

    I wonder if there can be a model that stitches together the two approaches. You can imagine that in most big companies there are bundles or suites of products that compliment one another nicely w/in a given space. It would make sense for a sales team to sell the entire basket of complimentary goods. It’s also easy to imagine that any individual would be able to understand the value prop and sales pitch of all of the goods within a suite.

    I suspect that the real benefit of this model would fall to the customer who would be able to enjoy the leveraged benefits as well as the cost savings of buying the package.