Graduate Plus: Changing times for the salesman

In the popular imagination, a career in sales means a life on the road, with a fair amount of schmoozing with customers and wining and dining. And the reward for all this effort? An OK salary, a company car, the odd bonus and - for the very successful - a "luxury holiday".

If this were ever entirely true, it is certainly not now. With increasing competition, not only must salespeople sell their companies' wares; they must do a lot more besides.

As Fred Wiersema, a US management consultant, points out in a new book, "customers continue to raise the level of their requirements, but their range extends beyond best price and best product". They want superior results - and that leads to the title of his book, Customer Intimacy.

Mr Wiersema, co-author of The Discipline of Market Leaders, argues that the shift towards customer intimacy amounts to the third stage of companies' quest for value creation (after the drive for continuous improvement in quality and the radical redesign of business processes).

As he explains, customer-intimate companies "seek solutions that exceed immediate needs and demands", which may mean giving different levels of service to different types of customer.

The point is developed by another US consultant, Wayne Burkan, whose book, Wide Angle Vision, suggests that companies can beat their competition by "focusing on fringe competitors, lost customers and rogue employees".

He quotes Livio DeSimone, chief executive of 3M, as saying he wants his salespeople to look outside the organisation and interact frequently with the customer. As Mr DeSimone explains: "the most interesting products are the ones that people need but can't articulate that they need."

Many of 3M's famous innovations - from masking-tape, to a means of mopping up fluids during surgery - have been a response to customers' needs. Scientists in the research and development laboratories have known about the needs from salespeople who have been encouraged to report back.

But no one ever asked Sony for a product like the Walkman. Nor will market research always show the way.

Mr Burkan suggests "walking around on the edge", as unfulfilled potential lies outside the mainstream.

It is not, however, easy to get sales forces to behave in this way. For example, increasing centralisation of drugs purchases has meant that sales teams who once built up relationships with individual doctors now have to deal with impersonal organisations, which will be continually seeking fresh forms of delightn

Roger Trapp

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'