By Joel E. Crockett August 18, 2003 -- Tony Campolo, the fast-talking, energetic, inner-city preacher, is a hero of mine. And he tells a story on himself that provides some interesting food for thought. When Tony was a youngster, he and a friend of his got into a bit of mischief. They broke into a five & dime store in the middle of the night. But, being the fundamentally good kids they were, they didn’t want to steal anything. They didn’t want to damage anything, either. Still, they wanted to leave their mark. So they switched the price tags around. A twenty-dollar watch carried a 35¢ price tag. A two-dollar knife had a sticker of $18. Tony uses the story as a metaphor to ask, what do we deem of value? Where is our worth? Should we consider switching our price tags around? Perhaps we should ask the same of ourselves, as salespeople. In this era of new technology, unique applications, increased expectations, is it time for us to do a little price tag switching? In the beginning Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a little, local newspaper that decided to fill the downtime on their press by offering commercial printing services. For years, customers walked in off the street. And the commercial side of the business grew. Finally, the little, local newspaper made a big decision. They hired a salesperson. The salesperson’s job was simple. Go out and spread the word. Tell people what the little, local newspaper does. Where was the salesperson’s price tag? On his ability to tell the story. On his knowledge of the features. He was a walking billboard, a one-man advertising campaign. And along the way, he made a few friends. The start of a relationship Ultimately, the company sold the little, local newspaper and concentrated all their resources on the development of their fast-growing commercial printing business. And their salesperson grew, right along with the company. His price tag, however, was no longer appended to his knowledge of features, nor even on his ability to spin a good story. His value was now measured by the number of friends he had. People bought from him because they liked him. They knew they could rely upon him. They trusted that he knew his stuff. He’d become a relational salesperson. Once in awhile the successful salesperson would try to do what he did in the good old days. He’d dust off his prospecting tools and go out telling the stories, sharing the features. But it didn’t work as well as it once had. First of all, he didn’t have as much time to devote to prospecting as he used to. And secondly, the competition was a lot tougher. He was no longer the only game in town. Sales goes legit With competition came a need for more sophisticated sales skills. So the newspaper-turned-commercial printer hired a sales manager. And she had already done some price tag switching. She recognized the value of relationships. But she knew that new business would come as a result of a different skill set. So she began hiring and training her sales team. Now the premium was placed on the ability to ask good questions, to suggest commitments, to ferret out a prospect’s needs. The company prospered. And the skills the sales manager valued continue, even to this day, to fetch a high price. But the application of even those skills has changed. We’re selling to a new group of buyers. The new realities Many of us today are exploring how to sell custom content and variable data solutions. These are services that are not gonna be sold, project by project, to traditional print buyers. All those features you’ve learned how to talk about, all those advantages you’ve so diligently memorized, have decreased in value. The price is marked down. Even those relationships you’ve so carefully nurtured mean less. Now the premium is paid for the salesperson who understands her customer. For the rep who can sell concepts and programs to decision-makers. Who can come along side and partner with her client. That’s where the new price tags are appearing. The future is now Some might say the sales job is evolving. Others could argue that we’recreating a brand-new job description. A few might even preach apocalypse. But there’s no disputing that things just ain’t the same! Maybe it’s not important where you put your price tags. After all, you’re not doing the buying — your clients are. Aye, and there’s the rub. Ultimately, you see, it doesn’t really matter what sales skills you place value on. Your customers will vote with their wallets. And sometimes with their feet. They’re looking at your price tags. They’re measuring your worth. And chances are good they’re buying something quite different than they were just a few short years ago. The market is changing — are your price tags in order?