Why Generalists Are Killing Your Sales Pipeline

by Steve Carlisle

The specialist versus generalist debate is a decades-old argument with published research dating back to the 1970s. In the past, the prevailing trend leaned toward generalists, the logic being if one has a jack-of-all-trades sales team, they can speak to any buyer and not risk losing potential business. Once considered sound logic in the boardroom, today it is laden with issues that can cripple a sales pipeline.

Like many sales exercises, it is prudent to put yourself into the seat of your buyer and see things from their perspective. Consider the following scenario: A large company is looking for a new marketing firm. Of their final two selections, both firms are equal in nearly every regard except specialization. Company A has a large and varied portfolio, while company B has a similarly large portfolio. However, company B’s portfolio is specialized in the prospect’s industry. Companies A and B can both get the job done well, but the prospect is going to select the specialized partner over the generalist nine times out of ten.

Naturally, the buyer’s perception is that the specialist is going to have a deeper understanding of their needs and provide more value than the generalist. This holds true at the company level and the sales level. Sales is not only about conveying value, but also about creating relationships. Sales specialists have a deeper understanding of the industry and are better able to lend valuable insight to the prospect. This creates an environment that is favorable for nurturing a trusted and meaningful relationship. A salesperson who can walk the walk and talk the talk holds far more value for the buyer, and this can be directly linked to increases in sales revenue and retention.

Sales generalists may have an advantage in lead generation, since the nature of qualification sales calls is that they do not dive too deep and may not require a significant specialization. So from an efficiency standpoint, generalists may be more useful on the front end of the sales process; however, the more your sales staff can specialize, the greater your closing ratios will be.

Prospects want to work with companies that understand their challenges and needs. Specialists are able to provide this knowledge. They also aid in client retention and upselling opportunities because of the specific and trusted advice they offer customers.

Specialization and personalization have long been a huge trend in the B2C arena, and now this enthusiasm is growing in the B2B sales world, as well. At MarketSource, we believe that better sales begin with better relationships. Contact us today for a MarketSource assessment.

Topic: B2B


Stephen Carlisle is a B2B Practice Leader at MarketSource. Leveraging MarketSource’s proprietary process and best practices, Steve works with current and prospective customers to assess their sales challenges and design optimized solutions that help our clients sell more, faster.

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