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Over a hundred years ago, Henry Ford said: “Any customer can have a car any color he wants so long as it is black.” For many of the years since then, the mass production of standard products relied on a sales process that was driven by strong-arming and overcoming customer resistance to buying the product or service offered. This approach was called the “hard sell.”

While mass production still drives much of the market, increasingly developing unique products and services to meet unique customer demands and needs, at reasonable cost, has become both desired and possible. Computer numerically controlled machines allow almost infinite possibilities to customize and add uniqueness to the production of products.

One of the remarkable producers of uniqueness is the 3D printer. It takes a digitized model produced on the computer and makes it into a three dimensional, solid hard copy. The 3D printer uses an additive process that lays down layer upon layer of material in different shapes until the digitized model becomes a three dimensional solid object.

We can only project increasingly sophisticated developments in this technology to the point that singularly unique products, even with very small differences, will be possible. Running in parallel with this evolution in production of goods is the evolution in the way an organization sells its products or services.

Computers, as noted, have allowed for much more customization and uniqueness in design and production. In turn, the market and customer demands have evolved, not just because uniqueness in products is a possibility, but the customer can now control what is offered and how well it is received through social interaction on the Internet. Transparency is the name of the game in the world of social media.

The traditional selling process involved the steps of presentation of the offer, answering questions the potential customer had, overcoming any objections or resistance the potential customer expressed, and closing the sale. Heavy emphasis was on “closing,” to the point that closing became the art of wearing the potential customer down until he or she said “yes.”

Today, we need a selling process that parallels the opportunities provided by the 3D printer. It turns the tables on the sales approach. It no longer means the salesperson has a product or service to offer that is fairly inflexible and the salesperson’s job is to overcome the customer’s resistance to buying that offer. Rather, today’s salesperson is charged with discovering whatever the need the customer has with all its nuances and uniqueness. Then, interfacing with his or her organization, the salesperson works with the organization to custom craft a solution to that need.

Today’s salesperson will actively engage in a 3D sales process. It is a very simple process, but meets the needs of today’s market.

First, there is discovery of demand, a customer who has a need for something that the salesperson’s organization has the flexible capacity to provide. Then, there is development that involves collaboration between the salesperson and customer to detail the specifications of the need. The salesperson interfaces with the organization with details of the need so the production process can be activated. Finally, there is delivery. This is much more than just a dump of the product on the customer and run. It involves delivering the high quality end product that reflects the expectations and details the customer has indicated, reflects uniqueness of customization and value adds, expertise the organization offers, and, of course, on-going maintenance and service.

Developing the salesperson to be able to function successfully within the 3D sales process must be undertaken. Special emphasis in the areas of communication, especially active listening and deep questioning to get at underlying customer needs is important. Understanding the organization’s full capabilities to be able to produce the customer’s desired outcome is necessary. This includes instilling in the salesperson an honesty in saying “no” if the organization cannot meet the customer’s unique need with a high quality end result.

Today’s marketplace is increasing evolving. The sales process needs to evolve with it. Adopting the 3D sales approach will help the organization meet customer expectations in the 21st century marketplace.

The 3D Sales Process: Meeting Customer Expectations in the 21st Century