I’m always behind in my reading. So it is that I’ve just finished an interesting article published some months ago in the Journal of Business and Finance Librarianship about the applicability of sales techniques to the work of embedded librarians. Here’s the full citation:
Finley, W. E. (2013). Using personal selling techniques in embedded librarianship. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 18, 279-292.
The idea that librarianship has something to do with sales may dismay some librarians. I, on the other hand, used to think of embedded information analysts as kind of like account reps, so I welcome it as a fresh, interesting and useful perspective.
I won’t try to recap the article here; instead I encourage you to read it yourself. Instead, I’ll add two comments.
First, I think the applicability of selling techniques has its limits. For example, the object of selling is the exchange of value (money for product or service). But in most libraries, the connection between services delivered and funding received isn’t direct. As the author points out, “we don’t ask them for money to deliver a bibliographic instruction session.” There are exceptions to this, and I used to work in an organization where our embedded services were funded by the groups that benefited from them. Maybe this model should be more prevalent, but in higher education and many other organizations, it’s not going to change anytime soon. Also, I think there’s something fundamentally different when the “seller” and the “buyer” work for the same organization, because there is (or should be) a much closer alignment of goals and interests. In a commercial transaction between two separate entities, there’s an overlap of interests but not true alignment.
That leads to my second comment: I’d be interested in extending the conversation to the concept of “consultative selling”, which strives to narrow the gap between buyer and seller, and achieve more of a real alignment of interests. I’ll note here that I think the term “partner” is wildly overused in information commerce — it seems like every database vendor wants to be the library’s “partner”. But when it comes to embedded librarianship, we really do want to create partners, not customers, and “partner”, “collaborator”, “colleague” are much more accurate terms than “customer” for the type of relationship we’re trying to create. To the extent that “consultative selling” represents a more “customer”-centered application of selling principles, I think it has something to offer us.
I’m hoping to hear more on this topic. What do you think? Do selling and consultative selling have a place in the conversation about embedded librarianship?