Having been in the sales business for a long, long time, having trained literally thousands of salespeople, having sold and trained around the world, I am often asked "Has selling changed over the years?".
Well, if you were to read one of the most famous sales books ever, Dale Carnegie's, "How to Win Friends and Influence People", and you read the first few paragraphs without reading the preface, you'd think, "Hmm... this is quite relevant today." Then, when you do read the preface, you'd see that this book was first published in 1936.
So - has selling changed? Fundamentally no, its been fine tuned, the techniques have been renamed a few times and some have been dropped. What has changed is buying.
It used to be that the seller controlled the selling and the buyer controlled the buying. Then, along came the Internet, the information age and social media. Selling was turned on its head because now, a much better informed, much better educated prospect can control the buying process and selling process, too.
Let's take a look back.
Up until the early 2000's, a professional, solution salesperson (in simplified terms) identified prospects, motivated them to engage, built rapport, skillfully asked questions, identified needs, presented solutions, handled objections and closed the deal. Buyers were not particularly savvy about what they were buying. They wanted information and they wanted choice. They wanted to buy from someone whom they could trust.
Solution selling, B2B selling, was about personal relationships - prospects were buying trust first and product / services second. Sales people were "information providers" practicing "personal selling", gaining trust to make decisions easier for the prospect.
Very early into the new millennium there was a paradigm shift.
There was increased competition in just about every product, service and market sector you can name (B2B and B2C). There was more choice than ever. The Internet and increased competition drove prices down (and margins!). More sophisticated solutions had more impact (negative and positive) across entire organizations. Now, with more information more readily available, multiple decision makers were becoming more involved in more decisions. Enterprise selling was the order of the day and "the Internet changes everything" rang only too true.
Many salespeople, hitherto successful salespeople who had been using traditional 'tried and trusted' solution-selling skills, found themselves struggling in this new enterprise environment.
Then, in the late 2000's the market place was turned upside down.
Globally, there was a low growth environment. There was considerable cost scrutiny applied to just about any purchase for anything. Organizations were barely buying necessities, let alone niceties. Simultaneously, social media started gathering real momentum, putting information and tools at the fingertips of buyers.
This meant that buyers did not need to engage with salespeople to get information. They did not need to build a simple, trusting relationship with a salesperson to make a wise decision. They merely jumped online and asked their peers what they thought. When they finally called in the salesperson, the decision was nearly made. The buyer - seller engagement was for the purpose of, literally or figuratively placing the order.
For more complex purchases the customer still wanted a relationship with the salesperson but not simply one where they trusted the salesperson for good information. They wanted advice and input from the relationship; they wanted a problem solver. They wanted the salesperson to challenge and contribute, not simply present solutions and offer choices. The salespeople who emerged and had enjoyed success during the recession and into the second decade of the millennium were professionals who had gained insider status and built symbiotic relationships (the customer and the salesperson can't live without each other). They were the professionals who created demand for what they sold; they didn't simply service demand.
These professionals, whom we call "Power Base Sellers", not only delivered value but they delivered unexpected value - value that the customer did not realize was attainable.
They created and executed strategies that ethically, quickly and professionally differentiated their solutions from their competitors' in ways that benefited the customer, enabling those customers to make faster, more beneficial decisions. Basically, the Power Base salespeople let the competition defeat themselves. In so doing, these salespeople did not just build relationships, they delivered personal value to their contacts (the decision makers and the decision influencers) that gave those contacts a (positive) political advantage, often advancing personal agendas and careers.
So, has selling changed? For many people it has not but buying has changed considerably. So, sales folks who have not changed with the times are getting left behind. How you sell has to change. Your competitive advantage has to come from how you sell, not what you sell.
OK but in plain language, has selling changed? Yes, it has. Buyers want an advisor who will solve problems, not an information provider who can offer options. In short, they want 'Power Base Salespeople'.
In my next blog, I will talk more about Power Base Selling and how you can develop your sales technique in this direction.
Interesting situation with a sales team I am coaching at the moment. They have been taught to find the technical, business and personal pain - exactly the right thing to do. Recently on a particular campaign they were finding the people they were approaching had "no pain".
When we dug down into what their solution actually did we found they delivered benefits that could be "of gain" - not just "address a pain". So when their prospects were saying everything is great we don't have any problems our client was able to put forward arguments to make them "even more productive", "even more efficient", "free up even more staff".
Sounds obvious but with careful positioning and good questioning skills "the pain" became not taking advantage of "the gain".
Just when you are expecting the order the competition side swipe you by being politically aligned with the decision makers, unfortunately you were speaking to the wrong people - has this ever happened to you?
Time and time again we see sales and business development people doing a great job at presenting their products, services and solutions but sadly they are doing a great job with the wrong people. They are in their comfort zone - talking with IT and technical people, administrators, HR folks - everyone except the "line of business managers" who own the business problem that their solution addresses.
Understand the Power Base (the people in the organization making and / or influencing decisions about purchasing what you are selling) and get people other than technical and operations people voting for you.
So get out of your comfort zone - identify the people in the business that own the business problem and contact them too. Not about technology but about what you can do for them from a business and personal perspective.
I recently gave a key note speech about business development - "The Anatomy of an Enterprise Sale". I wrapped up the speech with 13 (unlucky for some) key questions you should ask yourself about your business development activity, lots of people liked these - they are great reminders!
- Are you planning to fail or failing to plan
- Are you consciously using all your skills or running on autopilot?
- Are you confusing activity with results?
- Are you becoming too dependent too few prospects, solutions, markets and customers?
- Are you giving your prospects a good reason to meet you?
- Are you qualifying your opportunities objectively or are you kidding yourself?
- Are you offering a solution that is a nicety or a necessity?
- Are you talking to all the right people - decision influencers and decision makers?
- Are you mapping the political landscape?
- Are you winning support from the right people?
- Are you differentiating your offer only on price?
- Are you submitting a proposal or is it really a quote?
- Are you really asking for the order?