Selling is dead (so what’s new?)

A number of discussions have recently appeared with titles like “do customers need sales people” and “should the word sales be removed from the business lexicon” which set me wondering; why the sudden change?

When you dig down into these articles some common threads emerge:

Buyers are a lot better informed:

The often quoted, and regularly disputed, suggestion that buyers are 57% through the buying process before they contact a sales person should come as no surprise.  The explosion of the internet and social media obviously make for more readily available, easily accessible information and hence more informed decisions.

Buyers don’t want to be sold to:

Yes and no; it depends on how you define selling.  If you define it as persuading/manipulating/conning an unsuspecting customer into taking something they neither want or need then absolutely yes.  But if we’re talking about helping customers reach an informed decision that delivers maximum value then of course buyers want to be sold to, who wouldn’t?  The thing is this isn’t new either, it’s more than 30 years ago that my sales manager told me “selling is about finding what the customer wants and helping them to get it”.

The majority of sales end in a ‘do-nothing’ decision:

One article I read suggested 60% of sales end in a do-nothing decision.  I can’t verify that number and it seemed remarkably high – until I thought back to my early days in IT sales, in the 1980’s, when no-decision was widely accepted as the outcome of two out of three sales campaigns.  Remarkably similar to the new statistic and again, it seems, nothing new.  Indeed, my former colleagues at Huthwaite International have trained strategies for handling late-cycle concerns for over 40 years.

So, if none of this is new, why are people talking about it now?  We’ve always known that the feature-dumper, once-a-month-coffee-meeter, talking brochure and/or order taker are not effective sales roles.  Or have we?  Sadly it seems these stereotypes of bad practice still proliferate and, for some, realisation has only just dawned.

So what’s the solution?

One simple question every sales person, and their manager, should ask every time they contact a customer or prospect; “How do I add value, for both the customer and my own organisation, in this interaction?”  If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be there.  Value creation, at every customer touchpoint, is the essence of sales success.  If sales people keep that front of brain and act on it consistently, selling has a long and very healthy life ahead of it.