The internet has rendered many of the old best sales practices deadly.
This is not your daddy's sales call.
Sales books written before the internet went mainstream are in need of a serious update. A lot of sacred advice being passed down to new hires from their experienced managers is outdated. I'm not talking about behaviors such as hard work, perseverance and preparation. Those will never go out of style. I'm talking about all those Sales 101 rules about how to run a sales call – things like connecting with the buyer on a personal level, beginning with a needs analysis, keeping it simple, and talking less and listening more.
The good ol' days
I remember the good ol' days in advertising sales. There was no internet, so every media company owned their unique slice of consumer eyeballs. If a local business owner wanted to reach consumers in their community, they met separately with their trusted newspaper rep, TV rep, radio rep, outdoor rep and so on.
There was no immediate access to information or consumer feedback online, so a media salesperson almost always had the upper hand of knowing more about their product or service than the person they were selling to. Sales calls were events not to be rushed. The seller would establish credibility by highlighting their organization's years of service and then launch into a script of questions, which customers politely answered so that the seller could better communicate how their product might help. This was classic consultative selling.
When the job was done well, an agreement was signed. The signature was, in fact, an EVENT. It meant the sales professional had just secured a new, committed relationship and a reliable commission stream. Surely you remember those days. We sales professionals used to carry special pens just for those sweet signature moments.
Then the internet happened
First came paid search, then display ads. Then the web went mobile. Today, the smartphone adoption rate is seven times faster than our population growth. Most people don't get all of their news from their local paper or radio station. Not everyone watches movies in a theater or TV shows on set schedules.
The eyeballs have scattered across the internet. And when I say they've scattered, I mean like the Big Bang all over again. There are over 1.9 billion websites online and over 1.5 million unique apps in the Apple App Store alone. The average consumer is continually connected to and interacting with a web-enabled device. In the U.S., consumers are spending up to five hours a day on their mobile devices.
The result can be felt in virtually every industry. Bookshops and music stores have closed, newspapers have consolidated, brick-and-mortar retail locations are on the decline, the TV landscape has transformed, and the hits just keep on coming.
The altered sales climate
Somewhere during this online revolution, the sales climate and the average sales call evolved as well. Buyers stopped answering their phones. They delete your email if it looks sales-oriented. In most cases, they are receiving multiple pitches about the same type of solution, and usually that solution is technology-driven.
Buyers are also busier than ever, juggling an ever-evolving list of daily priorities. In the book "SNAP Selling," Jill Konrath refers to the current buyers' condition as Frazzled Customer Syndrome. They are impatient, easily distracted and demanding. Thanks to the internet, they have instant access to information and advice. Sales professionals are constantly being asked how their solution is different from everything else the buyer has heard about or experienced. The only truthful answer is often a technical one. Buyers have come to expect that they are buying technology they don't fully understand from sellers who are selling technology they also don't fully understand.
Advice for the modern seller
Today's sales process moves faster than ever, and buyers are skeptical. As a result, the keys to sales success go against much of the advice you have been taught for years.
Here are four pieces of advice that you may not get from your manager, but trust me, they are sound.
1. Get to the point.
The average buyer does not want to answer 10 minutes of questions upfront. They are busy, informed, and have multiple options. Your prospect has sat through too many sales pitches that sound too similar. They need to know what you do and how you are different before they will be comfortable talking about themselves. Try to forge an immediate personal connection like the old days and watch your buyer politely protest.
Instead, move the punchline up front and be prepared to support it with a demo, report or branded case study. If you succeed in differentiating your solution quickly, your prospect will voluntarily invest time in a needs analysis. This goes against every book ever written on consultative selling, but unfortunately, no one wants to be sold anything anymore. The sales process has inverted – it's now consultative buying.
2. Stop watering down the message.
"Keep it simple." "Don't make it too complicated." "They don't need all that detail."
I have heard these statements repeated by so many sales managers. Everyone is scared that a buyer won't purchase something they don't understand fully, because that's the way it has always been. But if you are in the trenches, you have seen this change dramatically. Our brains have been rewired in a technology-driven world to believe that newer equals better, a specialist is better than a generalist, and most great advancements in our lives will be things we don't fully understand.
When the iPhone 7 was released, millions of people instantly felt their iPhone 6 was old technology. Every year, new televisions come out with some innovative liquid, 3D, curved, quantum-pixel something. When you go to purchase a new phone or TV, you expect the seller to understand these advancements completely, and to share them with you even though you might not understand every detail.
The modern buyer is intrigued by what they don't understand if it's innovative, credible and easy to test. So, go ahead and melt their noodle the next time a prospect asks a question that demands a technical response. Don't treat them like the truth is too complicated for them. That pandering approach has killed a lot of sales.
3. Study a lot!
Every salesperson has been asked a question they could not answer on the spot. Back in the day, you could politely explain that you didn't know the answer and would get back to them shortly. As the world gets more competitive and buyers get more frazzled, the margin of forgiveness is shrinking. An increasing percentage of buyers do not want to waste their time speaking with you if you can't answer their questions. They don't have time for a series of meetings or calls. In fact, there are two things modern buyers expect when they ask questions: radical candor and credible answers.
If you lose credibility or waste someone's time, your sale is dead. Most salespeople know this. This is why most fight and claw to get a manager or sales engineer with them on every call. We all agree sales training is important, but if you want to be a great salesperson today, then you better be a subject matter expert too.
4. Remember the real sale – the one after the sale.
Remember that signature event that signaled a new committed partnership? Well, now the time to celebrate is after a successful test.
Your buyer likely did not have time to engage in a massive mutual vetting exercise. They will ask how your company is different. If the answer is credible, they will ask how easily they can test your solution. If the testing process is fast and painless, then you get a signature.
The rush to test is because today, people prefer to buy through experience. They often try a subset of your product portfolio for an abbreviated timeframe, and the sale is made or lost within this initial engagement. Buyers are evaluating performance, service, communication, billing, reporting, ease of use and more. If you succeed in landing recurring revenue via this experiential vetting, then you will earn the right to discuss expansion of products. Partnerships are now forged out of this "land and expand" model. Today, the sale after the signature is the real sale.
The bottom line for businesses
The internet and the explosive growth of web-connected mobile devices have rapidly changed our lives and, in turn, challenged many of the sales world's age-old best practices. Businesses have to keep up. To succeed, they must produce highly intelligent, resource-rich subject matter experts. Once you accept this, it will influence your hiring, training, go-to market strategy, and how you build recurring revenue streams. Welcome to the revolution!