I’ve spent the past couple of decades in the field of sales. I’ve been around long enough to have learned a few things and I’ve come to understand that experience can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes from the experiential knowledge that is gained from each sales engagement. The curse comes from getting comfortable and not recognizing when the game has changed.
Sales, like every profession, is radically different today than it was just a few years ago. Unfortunately, many companies have been slow to recognize the change and have failed to help their salespeople adjust to the new way - leaving companies and salespeople frustrated by disappointing results.
To understand what has changed, let’s look at how sales has evolved over the past 20+ years.
The Product Sales Approach era
To understand this era, all you have to do is watch the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” This film about a real estate sales office captures the common sales mindset during this era. Customers were targets to acquire. The focus was on closing deals and to be considered a good salesperson, you had to be a good closer. Salespeople were trained to close. In fact, closing techniques had names like; “Assumptive Close,” Take-away Close,” “Puppy Dog Close” and many others. As a salesperson, you were taught to manipulate your customer into buying your product or service.
Sales reps were “talking brochures” presenting the features and benefits of their product or service, ignoring the fact that their customers may not need their product or service. This sales approach resulted in the stereotype “pushy salesperson” that most of us try to avoid at all costs. Nobody likes the feeling of being “sold.” It implies that you were taken advantage of instead of being helped to make a decision that could improve your situation.
This approach worked because of one thing – customer ignorance! Consumers didn’t have access to enough information about alternative solutions in the marketplace. It was nearly impossible to compare products or services effectively. For a buyer to make an informed decision, they would have to engage in research on their own to find competitive products or services and then meet with the salespeople of these competitive products before making a decision. The decision was rarely based on good data, but typically based on who had the most compelling sales presentation.
Enter the Solution Sales era.
In the 1990s, companies began to realize that the “pushy salesman” approach wasn’t effective at developing long-term client relationships. Industries like technology and software required a more complex sales approach to effectively sell their solution. As the level of complexity increased, the need for a new sales methodology emerged and “Solution Sales” was born.
Salespeople could no longer lead with a presentation on the features and benefits of their product. Instead, they had to begin by asking questions to determine if there was a need for the solution they provided. The phrase “diagnose then prescribe” came to be the simplest explanation of the Solution Sales approach.
The ideal sales rep was someone who was skilled at asking questions to discover the needs of their prospective buyer. In this era, relationship-building skills were taught and promoted through the commonly-held belief that “people buy from people they know and like.” A salesperson needed to be good at discovering the need while building a relationship with their clients.
In the mid 2000s, everything changed with the ubiquitous adoption of the Internet as a source of rich information for commercial purposes. Today, much of the power has shifted from the companies selling their products or services to the buyers making the purchasing decision.
In the past, a salesperson may have been the first point of contact to introduce a product or service to a company. Today, the salesperson is often invited in as the final step of the purchasing process after the alternatives have been researched and the sellers are reduced to commodity providers.
Let’s look at how this shift in the balance of power impacts both customers and sellers.
The impact on buyers has been overwhelmingly positive and empowering. Access to information on nearly any product or service is available at the click of a mouse. Buyers can not only get detailed information on a company’s product or service, they can also get detailed information on the performance of that product or service from customers who have previously purchased and used the product.
However, this information does come with a cost – buyers no longer have an excuse for making a bad purchasing decision.
In the past, someone who had the responsibility of making a purchasing decision was limited in their access to information. Today, the same buyer has access to every competitive product or solution available.
The number one fear of customers today is to make a bad decision. There is no longer any excuse for making a bad purchasing decision. There is nowhere to hide.
The impact on salespeople of the information revolution has been gut-wrenching. Although a Solution Sales approach is much more effective in helping customers make purchasing decisions, it’s no longer enough. To be successful, you must go beyond identifying the customers’ needs for your solution. You have to go deeper. Today, the most successful salespeople identify what’s at stake for their clients. What are your customers risking to purchase your product or service?
It’s all about addressing risk first! In extreme cases, a buyer may lose their job if they make a bad purchasing decision. Typically, they have to assess the level of disruption to a business to implement a new solution. They need to know and understand the negative impact to their business if your product or service fails to deliver as promised.
Exceptional salespeople begin by seeking to understand what’s at stake for their clients. Once they understand the customer’s risk, they can help address the issue and help them overcome their fear of making a bad decision.
Salespeople who become skilled at identifying and addressing what’s at stake for their customers are significantly more successful than salespeople who don’t address this concern. While assessing risk is different than discovering the need for your product or service, they are not mutually exclusive.
To help you assess what’s at stake for your clients, we have developed a primer of questions to help you uncover what may be holding your prospects back from purchasing your product or service. If you would like to access this primer, click the button below to download your copy.