Occasionally, I am challenged on my belief that sales has evolved—and it continues to. I often hear something like, “The old ways still work.” There are things that should not be lost, but sales methodologies are not among them.
Sales methodologies evolve as a direct response to buyers and decision-makers. Many of these approaches emerge as salespeople engage with contacts they are trying to win. When something doesn’t work, salespeople try something new. Only later do the strategies become a methodology.
See the Sales Leader Guide: ”How to Choose a B2B Sales Methodology.”
Every sales methodology is uniquely developed to address what buyers need in the existing environment, so as the business world changes, the sales methodology must change in response. Suggesting salespeople should stick to an approach designed for a pre-internet environment is about as logical as traveling from Vermont to San Diego by horse and carriage. We are in the third decade of the 21st century.
Over time, everything degrades and dissolves. Entropy is the nature of our universe. Removing what was makes room for something new. There are, however, some things that have properties that allow them to endure.
A Set of Principles That Endure
Principles that endure do so because they retain their effectiveness in all times, regardless of the external environment. These principles are worth adopting and practicing, no matter what you sell.
Honesty and Integrity
In all times and under any circumstances, honesty is a principle that should be the foundation of your sales approach. Always tell the truth, even if it will cause you to lose a deal. It’s the truth at any price, even the price of a deal.
Integrity includes honesty, and the definition also suggests morality. Telling the truth is only one part of integrity. A salesperson that pads their expense account may tell the truth to a client while stealing from their company.
An Other Orientation
Once, salespeople were primarily self-oriented. Sadly, some still suffer from this malady, which prevents them from winning deals. Changes in the number of competitors in every industry, made it easier for buyers to buy from a salesperson focused on helping them.
Let’s call this what I called it in The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need: caring. This principle allowed salespeople to remove the conflict that stemmed from earlier, self-oriented approaches that allowed them to be pushy.
There were salespeople more concerned about selling their product or service than helping the client with the results they needed. This is another way that modern sales have evolved. Even though I have a different view of how salespeople should elicit the client’s problem, buyers need help solving their problems. This is true regardless of whether your discovery relies on traditional methods or a modern approach designed to create value in the sales conversation.
These principles and many more are worth retaining and practicing.
Evolving Sales Methodologies
Sales methodologies lose their effectiveness. The degradation comes from changes in the environment that causes buyers to need something different from salespeople.
Pursuing a large client in Cincinnati, my contact commanded, “You can put your laptop away. You won’t need it.” I was dumbstruck, and countered, “I believe the slides will help you understand what we do.” My contact continued, “I have a list of questions, if you answer them right, I am going to sign a contract.” I left with the contract. It wasn’t too much later when a friend had the same experience.
Leaving Legacy Approaches
The legacy approaches comprised several fear-based strategies. Some approaches took advantage of information disparity by withholding information that might prevent a sale. Legacy sales approaches were not consultative at all, the exception being the pioneering Mack Hanan’s Consultative Selling.
To be fair, this approach that you and I might criticize worked in the time it was created. However, it is inadequate in this environment. At some point the pressure and tie-downs were certain to fail due to external pressures. Try using these strategies today and you need to update your resume.
Solution selling eventually overtook the legacy approaches. It popularized a more consultative sales approach that created more value for buyers and decision-makers. This improved professional B2B sales. There are principles here that should be retained.
Because marketers, aided by product managers, hijacked this approach, salespeople were taught and trained to use a “Why Us” slide deck in a first meeting, like the one many of us used successfully for many years. To test this approach, open a slide deck and explain that you will spend 20 minutes sharing the history of your company and what makes you so great. A second meeting will be difficult as your contact is now hiding in the witness protection program.
The Modern Sales Approach
In this time, we have had to address what buyers need by evolving new, more effective methodologies. Buyers need more help and an increasingly consultative approach. Even though we have more information than ever, and even though that should be a good thing, it often isn’t.
The overwhelming amount of information makes it difficult for buyers to educate themselves sufficiently to make a decision. Providing the information they need requires a One-Up salesperson, one that has the knowledge and experience to make sense of the decision and how best to improve their results.
You might have had a single decision-maker, but now you have many more people engaged in the decision-making around a change. This not only makes selling more difficult for salespeople, but it’s also equally difficult for your contacts.
The modern approaches are built on creating value for the contacts in the sales conversation. Value creation here has nothing to do with your solution. Instead, it is about helping the client acquire the information, counsel, advice, and recommendations, See Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative.
Enduring Principles and Changing Sales Methodologies
The rate of change in our current environment will result in a need to stay true to the enduring principles while changing sales methodologies. This is nothing new, as we have been adjusting to our environment since the dawn of time.
The enduring principles will still have an important role when it comes to how we sell. The changes of our methodologies will allow us to practice a sales methodology that increases the salesperson’s effectiveness.