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How is it that professional salespeople—people who spend a good amount of their time helping clients change—refuse to change to improve their own work? We’ve all gotten frustrated with clients who won’t make the internal changes they need to improve their results, but too often we repeat that mistake when it comes to our own sales results. That’s a glaring “performative contradiction,” or in simpler terms, hypocrisy.

This hypocrisy is especially harmful now, as buyers and decision-makers need a completely different level of help from salespeople than they did 50 years ago. Yet most salespeople practice ancient approaches that repel prospective clients at worst, and at best bore their contacts with a commoditized experience that creates little value.

business woman pushing away documents

Good for Thee but Not for Me

One of my clients has a logo that includes the year the company was founded. They’ve been around for more than a century now, with consistent growth and success. When I mentioned their long history, though, my contact grumbled, "And we still do everything like it was one hundred years ago."

When something works, it’s natural to want to keep doing it. But this habit removes the possibility of uncovering a better way, one that would improve your results. A large part of the reluctance to change is that when you believe that what you do and how you do it is the key to your success, it's difficult to imagine something better. Over time, it’s easy to assume that there’s only one right way to do something—a belief that causes salespeople to preach change but never practice it.

The Way We've Always Done It

A very small number of salespeople and sales leaders know the true age of their go-to strategies and tactics. Many of their approaches are over five decades old, featuring strategies and tactics mostly based on the fear of losing a deal. These approaches are not made for the complexity of our current environment.

You would be uncomfortable driving an automobile five decades old. You'd miss the power steering, the power brakes, the backup cameras—and forget about streaming your iPhone through the AM radio! But that is what most salespeople and sales organizations do to their clients, using a legacy approach at odds with what decision-makers want and need from the salespeople that call on them.

Here is an example that is easy to recognize. The legacy approaches to sales begin with the prospective client being already compelled to change by a problem they are experiencing. Building on this assumption, you must qualify the prospective client to determine whether they have a budget, the authority to sign a contract, a need, and a time by which they need the new result. This is a transactional view of selling that comes with an airtight guarantee: you will alienate your prospective client by making their first experience nothing less than awful.

bored business woman

Believing that your current approach is the best will cause you to miss the inflection points that call for new strategies and tactics. Like your clients, you might fear the unknown more than the problems with your known (but weak) approach. But until and unless you’re willing to change, you’ll never know what might work much better.

What If You Didn't Know What You Know?

Imagine that you have never worked a single day in B2B sales—your professional slate is wiped clean, for better or worse. On your first day, your sales manager sits you in front of two doors. Behind the first door is a sales training program approaching its sixtieth birthday. A lot of the senior leaders were trained using these approaches, which is why they are still around. Behind the second door is a modern approach to sales that responds directly to your clients’ needs and seeks to provide them more and more value.

standing in front of two doors, choice metaphor

Even with no practical knowledge of sales, you’d likely choose the modern approach—the one that will prepare you to succeed in your new role. There is a possibility, however, that you’d choose the older door, hoping that it would earn you points with your senior leaders. The truth is the senior leaders will like you if you succeed. Besides, none of them will join you on a sales call, so they’ll never know how (or whether) your approach differs from the ones they learned back when they wore parachute pants.

Removing the Reluctance to Change

Thought experiments like that are a great way to deal with reluctance to change. The greatest management thinker, Peter Drucker, used to ask business leaders if they would start the business they were in if they could do it all over again. To remove the reluctance to change, ask yourself what you would do if you had to start over.

You and I are not so different from our clients. We develop habits supported by past beliefs instilled (or installed) in us, making it difficult for us to change. One of the primary outcomes of the modern sales approach is a paradigm shift that allows clients to break from their past and move towards better future results. If you haven’t yet experienced that shift in your own work, you may not recognize just how much the current sales environment differs from the past.

Whatever your reason, a reluctance to change results in a lack of relevance and a lack of effectiveness. If you’re not yet convinced it's time to change your approach, keep reading this blog and do a little research on your own.

Post by Anthony Iannarino on March 7, 2022

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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