As our environment continues to change at a blistering pace, few salespeople and sales organizations can keep up with new models for buying and selling. Part of the problem is that many of these people are unaware just how much buying has changed in the past twenty years.

These new buying approaches require new sales approaches, which in turn call for new competencies and new skills. While things like initiative, resourcefulness, communication skills, and accountability will always be important, modern sales is qualitatively different. It’s no longer enough to master the old methods and the old models, especially in terms of what you sell.

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From Products to Solutions to Outcomes

The further back you look, the more salespeople sold products and services. The salesperson's role was to create demand by explaining the product, differentiating themselves based on the stability of their company and on the product’s features, benefits, and advantages. The approach was right for its environment, but eventually became inadequate to a changing environment.

As clients and customers needed more help producing results, the approach changed. Salespeople sought to provide a greater level of value by creating "solutions," helping their clients use what they sold to solve specific problems they were experiencing. The solution selling approach became how the vast majority of sales organizations sold, regardless of industry.

However, solution selling is now a commoditized approach that companies find inadequate: fewer reps make their quota, more deals end with a "no decision," and more buyers avoid salespeople until they have to engage them. The struggle we have producing results in sales is found in these symptoms, but the root cause is the legacy approaches that don't provide prospective clients what they need to change and produce the better results they need.

Whenever an approach no longer creates sufficient value through the sales conversation, the conversation must change to provide what decision-makers and decision-shapers need. In the same way, salespeople must recognize and address these new needs, along with the new roles they must fill. Creating value today requires a truly consultative approach, one built on insights, experience, and expertise in areas outside of products and solutions. The new salesperson must speak to outcomes, a monumental leap into the future.

On the Nature of Compelling Change

I am grateful to have spent most of my sales career in a highly commoditized and competitive industry, one subject to the ebbs and flows of the economic environment. When the economy was booming, my competitors and I had an abundance of opportunities. When the economy faltered, opportunities were scarce.

These forces combined to demand that every salesperson learn to compel change in order to create and win deals. When you sell a commodity, you see, it borders on impossible to credibly differentiate your product, service, or your solution. Instead, you have to lead a sales conversation that creates greater value and compels your client to change, by explaining the trends and forces forming the root cause behind your client's poor results. Simply identifying their problem is no longer an option.

The future sales competency is sense-making, expanding the skills historically required of salespeople. Salespeople must now be thinkers as well as talkers, exhibiting  curiosity, critical thinking, and the ability to recognize different perspectives, so they can tease apart their client’s narratives to provide understanding and new potential results.

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On the Nature of Certainty

One reason salespeople struggle to help their clients improve their results is that the complexity of the environment can make it difficult—and often impossible—to decide to change. One underappreciated change in buying is that your clients are less concerned with the certainty that your company is the right choice—especially early in the conversation—and more concerned with gaining the certainty they need to move forward.

The salesperson who creates the right certainty around interpreting and responding to the client’s environment, along with the negative consequences of not changing, has an advantage over one who believes their buyers just need to trust their company and believe that their solution will fix their problems.

The linear sales process has given way to agility and the concept of a facilitated, needs-based buyer's journey. Guiding your client’s decision-makers and other stakeholders through the buyer's journey requires social skills far greater than what might have suffice in simpler times for simpler sales. When there is no single buyer's journey but instead multiple buyer's journeys, agility and conversation are paramount. When there is no single decision-maker but whole rooms full of decision-makers, building consensus requires creating the certainty to move forward—and in the same direction.

If this sounds like science fiction, know that the future described here has actually been with us for at least two decades. Ignoring this reality won’t make it go away, and the longer you wait to adjust your approach and your competencies, the longer you’ll squander opportunities and produce worse outcomes.

If your sales approach isn't producing the results you need, consider you’re your wakeup call. Look closely at your methods and spend more time trying to recognize and respond to what your client needs from you. Strive to enable and support the change your clients need to make, especially by offering counsel, advice, and recommendations independent of your company, your products, or your solutions.

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Post by Anthony Iannarino on October 27, 2021
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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