Disclosure: Not everything in sales or buying has changed. There are plenty of fundamentals still effective and useful. The idea that everything has changed is largely the result of people believing and pursuing the idea that everything must be disrupted, mostly through technological solutions. In the future, we will recognize these changes were evolutionary at best and at worst, unoriginal and derivative. However, the evolution continues to include and transcend what came before.
From Transactional to Truly Consultative
Most approaches being used are now more transactional than they once were. The traditional "solution sell" still holds some of its power, even though marketing and product leaders have commoditized the discovery call by insisting that salespeople start with "why us," followed by a question about a problem, followed by an explanation on exactly why their solution is perfect. At one time, this approach was novel, but now that it has been pursued for four decades, it feels like a transaction.
As much as I wish it wasn't so, as I want every salesperson to succeed, the new fundamental is a consultative approach. This is not a disruption, it's the natural evolution of clients needing more help from the salesperson as it pertains to changing and how they should improve their results. The ability to be consultative, which means providing counsel, advice, and recommendations is now fundamental.
From Acquiring Information to Transferring Insights
Most salespeople believe that the discovery call is one in which they ask their client questions to acquire the information they need to help their prospective client improve their results. But acquiring the information the salesperson needs isn't by itself enough to create the value clients increasingly need to move forward.
A truly consultative approach is one in which the salesperson helps their client experience the "aha moment," that indicates they have learned something about their situation, providing them with a new set of assumptions, new potential, and new approaches to improving their results. An approach that asks questions that cause the client to learn something is now a fundamental of consultative sales. This evolution may not have occurred without so many salespeople selling solutions and stacking up the experience to be capable of teaching their clients.
From the Linear Sales Process to Agility and Leadership
It's difficult to see the trend lines that eventually resulted in the death of the linear sales process, which is worth pursuing if you can make it work. There is an order of a conversation that does seem to do things in a way that makes sense. However, a lot of companies have more trouble pursuing change than they are used to. The trouble trying to keep the sales conversation between the lines, the more there is a reason to evolve an approach that produces results.
I wrote The Lost Art of Closing to provide a structure that allows the salesperson to exercise control of the sales conversation—even when your prospective clients move past conversations to pursue others, eventually needing to go back to the conversation that might have been more helpful had they had it earlier. The two fundamentals are the agility to pivot and the ability to lead the client.
From Presentations to Collaboration and Consensus
One of the best things about solution selling was the stage in the process where you proposed your solution. As more stakeholders found themselves in meetings about change, they vocalized their needs and concerns, making it difficult for the standard solution to work for every person and every department. What should have been a yes or no answer is now a conversation about the adjustment the client needs to move forward.
A lot of our conversation about the right change is now a collaboration, with lots of "nice-to-haves," followed by "must-haves," chased by "this won't work for us." Much of these conversations end with something customized enough that it works for the company and most of the stakeholders. It seems as if the larger the deal, the more stakeholders get to weigh in on any decision. In certain scenarios, collaboration and consensus are fundamentals.
Not Nothing Has Changed. Not Everything Has Changed.
It's a mistake to believe that everything in sales has changed. It's also an error to believe that everything in the buyer's world has changed. But if you nod in agreement with those two statements, then you must also agree that not nothing has changed either.
It is rare to find a human endeavor with only one way to produce a certain outcome, including B2B sales. However, a strong belief there is only one right way means that when you fail to produce the result you want, you are out of options, and accept that you failed. What's worse is believing that something you are not familiar with is not right and that you must avoid it completely. This is the same as buying a toolbox and outfitting it with only a single hammer.
You want your toolbox to offer several tools that would allow you to achieve your desired result. If an older tool still gets the job done, so be it. But when the tool is no longer adequate for its intended purpose, it's certain there is a new tool to replace it. The only way to become fluid in the different scenarios you encounter day-to-day is to be willing to try something new and putting what works into your repertoire.