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Why I Teach the Oldest Sales Approach and Call It Modern

Discover how timeless wisdom and trusted advisors shape successful leadership and sales strategies, transcending centuries.

For all of human history, you will find stories of kings, pharaohs, and leaders who turned to trusted advisors. Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle. When Winston Churchill needed help getting America to join World War Two, he turned to Harry Hopkins, who was able to influence Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This pattern is unchanged through the ages, even in our stories. Think of Luke Skywalker being mentored by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Similarly, Harry Potter had a host of advisers.

Anything that lasts over centuries will last for many more centuries, something Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes as the Lindy Effect, the idea that if something endures, it is likely to continue for an equal amount in the future. Leaders have always sought people with expertise and authority to help them make and execute decisions. But we don’t tend to think of B2B sales as occupying this space, even though the pattern is clear: A leader, lacking the expertise to be certain they will succeed, relies on a person with the knowledge and experience to help shape their thinking about their decision-making. We describe this person as being One-Up.

Key Challenges Facing B2B Sales Strategies in Modern Times

For the last couple of decades, sales leaders and sales managers have turned to technology to improve their sales results, starting with the CRM and ending with artificial intelligence. The evidence in support of this approach has been disappointing. It seems there is a correlation between greater use of technology and poor KPIs. What’s more, at least when it comes to tech, buyers report that they don’t need the help of a salesperson and make decisions on their own.

Not too long after the introduction of the CRM, sales leaders and sales managers chose to believe that a linear sales process would allow every salesperson to reach their goals by checking off a set of outcomes at each opportunity stage. This too did little to improve sales results, with the good reps succeeding as they always had, and the less effective salespeople losing the same deals they would have lost with or without a paint-by-number approach, treating every client the same as every other.

The reason win rates are abysmal is that salespeople try to sell their solutions by asking the client to name a corresponding problem—without any concern about the client’s decision. These same non-consulting sales reps try to please their sales managers by trying to sell faster, a strategy that causes the client to look elsewhere for help with their change initiative.

Understanding the Two Archetypes of B2B Sales Professionals

There are two types of salespeople you find today. The first type is one we can describe as a “needs-something” salesperson. They need their prospective clients to give them an opportunity. Before they go to sleep, they pray that the main contact will move forward with them, eventually winning a deal. Unfortunately, this is how most salespeople sell, needing something from the client.

The second type of salespeople we can call a “knows-something” salesperson. This salesperson doesn’t need anything from their client, up to and including the client’s problems, their pain point, or any gap between their results and the better results they need. The direction of this conversation has the knows-something salesperson transferring their knowledge, experience, and insights that the client needs to make a rare decision, one they must get right on the first try.

If you are a sales leader or a sales manager, you may want to assess whether your sales approach is more Type 1: Needs-Something, or Type 2: Knows-Something. Without being able to see your list, I suspect you have more Type 1 than Type 2.

Leveraging Historical Successes for Future Sales Strategy Innovations

We are infected with neomania, an obsession with all things new. Much of the time, neomania ends badly because it is fragile. The longer something is around, the more stable it is. So while you are out chasing every shiny object that catches your eye or imagination, you are almost certainly wasting time and missing the deals you need to succeed.

You can win deals with a stack of index cards and a phone. You can also sell without all the accouterments you believe you need. You would be better off looking to the past for the key to influence. You may have read the popular book with a similar name, but true influence is found in people who have expertise and authority in their domain.

The concept of being One-Up suggests the salesperson has greater knowledge and expertise compared to their prospective clients. No client wants to buy from a person who is unable to help them learn what they need to know to make a confident decision with the certainty they will succeed.

The reason I teach salespeople the oldest sales approach and call it modern is that successful salespeople have sold for as long as anyone can remember. The idea that the salesperson is a trusted advisor would require that person to do the work to be able to sit next to their client, helping them think through their future and the change they will need to make, instead of pitching them your solution.

For a number of years, I have continued to implore you to prepare for a future where what we call One-Up will dominate deals, something they have been doing for a long time. These human algorithms are much older and more stable than the technological algorithms that dominate so much of our world. If you want to improve your sales results, look backward.


Sales 2024
Post by Anthony Iannarino on April 14, 2024

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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