Are your sales strategies, processes, and skills stuck in the wrong era?
The businesses we sell to, the problems we solve, and the solutions we offer have evolved tremendously in the past 50 years. This raises a few questions: "Can you, as a salesperson, a manager, or an organization, effectively compete in today's market?" The fact is, a high percentage of salespeople and the organizations they work for haven't kept pace with this evolution.
We're living and working in a time we will refer to as "the third era of selling." Understanding the history of this evolution is an important factor to moving forward into Era 3. So let us step back with you for a moment.
We went back and surveyed from a historical perspective what literature there was on the subject of selling and sales, and found that sales, unlike most other functions in the modern corporation, didn't really have much of a "history." At least, nobody studied and wrote about selling in the same way that they studied and wrote about Marketing, Logistics, Quality, Operations, or General Management. Even Purchasing has a longer academic pedigree than Sales.
We figured that the best way to find a window on the history of selling was to look at the evolution of sales training. This involved studying quite a mass of collected material; training manuals, articles, recordings, brochures, and books. We found the material could be sorted into three main related piles, piles representing what we will call Era 1, Era 2, and Era 3 of selling.
The earliest material in the Era 1 pile dated from the early 1950s. A reviewer today would characterize the titles of some of the books in that pile as somewhere between na´ve and appalling: The Customer Who Can't Say No!, Sizzlemanship!!, and the ever-popular, 1001 Power Closes!!! But the skills just under the surface were both subtle and sophisticated. This was the era of the sales script ("Just tell me where to go and what to say when I get there."). The agenda was purely the seller's agenda, and the seller's agenda was to get the customer to do what he (and in some few cases, she) wanted the customer to do. The role of the Era 1 salesperson was that of persuader. The training focused almost exclusively on three areas: presenting, handling objections, and of course, closing. The skills were grounded in stimulus-response and compliance theories. Look at closing techniques, for example. If you strip away the exclamation marks, Era 1 techniques are based on the proven psychology of scaled commitments, reciprocation, compliant behavior of similar others, cues of legitimate authority, and cues of scarcity and friendship.
Era 1 still thrives in a few niches today (telemarketing and the used-car lot come to mind), but as an approach it has thankfully run out of gas. Why? Basically, customers caught onto the Win/Lose scam and developed defense mechanisms that salespeople even today (regardless of their orientation) have to cope with. Era 1 was replaced by an emphasis on a new set of skills, and by a new—and more enlightened—point of view about the role of the salesperson.