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Is Your Sales Process Obsolete?

There’s a revolution going on in the field of sales process, and you need to know about it, because the companies that are in the vanguard are about to kick the living daylights out of firms clinging to the same old, same old.

Let me explain.  For years, sales organizations have visualized sales process as a series of steps that the sales rep makes in order to move the sale forward through the pipeline, like so:

  • Step #1. Engage customer.
  • Step #2. Investigate needs.
  • Step #3. Present a product.
  • Step #4. Demonstrate the product.
  • Step #5. Propose a purchase.
  • Step #6. Negotiate terms.
  • Step #7. Answer objections.
  • Step #8. Close the deal.

Sound familiar?  You may be using a process like this and find that it works for you.  Nevertheless, if you actually listen to your customers, they’ll tell you that your process is making it more difficult for them to buy from you. And if a competitor gets in the door with the right kind of sales process, your relationship with that customer will probably be toast.  Here’s why.

The traditional “vendor-centric” sales process is based upon a set of assumptions about customers that made sense before the Internet, but which now are nearly meaningless:

Obsolete Assumption #1.  The customer will meet with you.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s harder than ever to get a customer meeting. Time was when you didn’t have to use complicated strategies to get an appointment.  The reason it’s harder to get appointment is that, in today’s business environment, most white-collar workers (and middle managers especially) are expected to do the work of two or even three employees.  Shrinking staffs have improved productivity, but the sad truth is that, in most cases, if a customer has time to meet with you, that customer isn’t important enough to make a decision, and may not even be important enough to get you a meeting with somebody who can.  This is not to say that top sales pros can't get a meeting with a decision-maker.  They can, but it's a lot harder than it was 20 years ago.

Obsolete Assumption #2. The customer needs information about your product.  Back in the day, the main value of the sales pro was the ability to present specialized knowledge about products and how they could meet customer needs.  In today’s wired up world, the customer can not only find out about your product, and your competitor’s products, but can probably find a detailed price comparison, by the time you walk from the main entrance to the customer's cubicle.  Once again, any customer who’s too dumb to know that everything is on the Web or too dumb to find it, probably isn’t going to be making decisions more important than whether the mail should be filed alphabetically or not.

Obsolete Assumption #3. The sales rep's job is to “sell to” the customer.  This is most pernicious myth of all, because it wasn’t true in the past and it’s even less true now.  Customers may need to, and be willing to, pay for something in order to achieve a result, but customers hate hate hate being “sold” to.  There’s a reason that millions of people automatically assume (until proven otherwise) that a sales pro will be pushy and arrogant.  It’s because there are millions of sales pros in this world who visual selling as something that you “do to” a customer, not something that you “do for” a customer. 

These deeply flawed assumptions are at the core of the standard sales process, which encourages sales behaviors that customers used to tolerate (because there wasn’t an alternative) but every day become less willing to suffer.

Needless to say, I’ll be revisiting this topic very soon, because there is a better way.  For now, I’ll leave you with this hint: the sales process should match the way that the customer wants to buy -- not the way you'd like to sell.

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