Sales: Eternal Art or Evolving Science?

Last Updated Feb 25, 2009 12:03 PM EST

Some people believe that selling is the same today as it was a hundred years ago -- an eternal art. Others believe that selling is constantly adapting to new market conditions -- an evolving science. What do you believe?

A reader recently wrote (as a comment to the post "9 Questions to Ask Before Presenting"):

'New' Sales Truths from As Far Back as Claude Hopkins get repeated again. Or, Scientific Advertising notwithstanding, bring it from the 1920's to the 1970's in Elmer Wheeler's "Sell the Sizzle not the Steak" or Frank Boetgetter (sp) "How I raised myself from Failure to Success Through Selling" or Brian Tracy or Zig Ziglar or...
Isn't it amazing how many times we in business fall down to worship at the feet of the latest guru who, again, tells us to "Sell the benefits, not the features? Even Stephen Covey implored us to "Seek to understand, then seek to be understood" and he wasn't a sales trainer (at least as we know them). After 35 years of watching and participating in the business marketplace, it is downright fascinating how things repeat themselves!
I'm not sure how many sales professional are falling on their feet and worshiping anybody, but the commenter's point is well taken. A lot of sales training seems recycled from stuff that we've all heard dozens of times in the past.

Even so, I think that sales technique is evolving, because I am seeing it evolve, in real time, as the result of the Internet. Fifteen years ago, the hottest thing in sales technique was "consultative" selling, with all its emphasis on asking questions and discovering problems to solve.

While I believe that the consultative sales model still works in most cases, I can already see a new kind sales paradigm evolving as the result of social networking on the Internet.

In many of today's selling situations, the buyer and seller are already so aware of each other's businesses and business models that it would boring and non-productive to waltz through the traditional consultative selling routine. Instead, the two have a "meta-conversation" about the possibility of deal and whether there is the basis for a long-term partnership.

While there are aspects to that kind of situation that can be encapsulated in old-style sales training, I would maintain that the required behaviors and training are significantly different. For example, in today's B2B world, both buyer and seller must wield some level of executive power in order to make the negotiations work. And that, IMHO, is significantly different from the traditional consultative model and worlds away from the "peddling" model.

Anyway, that's what I think. How about you? Here's a poll, but feel free to comment: