This past week, in New York, I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Mack Hanan. Mack is the author of Consultative Selling, originally published in 1970. Whenever I’m in New York, Mack and I get together to talk about the state of the profession. I started my sales career in the late 70’s. In that time, so much has changed, yet so much has stayed the same.
- Customers were busy then–they are still very busy. Though, in reality, I do think they are busier today than in the late 70’s. Continued cutback’s, the “leaning” of organizations, fewer resources–in hindsight, things are much busier now. But it sure felt busy then.
- Customers suffered from information overload then–they suffer from information overload now. Walking into offices in the late 70’s, one would see piles of papers, unread reports piling up, urgent items piled into in-boxes. Today we see the same, except it’s all electronic. Again, in hindsight, the volume of information is much higher–yet the availability of sophisticated tools is much more much higher than before. Despite information overload, both then and now, finding quality information and insight was and is difficult.
- We were constantly challenged by new competition. For me, selling for IBM in the late 70’s, upstarts like Digital Equipment (RIP), Wang (RIP), Oracle, Amdahl (RIP), and others were coming up every year. Today, the names have changed, but there is always new competition.
- People didn’t want to see sales people then, people don’t want to see sales people now……
I could go on. It seems the more things have changed, the more they are the same. We have new tools–enabling us to do good and unproductive things at the speed of light. These tools, all cynicism aside, do offer great potential in helping sales people be more productive, to engage customers in new and compelling ways. But just as any tool, to use them effectively, we have to have mastered the fundamentals. Without this, the tools allow us to aggravate our prospects and customers at the speed of light.
Mack and I spoke about the state of selling. When he wrote “Consultative Selling, ” Mack argued for a change in focus—stop pitching products, stop competing on prices, start looking at what your customer needs. Focus on understanding their business, focus on how you can help them identify new opportunities, focus on how you can help them make or save money. At the same time, Neil Rackham, Robert Miller, Stephen Heiman, and others were talking about similar consultative, solutions, and customer focused approaches to selling.
Today, we’re still talking about the same thing–I write, hundreds of others write about being customer focused, about focusing on how our customers’ buy, looking at how we create value, looking at how we might be provocative. We’re saying the same thing–we have 3 decades more evidence about the need to do this—and three decades more of talking about the same thing, yet making little progress in executing consultative approaches to selling.
I’ve seen some progress, many organizations are more customer focused in their sales approaches, but still too many sales people have such a long way to go. The profession is progressing, but it seems the level of distrust and impatience our buyers have with sales people is outpacing this progress.
- So rather than getting on my soapbox and pontificating, I’m anxious to get your views.
- What’s changed about selling (other than the tools), what’s stayed the same?
- What progress has been made in being more consultative, customer and solutions focused? Why isn’t it more pervasive? What keeps us from moving forward?
- What progress have we made in the last 5-10-20-30 years? What’s the outlook for the future?
- What will be be talking/writing about in 5 years? Will it be more of the same or will the conversation change?
I’m really interested in your views!