Sales in the 21st Century – It’s Not About You!

There is an impression that the world of sales has suddenly changed, leaving most businesses out in the cold wondering what happened to their revenue. In actuality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you had been watching carefully, this was the inevitable conclusion of all that has come before. The fact that a few years ago we were calling it Sales 2.0, is a clue that this is a progression, not a spontaneous appearance. One thing that is true, sales looks nothing like it did 20, 10, or even 5 years ago.

There was a time – let’s call it the dark ages – when customers depended solely on a salesperson showing up in order to find out about new products. There was nowhere to go to find information on a product other than someone you knew or the salesperson. The Romans coined the term caveat emptor – buyer beware – to describe the state of affairs for the customer. The salesperson controlled the engagement. Customers had only the salesperson in front of them as a source of information – and maybe the only source of the product.

Technology, as it always does, drove changes in the sales/buying model. Improvements in transportation and communications allowed salespeople to increase their range. From the consumer side, options and choices begin to emerge as they have access to more salespeople. Trade shows and common markets were now feasible and side-by-side comparisons are suddenly possible. All things being equal, a smooth sales approach and a strong close suddenly provided an edge. More information was available to consumers, but they were still at the mercy of salespeople, many of whom were more interested in the competition than the customer. Initially mail, but later the telephone/fax, and finally the internet allowed consumers to begin to collect information and make informed decisions. It also allowed smaller vendors with better products to compete against behemoths who had both market and local presence. In the 20th century, the control of information rapidly shifted to the side of the consumer.

From this is born the professional sales approach. As an alternative to the traditional “Close anyone in front of me,” approach, the professional is trying to solve his customer’s problem – if he can. The professional qualifies the person in front of him as a potential buyer before wasting his – or the prospects – time. And he’s no longer afraid to send the business to a qualified partner who is willing to reciprocate as they both understand the power of their personal niche.

One way of looking at social media, is that it is a personalized view of the internet and the information therein. Considering the customer can now gather an almost infinite amount of information on products and industries without engaging anyone, it is not surprising they are looking for a personalized way of organizing this data. You need to provide your information in a format your consumer wants. Here the shift of power is complete. Where the salesperson once controlled all the access to information, now you are lucky to control a fraction of it.

This means sales now, unlike ever before, is a response-oriented task. Even when you are pitching a new product, it has to be about them. The 21st century consumer is inundated with advertising from all directions and has developed excellent filtering skills, but they know what they want. They have researched it, filed it, pinned it, linked it, friended it, plussed it, and perhaps soon glassed it.

Simply put, if you don’t talk about what they want, they won’t even be listening.

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