I’ve written about this topic here in the past but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about modern methods of selling and figured it was time to update my thoughts.
Over the years, I have witnessed three phases of sales:
Sales 1.0: Pitching and objection handling. This is the old fashioned approach of ‘sell, sell, sell’ and ‘always be closing’. This is where a salesperson talks about themselves and their company and their product’s features and makes bold claims and defends their pitch by responding to objections. It’s selling with brute force. There are lots of salespeople still using this approach.
Sales 2.0: Consultative or solution selling. This is where a sales person focuses most of their time learning about a prospect’s business, asking questions, understanding the prospect’s challenges and problems and ‘what keeps them up at night’. The trick, of course, is that the answers to these scripted questions result in the prospect believing that they need the seller’s product to solve their problem. This is almost the exact opposite of Sales 1.0. The thinking is that the sale is not about the seller, it’s about the prospect and the prospect’s business. I’ve found that most people still believe this is the right way to sell.
Sales 3.0: Disruptive selling. With the emergence of the Challenger Sale, this approach is becoming more and more popular. With disruptive selling, a seller is basically saying this:
I don’t know much about your business, but I know a lot about the specific area that my product focuses on. And the way that you are currently addressing the problem that my product solves is completely inadequate. I’m not here to sell you something and I’m not here to ask a bunch of questions about your business. I’m here to challenge you on a very specific part of your business and to get you to think about it differently and change the context with which you think about it. I’m here to educate you and inspire you and move you. Again, I don’t know your business all that well but I do know this area much better than you do. I think about it all the time and I talk to your peers about it all the time. So I’m going to give you our perspective on it. If at any point you don’t think what I’m saying is interesting or don’t think that a partnership makes sense, please tell me and we’ll shake hands and I’ll leave. And if at any point I don’t think a partnership makes sense I’ll do the same. This is not a sale, it’s a discussion about an issue that is relevant to you and an opportunity to determine whether a partnership might make sense.
The seller likely wouldn’t say this so bluntly, but you get the idea.
Sales 3.0 is most frequently used in selling innovation, but from what I hear it’s becoming more popular across all industries. The world is incredibly complex. It’s simply not possible for an executive to understand and manage all aspects of their business perfectly. And that’s ok. And that’s why they need specialists (salespeople) that are super competent experts in their domain to challenge them aggressively on different aspects of their business. Increasingly, for salespeople, knowing the product (Sales 1.0) and knowing the customer (Sales 2.0) are commodities. That should be a given.
Salespeople should know everything about their domain: products, customers, competitors, trends, the history, the future. Everything. And then use that extreme expertise to challenge a prospect on that aspect of their business. With Sales 3.0, salespeople shouldn’t sell or ask a bunch of scripted questions. They should be interesting. They should give insights. They should have a point of view. They should influence. They should challenge. They should find authentic synergies.
And if authentic synergies aren’t there, they should leave.