The world of professional selling has changed. In a connected, information rich world, the sales process has been turned inside out. The ‘hard sell’ is long gone. Today, decision makers know all about sales people. They avoid them by using technology in order to make it more difficult to reach them, i.e. by using voicemail. Think about it: do you like receiving cold calls in the evening when you are at home?
I spent five years as a quota bearing salesperson in central London, when I was in my twenties. My sales career started with Rank Xerox and I spent time at their UK sales training centre in Newport Pagnell. In those days, we were sent out in pairs to bang on doors and ask for compliments slips. This was even more fun when it snowed. We would ask for the name of the office equipment buyer and write down their name (having taken our gloves off). We would then return to the office, call the numbers on the compliment slips and try and get appointments. I was subsequently a coach on the Solution Selling sales training programme. I travelled around the UK and Europe helping to train IT companies in the use of this system.
The problem is that 97% of people in any given market are not looking to buy your product today. So, if you go hunting and are lucky enough to get a response from a decision maker, the overwhelming probability is that they will tell you go away and die (or, if they are middle class: “send me a brochure / send my assistant some information by email.”)
The organisations I work with adopt a pull, not a push, marketing methodology. They package relevant, interesting, timely and useful information and continually present this to the market place. The magic 3% as well as those who are leaning towards the 3% read, listen and watch this information in order to learn about the product or service in question. When they are ready to buy, they contact you, not vice versa.
It takes a considerable amount of thought in order to get sufficient numbers of customers to willingly reveal themselves and engage with the brand. Within an increasingly sophisticated digital economy, much of this work is done online. Smartphones, for example, have become ubiquitous. Have you noticed that many people, especially the young, have them permanently stuck to their hands? (Perhaps this is due to an unfortunate accident with a tube of superglue?) Mobile phones have become an extension of our brains. They can answer virtually any question that we ask them, including the price and availability of many goods and services. Yes, I know that you can’t currently ask Google to quote you for a sophisticated IT system, or for many B2B services and other things. However this will all come, as the machines get smarter.
In the future, who will do the selling? Partly, it will be done by computers using algorithms, voice recognition, chatbots and AI. They will be used to answer questions, organise virtual demonstrations and put together tailored quotations.
It is time to rethink the whole sales process. The answer lies in getting the customers to come to you. This does away with the need for cold calling and other expensive forms of ‘push’ selling. This is not good news for telemarketers and I understand that they and professional salespeople will not be happy with my message.
I think that future lies in relationship building, not the old fashioned sales model. Get them to come to you through brand awareness and information sharing. When customers arrive, focus on long term business relationships.