Sales needs an overhaul. Frankly, the entire selling process needs to change.
Despite the sensationalism around recent trends in buyer behavior, buying and selling is pretty much the same now as it was 5,000 years ago -- those who want pay those who have. It’s just that simple. And regardless of the next evolution in buyer behavior, most of that won’t change.
So why does the entire selling process need to be transformed? Frankly, we’ve collected too many bad sales processes over the years. We’ve become addicted to hollow phrases and people-less selling processes. We’ve adopted conventional wisdom and selfish behavior as guide posts for our activity. And as if that’s not enough, we let social peer pressure determine what we do and who we are.
With a new year on the horizon, It’s time we stopped. It’s time we gave it all a second thought.
Here are a few sales practices past their prime that salespeople need to rethink or eradicate in 2015.
1) Believing in “Always Be Closing”
Made dramatically popular by Glengarry Glen Ross, we’ve largely subscribed to the idea that the entire sales process is a series of trial closes. We use charm, wit, and a series of leading questions in rapid succession to build rapport, qualify budget, and get a commission check. And while there’s nothing wrong with closing deals, the idea that closing is the journey is misguided and limiting. You can only bully your career so far.
Edgy alternative: “Always be caring and collaborating."
2) Using Business Cards
Do we really need business cards any more? Seriously. It used to be that business cards were the primary way to inform potential customers of what you did and how to get in touch with you when they needed your services. In the days of the rolodex, the business card was your own personal Yellow Pages. In the era when an executive worked 30 years for the same company, keeping phone numbers on pieces of paper made sense. That seems distinctly out of place in today’s social landscape.
Edgy alternative: Cultivate your online identity.
3) Going to Networking Events
The second major evolution in selling came about with the localized settlement of pioneers on their way out West. As towns sprung up across the prairie, merchants caravanned a wide assortment of goods from the East to their local area. Buyers appreciated the diversity of the products and reputation of the seller. The shop owner would network with the local buyers. Shaking hands and buying prospects drinks became ways to build rapport and trust. That hasn’t evolved much in the last few hundred years. We find ourselves still slapping backs, buying beers, and feigning intimacy.
Edgy Alternative: Formulate unconventional ideas and give away invaluable industry knowledge -- creating attraction.
4) Disseminating Daily Status Reports
Just about the time we stopped getting the results from our sales executives, we decided that them spending 30 minutes drafting up a daily email about activity was the way to go. Instead of creating accountability and transparency, we substituted process justification. The daily email of sales activity is all about quantity. It’s bulk achievement over breakthrough achievement. And in spite of the added requirement for our sales team, it doesn’t seem to help them be any more successful.
Edgy Alternative: Hire better sales people and create a culture of accountability over activity.
5) Supporting Selfish Sales Processes
In our quest to be more effective salespeople and avoid losing deals, we built sales processes to guide our behavior. And with the best of intentions, we created a careful series of qualification questions and buyer agreements. We started to demand “upfront commitments” from interested prospects in order to share more of our insights. While not thoroughly impeachable, the selfish attitude behind these behaviors has made us less effective and impressive performers. In attempting to remove fallibility from our work, we forgot that it never was about us in the first place.
Edgy Alternative: Demonstrate empathy and passionate investment in others.
6) Using “I” and “We”
It’s in our emails, voicemails, and PowerPoint presentations. All we talk about is us -- our product, our process, our unique differentiation. It’s how we start our correspondence and end our sales pitches. We’ve forgotten the power of the buyer’s pain and passion. And that’s just sad, because that’s really all the buyer cares about. The “I” in your tone of voice is blocking the way to a deal getting done.
Edgy Alternative: Make it all about them (even when it hurts).
7) Writing Too Long Emails
Somewhere wedged between the novella and Webster’s dictionary are just over 9,000 emails sent by sales executives to potential buyers on a daily basis. For some reason we think that our buyers have the time and interest to read this stuff. They don’t. They are constantly pulled in 50 different directions for the 10 consecutive hours they are in the office. Sitting down and reading emails (especially a long one) is the lowest priority on their list. Being boring isn’t a good strategy for any business endeavor. Keeping your emails mobile-friendly and focused is key to getting the action you want from buyers.
Edgy Alternative: Four to five sentences max sent two to three times (in a seamless conversation) over a 24 day period or until you get a response.
8) Cold Calling
Calling new prospects with new ideas is in no way anything to be ashamed of. But in the silliness of explaining the series of actions and emotions that make this outreach method truly effective, we’ve confused the real point of evangelism. We use terms like “warm calling” and “hot calling” and build passionate line-in-the-sand sales training about what is right and what is wrong. There is nothing wrong with evangelism. Being a jerk, a bully, or downright shady is something else. Maybe that’s where we should focus our sales training efforts.
Edgy Alternative: Show emotionally intelligent passion (some practice and preparation helps).
9) Checking In
The idea that we place a call or send an email to a customer with the opening line “I just wanted to check in with you” is just silliness. More than that, it indicates a sloppy sales process. Somewhere upstream in the process, the opportunity wasn’t qualified properly or key information that you needed to deliver results was somehow lost. The "check in” is a clear indicator that you need to check out your sales process and hone new skills.
Edgy Alternative: Start every conversation with the word “you” and stop communicating unless you are delivering new value.
10) Always-on Prospecting
Prospecting doesn’t need to turn you into a jerk. Just because you are passionate about what you are up to doesn’t mean that everyone else is. It’s a misnomer that you always need to be prospecting. In fact if you try to do that, you’ll find yourself not really prospecting at all. Instead, you'll be franticly flailing -- tossing out business cards, and interrupting new friends with your “I do that, too” tagline. Getting new business is vital to your ongoing success, but when you force yourself at prospects it’s distasteful and ineffective.
Edgy Alternative: Implement intense short-term bursts of targeted activity aimed at attracting key markets.
11) Performing Ponderous CRM Tasks
The sales process has rapidly accelerated over the years thanks to the use of technology enablement. The Customer Relationship Management platform is the single largest toolset at play for sales teams. And it consumes incredible amounts of time from team members. Organization is key to stay focused and prioritized. Lists of tasks, opportunities, and customer contact information are all vital. You need them. But are you sure you need a CRM in the first place? Maybe you need to be a little more disciplined and lose all the busy work that comes with organizing your database.
Edgy Alternative: Carefully select sales tools instead of running after what’s being advertised.
12) Speaking in Industry Jargon
Buzzwords. What would we do without them? Every industry has their own set of coy, unintelligible acronyms that are bantered around with linguistic deft -- as if the use of the words themselves qualify us as players. But it’s a big fail. New customers are intimidated because they don't understand what we are talking about. And prospects have a hard time differentiating us from competitors, since we all happen to be using the exact same vocabulary.
Edgy Alternative: Develop your own "humanized” terminology and use it confidently.
13) Refusing to Apologize
Somehow our falliblility seems to vanish when we emerge each morning and head out to sell. We fail to connect with prospective customers in one of the single most powerful ways when we refuse to apologize. Emotion is like a pendulum. Crying can turn into laughter with the right comment. Anger and frustration can turn into relief and appreciation with the right touch. And instead of using this to our advantage (and frankly, just doing the right thing) we stand with our chests pushed out, defiantly telling our customer that “we don’t make mistakes like that.”
Edgy Alternative: Admit when you screwed up and make amends until your buyer knows you’re sorry.
14) Listening to the Experts
You know more than the experts. Yet in every industry we pay homage to the few intrepid leaders who emerge from the pack with a vision of the future. But that “following the leader” ideology is extremely self-limiting. Expertise is something we all have. And sharing your unique perspective is a huge differentiator. An old proverb states, “to learn, one must teach others." That’s exactly the model for sharing expertise. You’ll emerge from the crowd, be different, and attract new customers who want bold, new solutions -- rather than just another “monkey do” consultant. Learn from everyone but be your own person.
Edgy Alternative: Defy the gurus. Build your expertise in exactly all the opposite ways. Be bold.
15) Qualifying Sales Effort
As markets and services began accelerated diversification, the idea of qualification became a prevailing methodology for targeting potential new customers and maintaining effective time management. Through a series of questions (that we continuously refined) we were able to see if and how much time we should spend with a prospect before our activity became a complete waste of our time. Certainly, effective and efficient use of your time is wildly important to your overall success. But no series of questions or amount of industry experience can predict the intangibles. Rationing your experience to those you feel are most eligible sounds a little selfish.
Edgy Alternative: Give away as much help and insight as you can manage (without asking for anything in return).
16) Blasting Out Emails
Almost three million emails are sent every second of the day. We’ve evolved from door-to-door sales to direct mail campaigns to telesales to email marketing. And as with all of the previous evolutions, quantity seems to be the standard modus operandi. We send out horribly boring “all about me” content that is shamefully one-way. We are even so bold to send newsletters from our super-intimate “DoNotReply@bestcompany.com” email address. And while the technology is impressive, we haven’t stopped to rethink if we are adding any value to the world with our frantic emailing activity.
Edgy Alternative: Dedicate yourself to the conversation. Revolt against being boring.
17) Doing Way Too Much
Sales has come down to a bullet list of what you’ve done -- a series of actions and accomplishments. And we’re careful to share our most recent “104% of quota” achievement with anyone who will listen. Somehow we imagine that doing things is what makes us who we want to be. And that’s horribly misguided thinking. Doing is always a result of being. Who you are will always drive what you do and who you become. So attitudes become more important than actions. And yet we train new sales actions and downplay the need for better sales attitudes. Then we wonder why our amazing “power phrases” don’t help us close down more deals. Maybe it’s because actions don’t really matter if our attitudes are broken.
Edgy Alternative: Focus on “being” rather than “doing.” Fix the head games.
Without a doubt it’s time that we reexamine why we do what we do. We’ve accepted the status quo with little question and it’s undercut our ability to achieve outrageous success. We’ve become addicted to predictable, “follow the crowd” mediocrity.
But we can change all of that. And it can start today. Let's start 2015 right.
Originally published Dec 4, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017