I’ve been selling for over 30 years, and it’s been a blast. I’ve seen some incredible changes, and I can say without a doubt that right now is the best time to invest in a sales career. Sales is fun, critically important to scaling businesses, financially lucrative, and intellectually stimulating.
But being a salesperson in 2018 is very different than being a salesperson in 1987. Buyers have changed, and top salespeople have to change with them. Although it’s arguably more difficult to sell effectively in 2018, it’s easier for top performers to differentiate themselves.
The first thing you need to do? Drop the 18 tactics below.
18 Outdated Sales Tactics to Kick to the Curb in 2019
1. Cold calling
If you’re still cold calling prospects and think it’s a great way to generate new opportunities, stop selling now. I mean it -- quit sales and get a new job.
Cold calling is hard, wasteful, ugly, and negatively impacts your brand and potential success -- it's also not nearly as effective as inbound selling.
I speak on behalf of HubSpot 50 times a year, and at every engagement I tell my audience they should take the hour they use for cold calls to do something that’s not even in their job description: blogging. I bet them a breakfast sandwich that I can create more leads blogging than they can in 100 hours of cold calling -- and I have the statistics to prove it.
It’s not even close to a fair fight. My blog articles live forever, so while old-line salespeople are cold calling, my content is converting like an assembly line in a factory. Forever.
Of course, you still need to do call prospecting, and in this scenario, warm calling is the way to go. Do research to offer up a compelling reason for your initial call, work inbound leads that want to talk to you, and provide helpful insights to potential prospects on social media before engaging.
2. Getting on a plane to start a relationship
Back in the 1990s, inside sales was a stepping stone, not a career. Junior reps started in inside sales, and as you moved up through the ranks you were given your own outside territory and sent out on face-to-face sales calls.
Introductions were mostly done over the phone. But even early-stage sales calls were done in person. Meeting in person was not only expensive, it was also a huge pain.
You had to dress formally, print out directions to the office (remember, this was the era before smartphones), travel to the prospect’s office, get there early, wait in the parking lot, make small talk with the receptionist, and then make more small talk with your prospect before you could get down to business.
A simple 45-minute meeting became a three-hour ordeal -- and all this just to start a relationship and conduct a basic needs analysis.
In-person meetings are the most inefficient process imaginable. In today’s world, actually meeting face-to-face is a nice-to-have, not a requirement. I’ll sometimes do business with people for years without ever meeting them! Inside sales is simply more efficient and scalable.
3. Overselling the product
In the old days, sales cycles were incredibly involved. All meetings were done in person, so the process was inherently slower and more cumbersome.
As a result, salespeople had a bit more flexibility in what they could say to their prospects. You could say whatever you wanted to move the process forward -- in six months, nobody would remember what you said anyway.
Because sales took so long to close, a prospect’s priorities and product requirements would often be different by the end of the process than they were at the beginning. It took so long to implement and close a deal that glossing over critical parts of the solution was simply a normal part of the process.
Today, thankfully, overselling a product doesn’t fly. If you’re dealing with a 28- or 56-day sales cycle, you’ll be speaking with your prospects frequently. You can’t lie, and you need to sweat the details. If you don't? You’ll immediately get caught. And this is a great thing for buyers everywhere.
4. Treating your product demonstration as the end-all, be-all
Product demonstrations used to be incredibly important for the final close. There was pretty much no way a prospect could learn about the product on their own, short of watching an acquaintance or reference use it.
Trials of on-premise software were rare. Hardware and software were also much more differentiated a few decades ago and were only updated annually, so the choice between one product and another was higher-stakes. As a result, a boardroom demo was a pretty big deal -- and usually included a bit of theater.
Now, technology is much more homogeneous. In most industries, it’s rare that you’re selling the only product that functions the way yours does.
Even if your competitor doesn’t have the same product features today, they’ll probably have it in the next 24 months, and best-in-class features are integrated into every product much more quickly and effectively.
The real differentiators are culture, company, and your ability to solve problems. So don’t ever think your product demonstration is an end-all, be-all -- everything you do before and after matters.
5. Telling, not asking
In the old days, we did a lot of telling: “You need this. You have to have that.” Our prospects had no choice but to listen to us, because we held all the knowledge and power in the relationship.
Now, it’s dangerous to make assumptions. Don’t always ask “yes” or “no” questions -- explain your experiences and your side of the picture, but never do so without understanding your prospect’s situation first.
Selling is more solution-based than ever before, so you can’t take the lead in sales conversations from the beginning. You have to ask pertinent questions that pull out relevant information and make 100% sure you understand your prospect’s situation before you begin making any sort of recommendation.
6. Pushing hard for a borderline deal
Top salespeople remember that it’s not about them. It’s about solving for the customer. Yes, you have to make sales to be successful, but pushing too hard is a no-no.
If a deal seems like it’s not going to close despite your best efforts, or a prospect is continually dragging their feet, there’s probably a reason. Deals that are borderline usually can be closed if you push hard enough.
However, slamming deals through can potentially damage your reputation and create a churn risk. Don’t take a quick win today that will hurt you in the long run.
7. Moving too quickly
The speed with which you move through a sales process is another factor where you have to balance your sales instincts and retention instincts -- the short game versus the long.
This is a difficult situation -- landing a one-call close is a huge rush and seems like a quick win. But if you’re just paying attention to the short term, you may wind up missing huge warning signs that your prospect won’t be a good customer.
Slow down and take the time to delve deeper into your prospect’s situation so they’re completely informed about their decision and don’t churn out of your customer base in a few months.
8. Ignoring the prospect relationship
There are two laws that govern modern business relationships: Everyone exists online, and your digital reputation is forever.
Salespeople either recognize these facts and use them to their advantage, or they don’t. It’s your choice, but if you ignore the reality of modern selling it can have dire consequences.
You’re only as strong as your network, so if you ignore what your prospect truly needs and only think of them as a number on a paycheck, you’ll steadily lose value as a salesperson.
Don’t think that slamming a deal through won’t come back to bite you. Do it enough times and you’ll have unhappy prospects steering their networks away from you.
This isn’t to say you should sell based on relationships alone. In fact, that’s a tactic that’s almost guaranteed to fail. But you should always treat your prospects with the respect they deserve, and never put your needs above theirs.
9. Thinking that being on social media is enough
Just having accounts isn't helpful. Use social media to build awareness of your product and services. If you are not on LinkedIn, Facebook for business, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, then you are either stubborn or just haven't seen the stats yet.
Social media is where your prospects spend their time. It matters big time -- spend an hour updating your profiles, posting professional pictures, scheduling meaningful content, and setting aside 30 minutes a week to post fresh content. Come on, people -- it's not that hard.
10. Treating Marketing like second-class citizens
2018 is the year you need to realize you are only as good as your marketing department. I recommend finding three marketers on your team and taking them to lunch.
Ask what you can do to help (you will blow their hair off!). Bring them ideas of content pieces that would help you in your sales process. Marketing can help you hit your number, but they need your help. You either embrace "smarketing" in 2018 or you'll be left in the dust.
11. Relying on Marketing to generate all your leads
Sitting at your desk and whining that lead flow is down year over year is bad form and lazy. You can ping your social media contacts to ask how you can help.
Call your cousin and ask who at their company is responsible for the business area relating to your product. Call your closed-lost accounts from 2016. Go to a networking event and give out your business card while asking how you can help.
Above all: Take personal responsibility for your lead flow.
12. Playing telephone tag with your prospects
Sending a string of redundant emails asking whether Thursday or Friday is better for a meeting like a junior high schooler looking for a prom date is just dopey.
Get an automated meetings booking app now. I am in love with the Meetings app in HubSpot Sales. I receive 10 compliments a week on the cool experience: It is professional, efficient, gives the buyer control, and starts the relationship in an effective, low-annoyance way.
13. Thinking you're too good to learn new things
As a sales professional, the information you need to be successful is always changing. You need product knowledge, sales knowledge, and customer knowledge to get the right results. Ask your manager to review your calls. Read blogs or go to industry events to learn about new trends.
You can also take the HubSpot inbound sales certification to teach yourself inbound selling concepts and learn how to apply them to your own sales process.
14. Selling alone
Team selling always wins. If you are missing your number and not working with a sales coach or your manager to improve your performance, you deserve to go on plan. If your manager won’t help you, find a senior person in the organization who will.
Get a sales mentor and meet regularly. Find someone who might be a bit further in their career who has shown a consistent, logical approach to exceeding their number who can analyze your current skills.
15. Letting the grind wear you down
Stay pumped up and happy by getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet (make sure you have some pizza, though, which is its own separate category), and surrounding yourself with good people. Take care of yourself -- if you keep yourself healthy by exercising, staying motivated, and keeping your brain engaged, you'll be happier -- and ultimately perform better.
16. Trade shows
The old idea of going to trade shows, setting up booths, brainstorming creative ways to attract people to that booth, and scanning badges by the hundreds? It' s tired. It's also likely not bringing in enough quality leads to justify the cost.
By the time you follow up with those badge leads, you're a distant memory. And, think about it. Do you really want email addresses only given to you so the lead can load up on more conference swag?
Invest your time and company money into more modern ways of attracting qualified leads, like paid advertising, a weekly podcast, or better sales software.
17. Blasting your aunt's, best friend's coworker on LinkedIn
While this might not be a tactic of old, it's a modern tactic that's already tired. Just because you have a distant, third-degree connection doesn't mean they're a qualified prospect.
Instead, become part of pertinent groups on LinkedIn. Comment on and share articles your prospective customers post. And reach out only once you've made a meaningful, non-creepy connection. A good rule of thumb for LinkedIn outreach? Always respond in kind.
For example, if a prospect "likes" an article you shared in an industry group, don't immediately send them a direct message asking for a phone call.
Instead, reply to the article thread by thanking them for reading your article. This might not be the fastest way to move leads along, but it will be far more successful than pushing a relationship before the other party is ready.
18. Forcing every prospect through the same sales process
Expecting every prospect to react the same way throughout your sales process is antiquated and unrealistic. You might have prospects ready to sign on the dotted line halfway through your discovery call and others who need to talk to your lead engineer, their lawyer, and five executives before they're ready to buy.
Be flexible in your approach to each account, and learn how to read the signs and determine next steps for any prospect you're working with.
Selling looks very different in 2018 than it did in 1987. Buyers are different, products are different, and communication is different -- so it’s hard for me to understand why many salespeople behave like it’s 30 years ago.
Stop using these outdated sales tactics today, and your success will speak for itself.
Originally published Jan 31, 2018 9:32:00 PM, updated June 11 2019