I had the pleasure of meeting one of the Bona Fide “Rock Stars” of the selling profession Friday morning in Mr. Neil Rackham. As you may know, Neil is regarded by many as the father of Consultative Selling and the author of many books, including SPIN Selling, the 1988 New York Times Best Seller that many of us B2B “Sales Lifers” grew up with as our template for success. Neil was hosted by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, in Vienna, VA (he lives nearby in Leesburg, VA), and presented his Five Megatrends that Have Redefined Selling in a funny, engaging, and actionable way.
First, I will layout the trends and will follow with some “insightful commentary” on how I am seeing these trends play out both for ourselves at Sales Engine Media, and our clients:
1. The Death of Sales as a Communications Tool – A hyper active competitive landscape has squeezed the differentiation out of many product offerings, so the former role of sales in communicating “why my product is better” must be replaced by the sales representative adding “personal value” through their expertise to help the prospect to think critically, solve problems, and beat the competition. In Neil’s words “How you sell it is more important than what you sell”. Create value, don’t communicate value.
2. Widening Gulf between Transactional and Consultative Selling- In spite of the commoditization of products, customers are getting tougher to deal with and are demanding more support and expertise (there’s that word again), especially with the more complex decisions. While the internet has driven the cost out of transactional, low value, truly commoditized types of products, making them as “self -service” as possible, the opposite is true for the selling of higher-end, more consultative offerings. Today, products fall into two main camps…those that are cheap and convenient, and therefore require no extras or hand-holding…and the second, more complex group of products where buyers crave the expertise, problem solving skills, and tailored solutions for which they will pay a premium.
3. Why Marketing is the New Selling – Through its traditional competencies of Branding, Events, Social Media, and Web marketing… Marketing should become the “accountable” party for all transactional sales.
4. The Rise and Fall of Purchasing and Purchasing Theory- The purchasing department has lost a lot of its swagger and influence in recent years. Since Consultative purchases of complex products require a keen eye to detect the softer, subtler differences between vendors, purchasers must rely on their subject matter experts and business owners to make the buying decisions. Purchasing is simply not able to add as much value to the decision making process. More often than not, they are simply in the way and are not influencing positive corporate outcomes as much as they once did.
5. The Crippling Cost of Big Sales – With the increasing reliance on the expertise of your (the Seller’s)(expensive) Subject Matter Experts, and the increasing difficulty that buyers have in navigating their complex buying decisions, the cost of selling is skyrocketing for consultative types of sales. It is imperative to objectively exit sales cycles that you can’t win (or don’t really want), get ahead of the RFP process, and allocate pre-sale resources wisely. It is not uncommon for a corporation to invest up to $1Million to pursue a key piece of business.
For me, Neil’s most important remark came during the Q and A when the subject of adding value was being discussed. Neil said “Why would a prospect want to write you a check for conducting a Sales Call”? In other words, what can you do as a Selling Professional that would be of so much value, that they would want to pay you as if you were a Consultant? For me, that exact thought crystallizes the guts of consultative selling in the internet age.
I once served as VP of Sales Ops for a Fortune 1000 Company, where we had a Sales Team of 600 people, most of whom spent their time “Communicating Value” (i.e. my product does ABC and is better than Brand X because of LMNOP). The Company’s Sales team today is nearly half the size, and most of the value communication originates from Marketing, through branding, on-line product sheets, case studies and comparisons. The Sales Reps that remain are the ones who have profound domain expertise, have been places, done things, impacted customer’s profits and have the battle scars to show it and the war stories to share. They are walking encyclopedias who gain the trust of their customers and prospects because they are Sherpas who can help prevent buyers from making a major mistake!
Some people comment that the “Selling profession is dead”. Well…not so fast. The profession has actually thinned the herd. Only the best reps, the ones able to add unmitigated value survive! Isn’t that the way it should be?? I think Neil would say yes to that!