death knell for traditional sellingUntil the mid-90’s, vendors enjoyed the luxury of exerting control over buyers because they were the keepers of all information about their offerings. If a buyer wanted to learn about an offering, the only choice was to contact a salesperson. Inbound inquiries with sellers were either from:

  • Interested buyers having limited knowledge about offerings. This meant that sellers had a “blank canvas” to work with as relates to establishing buyer requirements.

  • Buyers who already had a vendor in mind and wanted to leverage quotes from other companies to negotiate the best price with “Column A.” These buyers’ requirements were more rigid and mirrored a particular vendor’s offering.

Most sales training programs were and are built around shaping requirements when calling on buyers who just started looking. In the mid-90’s, some enlightened sales training programs retrofitted approaches for handling inbound “Column B” calls. Through all of this, buyers in both categories came to resent attempts by sellers to convince, persuade and influence their requirements but had no choice but to tolerate such efforts.

The Internet has turned the tables by allowing buyers to determine the majority of their requirements before contacting salespeople by leveraging search engines, Websites, blogs and social networking. Think for a moment how you would react if you listened to a compelling voicemail from a salesperson you didn’t know about a business issue you became interested in addressing. Would you:

  • Call that seller back?

  • Do a quick search on the Internet and visit a few Websites?

More and more buyers are taking the second option. If and when they choose to engage with a seller, they have a self-generated idea of what their requirements are. This common scenario highlights how traditional selling approaches are drifting out of alignment with buyers when they:

  • make early attempts to discuss features that aren’t in the buyer’s initial list;

  • fail to ask and understand what research buyers have already done;

  • don’t establish sufficient credibility to earn the right to diagnose the buyer’s current situation so that the requirements list can be further developed;

  • assume that requirements have been established from only one vendor; and

  • fail to diagnose with questions before offering any new capabilities.

Over the last several years, few companies have realized that their prospects and customers prefer to buy rather than being sold. As a result, the major reason buyers want to contact sellers after they’ve determined their requirements is that they don’t want to be influenced, convinced or persuaded by sellers that are financially incented to make sales. This defines the problem that stereotypical traditional selling approaches have caused.

Pricing and offering advantages ebb and flow with every new announcement that vendors make. Providing superior buying experiences is one of the few sustainable competitive advantages that companies can enjoy. Traditional selling approaches conflict with the way today’s buyers want to be treated. Superior buying experience will be realized only by teaching salespeople how to align with the new realities of buying.

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