For the seller, it is all about stimulating inbound leads. Remembering that Inbound Marketing leads are like gold but they must be the right target market to qualify.
How your salespeople handled these leads is also extremely important. Remember we are now living in Era 3 selling.
Era 1 The age of “spray and pray”
Prime Resource Group, wrote about the three eras of selling. Era 1 approach with its focus on cold calling, presenting, and closing, and a strong dose of overcoming objections. Salespeople were taught to be persuaders (some would call them pests). I like to describe it as the age of “show and tell,” “spray and pray,” “cram and jam,” and “grab ’em by the tie and choke ’em ’til they buy.”
Salespeople didn’t ask customers many questions at all; they told them what to do and they did it in a very aggressive manner. These Era 1 tactics are the source of the common sales stereotypes that live in the minds of many people today. They provided the major impetus behind the creation of procurement systems designed to counteract aggressive sales tactics and protect customers from buying the wrong thing or paying inflated prices.
Era 2 The age of “asking questions & doing needs analysis”
The sales profession worked to redeem itself with the Era 2 sales approaches that were first articulated by sales gurus like Larry Wilson with his concept of “counsellor selling,” and Mack Hanan, whose book Consultative Selling was first published in 1970 and is still in print seven editions later.
They suggested that salespeople ask questions to learn the customer’s view of his or her problem and what the customer thinks the solution should be. Then, salespeople would tailor their products and services to match that picture. In Era 2, salespeople received some new tools and skills, were taught how to do needs analysis (I ask you what you need), and received listening training (so I actually pay attention to what you tell me). There was a lot of relationship skill building, too, because counsellors and consultants needed to be seen as credible and trustworthy. Salespeople morphed from persuaders into consultants. It was the era that positioned the salesperson as a problem solver. You’re probably thinking, “What’s not to like about Era 2? Why do we need an updated sales approach at all?” The answer is you might not. There is a very subtle assumption underlying all of the great Era 2 sales processes, and if it still holds true for you, they will continue to serve you well. If not, and you find what has worked well for you is no longer and could be sabotaging your efforts.
The hidden assumption of Era 2 is that customers clearly understand the problems they need to solve and the solutions that are required to solve them. This was usually true when the Era 2 sales paradigm was formulated. But it is a deadly assumption that may no longer be valid for your customers—and it isn’t for a vast majority of today’s complex sales. Therefore, if the assumption is no longer valid, the Era 2 paradigm is no longer effective. An Era 2 salesperson engaging with an Era 3 customer is like a doctor who allows patients to self-diagnose their illnesses and self-prescribe medications. In the sales profession, as in the medical world, it is reckless and harmful behaviour and a formula for failure. A question that we like to pose is, “What if a doctor conducted annual physicals using the strategy and approach of an Era 2 salesperson?” My physical would go something like this: Doc says, “Hi Jeff, how are you doing today?” I say, “Great, just great.” Doc says, “Are there any concerns I could help you with, anything keeping you awake at night?” To which I respond, “Well, actually, there is. I’m getting to the age where I’ve noticed a few of my contemporaries have been having heart problems. One, a friend, seemingly in top shape, a guy who exercised much more than me, had a massive heart attack and was gone in an instant. Just tragic! I am really concerned that something like that could happen to me. Is there anything that you could do to prevent that from happening?” Doc says, “Why certainly, Jeff. It’s likely that clogged arteries caused his heart attack and we could help you with that. Tell me, were you thinking about open heart, bypass surgery, or angioplasty?” I’m not sure if you’re chuckling at the idea of a physician taking direction from an unqualified patient, but in a live workshop, this elicits a lot of laughter. Let’s continue my exam and see where this takes us.
Era 3 The age of “showing value”
A number of sales forces are still selling in Era 1, and the vast majority are embracing the Era 2 approach. These sales forces are being squeezed between two opposing forces: increasing complexity and rapid commoditization. The Driving Force of Complexity The defining characteristic of Era 3 is that our customers’ problems and our solutions to them are becoming increasingly complex. Much of this complexity is emerging from the changing nature of business itself. The structure of organizations is becoming more complex. In many cases, decentralized and lean organizational structures have replaced fixed, hierarchical infrastructures. In the process, decision-making powers have often migrated from the technical, clinical, and operational levels to purchasing departments and professional managers who frequently consider buying decisions from only the vital, but nonetheless limited, financial perspective of acquisition cost. Over the past few years, we have also seen approval levels migrate higher in the organization, and now, more than ever, the ability to gain access to and engage and interact with the executive is not optional. As a result, salespeople are finding it increasingly difficult to understand and navigate through their customers’ companies. Identifying the centres of decision and influence in today’s corporate labyrinths is quite complicated and constrained, and with increasing frequency, customers themselves cannot define or even understand their own decision processes.
This leads to a change in approach where if your sales staff are not well informed as to the executive responsible for the purpose and outcome of the product you sell. They will be diverted to the commodity centric buying process, where minimal is the norm.
What we need to always remember, however, is that a defining characteristic of Era 3 is that our customers cannot recognize our high-value solutions without our help. Every high-value seller must provide its customers with the means to comprehend and measure the value it provides. Sellers who don’t do this will find themselves defenceless in the face of price competition.
To embrace the high-value strategy and prosper in Era 3, companies need to recruit, develop, and equip sales and marketing professionals who can create value clarity for their customers. These professionals must provide incontrovertible evidence of the risks their customers face without their solutions. I call this the “absence of value.” It is like the “absence of health” or a “health risk.” During your annual physical, your doctor is providing you with the evidence needed to support his diagnosis and recommendations. In Era 3, successful salespeople must diagnose their customers’ situations and find evidence of the absence of value, go on to quantify the financial impact of that missing value, and connect the value impact of their solutions to the performance metrics of customers and the customers they serve. This includes understanding the complex situations their customers face, configuring the complex solutions offered by their companies, and managing the complex relationships that are required to bring them both together. In short, Era 3 professionals are constantly challenged to create and clarify value for their customers and for their employers.