The Changing Nature of Sales & Selling

I have lots of friends who work in traditional sales roles. The interesting issue is that fewer and fewer have traditional sales titles. The ones that do — inside sales, telemarketing, field sales, sales rep, etc — have to work extra hard to overcome the bad vibes of the stereotype.

Daniel Pink, author of a great new book, To Sell is Human, surveyed people’s attitudes about sales and selling. The top 25 word cloud probably won’t surprise you. It reads like the description of, hmmm, maybe a used car salesman? (Apologies to my friends in vehicle sales ­čÖé

PUSHY – AGGRESSIVE – YUCK…In general, people find selling distasteful. Why? Because for as long as we can remember, sales has been about information asymmetry. The seller knows more about the product/service and, in many cases, takes advantage of that information to get a higher price out of the buyer. Pink calls it…caveat emptor — BUYER BEWARE!

But look around you. The 21st century is noted for its globally connected economy and abundant, accessible data. As of 2009, Google was processing over 24 Petabytes of data per day. That means the average buyer knows a heck of a lot more about what they are about to buy; in some cases, they know more than the seller. Pink has some great examples in his book.

So the days of dramatic information asymmetry are over. Pink says we’ve entered a new stage: caveat venditor — SELLER BEWARE! What does this mean for sales and selling? Not surprisingly, a number of companies are transitioning away from traditional sales organizations.

My favorite example is Factory Five Racing, a sports kit car company.

I met CEO Dave Smith recently and he talked about sales and marketing. He said the only thing he knows about marketing is a bit about the 4P’s of the marketing mix: product, price, place, promotion. (Good for him as that is the core of any good marketing program.) He also notes that he has never had a sales team. Yet here he is decades later, a successful company. What’s his secret?

Turns out, Factory Five has a huge sales team…they just don’t have sales titles. They have tech support and customer service and, most importantly, their customers are selling for them. Just check out the Factory Five discussion forum and all the customer likes and shares on their Facebook page.

There will always be a need for a selling function (sales and non-sales selling). In fact, Pink’s analysis shows that more people are selling than ever before. But today it’s about understanding your customers and helping them find the right product/service that will help them do their job.

I’m about to teach Entrepreneurial Selling at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. We’re going to talk business models and customer value propositions, the buying cycle and strategic selling. My how sales and selling have changed!

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