Depending upon who is counting – if you look back over the last hundred years or so, there have been three or four major shifts in how major organizations sell. Each period was dominant by a specific sales model and best practices for implementing that model.
Clearly “king of the hill” for the last 30-40 years has been Consultative Selling. Consultative Selling emphasizes the importance of moving from a product-centric to a customer-centric sale. A focus is placed on doing a superior job in building relationships and uncovering and developing customer needs. The art and science of asking questions is a pivotal skill set.
Now for sure, each business organization and each training company has their own particular twist on Consultative Selling – for example: different questioning frameworks. But the underlying assumptions and fundamental skills are the same.
It is important to highlight that as compared to the product-centric approach, Consultative Selling has proven to be a dramatic improvement – it has worked and worked well.
With that said if one looks very carefully, it is possible to discern the emergence of a new model for selling in B2B markets. Like most paradigm shifts the change is not happening everywhere, all at once – over night. Instead, the change is emerging in phases with some markets and companies spearheading the way.
The important point is to be aware that a change is afoot and to start exploring the importance of the shift for your organization. With that in mind, let’s take an initial look at the new sales model and explore why the change is occurring.
New Sales Model. The new sales model maintains a customer-centric approach – but the assumptions about the expectations of the customer are different. Let’s examine that difference.
Some customers are changing from wanting consultative sales people to wanting expert sales people. These customers are becoming increasingly impatient with sales people who consistently start calls with a “discover your pain” discussion. They expect the sales person to have a good handle on their needs and interests before the call. So time in the call can be spent on diagnosing and integrating the problems and on generating alternative innovative solutions that will have positive impact on the customer’s business.
In order to conduct that type of call, the sales person must know before hand the economic, political, market, and regulatory trends that are driving the customer’s business. With that knowledge in hand, they can bring a point of view to the discussion, ask second and third-level questions and work with the customer to formulate a business solution, as opposed to, starting with a basic discovery conversation. Today’s problems are complex and time matters. So the customers cannot afford to start at square one to help the every sales person understand their business issues.
Why Now? Anytime there is a paradigm shift, it is interesting to ask the question: Why now? Usually there are a number of voices speaking out but seldom is there total consensus. But, what is common is some trend that defines the change and a match that ignites the change.
In this case we would speculate that the underlying driver is the fact that customers in a wide variety of markets are facing the necessity to up their game. Market economics are demanding, competition is tough and getter tougher, and a lot of the old answers have been played out.
So business-as-usual is not going to carry the day and changes that are simply incremental may help you to survive but not to prosper. Customers need new ideas they can use to innovate their business and they are expecting their suppliers to help. This business dynamic has been occurring for some time and some companies have gone through transformational changes in order to adjust.
But, what was the match that lit the fire for change in the sales function? Again consensus is unlikely to be found … but here’s our best guess.
We think it relates to the same match that started the movement toward Consultative Selling. If you go back in time, a key event that help Consultative Selling emerge was the research done by Neil Rackham’s Huthwaite Research Group which was subsequently turned into the all-time best seller – SPIN Selling. The research provided the credibility and the book provided the how-to.
As was the case 40 years ago, a new piece of research has been conducted and a new book has been published to provide the foundation for change. In this case, the research was done by the Sales Executive Council and the book was authored by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. The book is entitled The Challenger Sale.
It is always hard to tell whether a new set of ideas are a vanguard for an important change or simply a creative fad for promoting discussions. In this case we wouldn’t bet against the former.
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