I get this question a lot from sales veterans who remember what selling was like before the Internet. My answer is that things are different with some aspects of selling harder and other parts easier.
The biggest change in selling is the rise of the better informed buyer. Prior to the web, buyers had fewer choices available and relied more heavily on sales people for product information. Today buyers come into sales meetings with significant knowledge of your product along with the competitive offerings including pricing.
The days of the “canned pitch” over—seldom does the customer need to hear about your offering since they already know about it from their website searches which yielded product reviews, pricing tips from other buyers, and product comparisons. The focus of the conversation needs to be on customer needs and concerns. In this respect, this is just like the old days.
Identifying prospects is much easier today since just about any prospect can be found on the web. Social networks provide for a bonanza of information on just about everyone. Getting ahold of them? That is another issue. Caller ID, voice mail, Blackberry devices, etc. have made it much more difficult to have a live conversation. Often selling is reduced to an email game of tag.
Today’s buyers are tougher negotiators. They come with a better knowledge of pricing and product trends; they know a good deal when they see one and the converse is also true. Additionally, buyers have had negotiation training and know how to make sales people squirm. On the flipside, sales people have not had the negotiation training that many professional buyers have had; it is my estimation that pressures to reduce the cost of sales have not allowed sales people to get this type of needed training.
“Cost of sales reductions” have also trimmed the support that old school sales had including administrative assistants and marketing help in the field. Travel and entertainment budgets are greatly reduced. Instead, sales people have productivity tools such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems better known as ACT!, Seibel, and Goldmine. The downside to these tools is that sales people are required to enter ridiculous amounts of data into these CRM systems instead of selling. How stupid is that?
So, is selling harder? I think the answer is a qualified “yes”. At the very least, selling is much different from than the good old days.
John Bradley Jackson
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