Sales is changing. Is your approach?

Jun 13, 2015 | Sales

Making a sale is making a sale. Nothing has really changed,


Too many sellers are out there selling the way they did 10 to 20 years ago getting minimal results, because it just doesn’t work anymore. It’s hard to change old habits, especially when sales management encourages outdated selling behavior.

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The art of selling is changing. We all need to understand it, and change our behavior accordingly. Great sales leaders and salespeople already know this, because they make an effort to understand what they are experiencing. They read Selling Power Magazine and follow the top sales bloggers (like me). They attend conferences like Sales 3.0. Not only to network with other sales professionals, but to hear what the thought leaders are saying about how sales is changing.

In case you haven’t heard the news, “Cold calling is dead!”  Honestly, how many of you want another cold call or sales email?  I don’t see any of you raising your hands, and yet there are companies out there demanding that salespeople cold call and send out unresearched emails proving that they know nothing about the person they are attempting to reach. I recognize that people still have success with cold calling and so they continue, but they could increase their success if they did some research and worked at connecting. Jill Konrath has some great advice on how to make cold calls less cold. I know there are those that argue that cold calling is not dead, but all of them are recommending a different type than the old ‘dialing for dollars’ approach.

The writing is on the wall, or at least on the screen.  People are blogging, providing training, using LinkedIn, interacting online and there are lots of cloud based tools to help sales people engage with clients and prospects in a new way, and despite that there is minimal adoption. Change is hard. To be highly successful the majority of B2B salespeople need to move from a transactional sale right past the consultative sale and onto a collaborative sale. While not all of your customers will give you that opportunity, it’s important for you to understand that the many of your customers not only want you to sell this way, they expect it.

Let me see if I can make this clearer.  Let’s look at the different types of sales and how our selling style interfaces with our customers buying style.

Transactional sale

A transactional sale is a one-off buying event.  It happens in one of two ways. Someone reaches out to you via website, phone or emails to buy and you take an order. Transactions can also come from making outbound calls to customers or prospects. In the “old days” it was going door to door.

Customers who buy from you may be satisfied but they are just as likely to buy from someone else the next time. If they are dissatisfied, they may not tell you, they just won’t ever buy from you again. Transactions are typically driven by marketing, promotions, discounts and cold calling. As a seller, you have little control over this sale. It just happens when it happens.
To make this type of sale, as the salesperson, all you really need is basic information about your products, services and company. In-depth knowledge is not typically needed, because the buyer has done the research and found you. More knowledge may be needed if you are cold calling. As always, you need to employ good listening skills and pay attention to detail to get the order right. Your primary responsibility is to be available to answer the phone and email and talk to people to find out if they are ready to buy.

This is can be an effective type of selling and most businesses generate a portion of their revenue this way, but it doesn’t build a long-lasting relationship.  To be effective it requires an active inbound marketing campaign or outbound calling and emailing.  Most companies moved from mainly transactional sales to the Consultative Sale in the 70s and 80s.

Consultative Sale

In a consultative sale we build a relationship with our customer such that they see us as a trusted advisor. We consult them to come up with solutions rather than “sell” features and benefits. This way of selling takes more time and relationship building

Customers who buy this way tend to be loyal repeat buyers. They come and ask you first before they go look for another source. They’ll meet with you when you ask to have lunch or cocktails or to meet at a tradeshow. They will usually be a good reference when asked and may even make a referral.

To make this type of sale, the salesperson needs to be an expert in their products and services and what makes their company unique. They need to understand their prospect’s business. They need to know how to build relationships, ask good questions and make recommendations. They have to listen to understand the prospects needs. They’re making calls, taking calls and visiting customers and prospects. These salespeople are getting some referrals. They interact for reasons other than selling through email and social media, sharing useful information and training. This can also be an effective type of selling. I believe in today’s marketplace, we need to move beyond the consultative sale.

Collaborative sale

In a collaborative sale, the seller and the buyer work together to uncover a solution. As Nancy Bleeke explains, “It’s a step beyond consultative selling.”  The buyer controls their buying process by doing research and bringing their findings to the table. The seller provides information and ideas to the buyer where and when they are looking for it, most likely before they ever start talking. In fact, you may know that as much as 70% of the buying process has been completed before the buyer and salesperson sit down together.  When they do it is a collaboration, not a seller or buyer led process. It requires the salesperson to be more knowledgeable and more concerned about the buyers goals and how what they sell will impact those.

The daily activity of a salesperson making a collaborative sale is different. They are focused on building long-term relationships. They are a student, always observing, reading and learning. On social media this means the sales rep will be interacting with their customers and prospects consistently and sharing content with them that has the ability to impact their businesses. Their customers will look to them for information, ideas, resources and connections.

To make this sale it is not enough for a salesperson to be an expert in their products and their company and why they are unique. They have to be an expert in their customers’ businesses and industries and they have to understand how what they sell impacts that. This is a big change and requires a change in daily activity. It will impact the way companies look at quotas as well, but we won’t go down that path right now.

What about You?

What type of sales are you and your sales team making? What percentage of your business is coming from transactional sales? What would you like that percentage to be in the future? Are you doing a consultative sale? How is that working? Would doing a more collaborative sale, propell your company to the next level? What changes would have to be made, what training would be needed? What makes the most for your company? Not sure, I’m happy to help. Give me a call at 775-852-5020.


Please comment below with your thoughts on these three methods of selling and how you are implementing them within your business!

Alice Heiman

Alice Heiman

Alice is nationally known for her expertise in elevating sales to increase valuation for companies with a B2B complex sale that have exceptional growth potential. She’s originally, from the widely known Miller Heiman Group. Spending her time strategizing with CEOs and their leadership teams to build the strategies that find new business and grow existing accounts is her passion.  Her clients love her spirit and the way she energizes their sales organization.


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