The Next Step in the Evolution of Sales


Just recently, Byron Matthews, Chief Executive Officer of Miller Heiman Group and Tamara Schenk, Research Director at CSO Insights, published their book “SALES ENABLEMENT A Master Framework to Engage, Equip, and Empower A World-Class Sales Force”. Their approach to Sales Enablement is comprehensive and, in my view, for many sales leaders, a must-read.

The focus of sales in the past

According to Matthews and Schenk, there have been hundreds of sales methodologies introduced over the years, but most of those in the modern era (post-industrial age) can be grouped into one of three stages.

Product. Before the internet was at everybody’s fingertips, buyers came to a salesperson needing product information, including detailed specs, because they couldn’t get it anywhere else. Aside from the random word-of-mouth recommendation, many buyers had no idea what their options were. They came to a salesperson expecting to be educated on products, including sitting through sometimes daylong demonstrations. The salesperson’s role was that of a product expert. They had to quickly understand the customer’s issues and match the product to the needs.

Features/ benefits. Slowly, sellers discovered that the best salespeople were those who could translate the features of the product into the benefits the customers were looking for. No doubt, this had been the case for decades, but the features/ benefits stage formalized the approach. A ton of work was done creating “pain chains” and “features/ benefit statements,” but at the end of the day, selling still revolved around the product.

Solution/ consultative selling. The first real leap away from product-focused selling came with the concept of Solution Selling. In Solution Selling, the salesperson uses diagnostic skills to understand the customer’s objectives. Instead of just telling customers about their product’s features and benefits and letting them sort it all out, consultative salespeople match solutions to the customer’s needs and put their proposals in the language of the buyers.

Industry experts agree there is a need for the next stage. The question, of course, is what is next, and where are you on that evolutionary path?

Customers: “Tell me something I don’t know”

We need to adapt to the new needs of the buyers. Buyers come to the table armed with information (and misinformation) as well as preconceived thinking about what your product and services do and will not do and how you compare to the competition. They say to salespersons: “Tell me something I don’t know.”

Lead with insights

Leading with Insights is what buyers expect us, salespeople, to do. In a hyper-informed world, sales professionals need to approach buyers differently.

Second, as sales professionals, we should be more aware of where the buying stakeholders of customers (and potential customers) are in their buying process. If there are several stakeholders involved, they may be all at different stages. For example, if a business is dissatisfied with the performance of their current supplier, have they reviewed and explored all improvement options with the supplier? This is the most logical step customers take. Because changing suppliers is stepping into something new and comes with risks. Fixing things with someone you know seems easier. But, did agreed actions turn into a successful outcome or has disappointment led the business to a mindset of the need for change? And if that decision to change has been made, have they already explored improvement criteria that the next solution of the next supplier must meet?

Understand the customer’s buying process.

Understanding better where the customer is in their buying process gives the sales execs prompts of what the buyer is going through and what possible information is missing so they can share that information and how that can help the business move towards the desired situation.

Ask strategic questions

While the customer is still gathering information, sales professionals should ask strategic questions and provide thought-provoking insights to guide the customer’s thinking and help them explore areas they hadn’t thought about. Adding perspective helps prospects and customers understand the real business impact of their challenges and what outcomes they could achieve if they decide to change suppliers. In today’s market, sellers who have a broader “bird’s eye” view of the situation and can act as external, independent advisors to counterbalance the buyer’s own views will be the winners in the future.

Where are you on this evolutionary sales stage? Can you quickly grasp where your customers and prospects are in their buying process? Are you leading with insights?

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  1. Yes, I do agree that sales professionals should update my knowledge structure and leading with insights.

  2. Most useful reading and learning materials that will undoubtedly help one sales person to diagnosis and support customer buying decision process.

  3. Yes, I do agree that sales professionals should update their knowledge structure and leading with insights.

  4. Identifying all the stakeholders and their position in the quest for change really matters

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