4 Signs Your Company’s Sales Culture is Stuck in the 80’s

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Let me say right off the bat I have no problem with the 80’s. I was in my 20’s all through that decade and I look back fondly on the era. Perhaps you do, too. But, if your (or your company’s) sales approach, tools, and processes are still the same as when Madonna ruled the airwaves and you carried a Walk Man everywhere, I suggest take a good long look at the calendar. It’s been 30 years for crying out loud. What worked then won’t work now. So, here’s a quick test to see if YOUR sales culture is stuck in the 80’s.

1)    You focus on products and product knowledge

There’s no question every salesperson should have a solid working knowledge of all the products in their portfolio. But if your company’s sales training places a heavy emphasis on product knowledge (along with the accompanying belief this will improve sales), you’re seriously delusional.

There are two problems at work here. The first is that many buyers see the things they buy as commodities, meaning completely interchangeable. This is why there’s so much pressure on price. If all products are the same, the only differentiation is price.

The second problem is buyers don’t need sellers to tell them about their products’ attributes. In 1985, they did.  But, thanks to Al Gore, any savvy buyer in 2016 can (and does) conduct his own research – right from his desk. The idea that buyers need a live person to fly to their city, rent a car and hotel and then appear at their desk in person just so they can talk about their products is insane. What an incredible waste of time and resources!

2)    You use phrases like “push” and “pitch.”

Whenever I hear the word “push” in the context of sales and marketing, I reflexively expectorate in my own mouth. Are you kidding me? High achievement in sales has nothing to do with exerting force or being aggressive and everything to do with building relationships and adding value. If I have to explain this to you, I know what to buy you for your birthday: a calendar. The year is 2016. And for heaven’s sake, read Daniel Pink. Read Seth Godin. Read Malcolm Gladwell. You’ve missed a lot of great books in the last 30 years. I suggest you get busy. And unless you’re presenting a major business deal to a group of angel investors or you’re a guest on Shark Tank, you’ve got no business using the word “pitch.”

3)    You measure number of sales calls made

Whatever you measure, you’ll get more of.  Which would you rather have: more sales calls or more sales? Beware of the lame assumption there’s somehow a correlation between activity and achievement.  Nonsense. Fiction. Healthy, profitable sales are the byproduct of a much larger relationship. Why not measure the number of engaged customers you have? We’re talking about people who repeatedly use your products on a regular basis. Do you know how many of your customers have been with you for 2 years or 5 years or more? Do you know the lifetime value of each customer? Do you know what it costs to acquire a new customer? Now, these are great things to measure. Stop measuring sales calls. When the horse stops breathing, it’s time to dismount.

4)    Lots of time spent preparing presentations

Whenever I rail on about the futility of presentations, I always receive wide-eyed responses of indignation- but only among those that are “stuck in the 80’s.” The fact of the matter is most salespeople just don’t know any better. No one has ever taught them differently. I like what Jeff Thull says in his brilliant book, Mastering the Complex Sale. Jeff says that most presentations are a waste of time because they’re plagued with three fundamental problems: content, timing, and audience. They present too much, too soon and to the wrong people. It’s amazing how much time some salespeople spend preparing presentations. Just like I mentioned above about the focus on products and product knowledge, there’s this mistaken assumption that success in sales is about giving people information. It might have worked in the 80’s but it’s virtually pointless in 2016. That time would be better spent discovering needs and designing solutions collaboratively with the client. The “modern” way of selling is not about peddling information. It’s about engagement and adding true business value.

If you’re bothered by anything I’ve said here, it’s not entirely your fault. Well, most of it is your fault because you haven’t taken the steps necessary to improve and hone your skills in order to keep up with the times. But, it’s not entirely your fault. Most companies who employ sales teams not only perpetuate the outdated sales methods of the past but reinforce them. The good news is it’s never too late to “upgrade” your skills. I’ll leave you with this one final thought: “If you can’t change the company you work for, change the company you work for.”

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10 Comments

  1. I laughed til I cried. Great stuff. This was all true in the 80’s when the PC era revolution was full swing (and now look where we are). I am so excited about what we can do to accelerate sales performance in the AB industry.

  2. Your article is a must read for our industry. Gone are the days of,
    “This wine is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, from 1800 foot elevations, made in the heart of somewhere.”

    Consultative sales requires that, the questions, of how, what and why does your product do to help
    my business be answered.

    The sales person’s relationship grows when quality business solutions are offered. Short term sales practices give you short term relationships. Consultative selling grants you the long term rewards.

  3. Good thoughts as usual Ben. Agree that measuring # of sales calls is worse than meaningless. Measuring things that happen during sales calls, like a targeted account survey, an order commitment to be passed to distributor, menu placement or the like – those things are worth measuring for many suppliers. Particularly if there are goals in place to set expectations.

    I’ll retire the tape player on your advice. One question, can I still rock my Sony Discman? It kind of skips when I jog and the battery life is the length of a single song but Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ is awesome on CD. :-)

    • Oh, my- you just brought back a flood of memories with your Peter Gabriel comment! Thanks, as always, for your confirmation and support!

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