Let's rewind back to 1988 when business was simpler.
You are about to purchase a used-car. You've done your homework and heard raving reviews from friends. You are sold on the ads, word-of-mouth, and possibly by a couple magazines about the car you are about to purchase.
You arrive at the dealership. You know what type of car you want to buy, but how do you know which car is in the best condition?
Your best source of knowledge? That pesky used-car salesman.
In today's world, can you imagine purchasing a car without leveraging all the resources available to you on the internet? Hopefully not!
However, not too long ago, sales professionals were the primary source of knowledge when a customer was evaluating a product. As a result, to leg-up on a customer, information was hoarded or distorted to give a sales professional an edge over the customer.
Even just twenty years ago, a stockbroker could cold call anyone and pitch them on an unknown penny stock to a naïve client who had no familiarity with the stock market.
We've all seen the movie Wolf of Wall Street in which a gang of unsophisticated sales professionals push underwhelming penny stocks after bundling them with a couple of blue-chip stocks to rake in millions in commission per a year.
Today such stockbrokers are basically non-existent and such practices rarely occur. This is because, with the advent of the internet, anyone can get access to financial statements and research analyst recommendations.
As a result, gone are the heydays of boiler room stockbrokers or smooth-talking used-car salesman. In order to be successful in today's sales game, you can't just talk yourself into closing a deal.
Products have become much more sophisticated as well as the consumer. The sales profession has dramatically changed in the past couple of decades yet we still think of sales as a sleazy profession and the first image that comes to mind is still the used-car salesman.
Mark Cuban emphasizes that sales is the key to become successful in any field yet we misunderstand the profession emphatically!
You can read more details on the evolution of sales in my book The Outlier Approach: How to Triumph in your Career as a Nonconformist, but here's a quick guide on how to set yourself for success in today's world of sales.
Understand that sales has changed.
Today's customers are extremely smart and products have become much more sophisticated. This means that you need to recruit professionals that have not only great people skills but also have great product insight. You can't rely on a quick verbal tap dance and go for the quick sale. If you don't know your stuff, customers can instantly verify facts online since information is less dependent on the sales professional.
Focus on the long-term.
Sophisticated products mean longer sales cycles and unlike days of the past, any negative news about your company can spread like wildfire. Build relationships you can count on for decades. Check-in with customers regularly. For example, most of my clients' numbers are saved on my phone. Thus, anytime I have down time, I enjoy shooting out a quick text to say "hello".
Become an educator.
From social media to big data, to cryptocurrency, today's world is changing faster than ever. Customers are looking for someone who is not only knowledgeable about the product in their space but someone who can act as a "consultant" and become their source of knowledge in their industry. Sure, information is ubiquitous but it's hard to navigate through the endless parades of new products coming their way.
For example, as a millennial, often times customers will ask me how to manage social media despite the fact that this is outside what my company offers. The opportunity has been great for me to strengthen business relationships.
Appreciate the sales profession
Today's rockstar sales professionals are completely different from the ones a couple decades ago. Thus, as the leader of your business, you need to stay ahead of the changes.
One of the best sales books I have read was The Challenger Sale. The book discusses how today's most successful sales professionals are the ones who can make clients think differently about their business and act as a "consultant" and challenges the way customers think opposed to a salesman which focuses on pitching a good deal. Hence the title "The Challenger Sale". Proactively educate yourself about the sales profession and its evolution.
While we have been asleep, the sales profession has changed dramatically and the wolves of wall street and used-car salesmen have quietly become extinct. Understand the changes that are taking place in the profession of sales to keep your business relevant.