Over the past few decades, selling has changed. The changes have been incremental, giving salespeople time to adjust. Not so today. The degree and speed of change in the sales world over the past two years is revolutionary – in how, why, and when customers buy and, therefore, in how you sell.

Selling has been turned on its head, and sales organisations are trying to catch up. If you have any doubts about the magnitude of change, just think about your level of control over the last major retail purchase you made and multiply that by twenty, and you will have a sense of the revolution in buying that is going on with your customers. The revolution has created a shift of control – away from you as a seller and toward your customer.

The bottom line is this: there is a need to increase your preparation and knowledge so you can bring more to the table. Today’s customers want and need business advice around your customised product solution. What does advice look like? How do you deliver it?

Advice comes in the form of a point of view, shared experience, resources, expertise, insights, new ideas, and new ways to look at old problems, research, and contacts. Giving advice requires confidence, and having it acted on demands credibility, commitment, and solution co-creation.
In my work at Richardson and at Wharton, I have identified seven essential changes in selling in this new sales world:


    Conduct deeper preparation and leverage the internet, research, and your team to gain a deep understanding of your customer’s business and anticipate the customer’s business challenges and opportunities. Learn everything you can about your competitors. (Your prepared customers know a lot about them and will test you.)


    Leverage your preparation and expand your thoughtful and strategic questions to get under the skin of the needs and challenges you uncover or assume. Use questions to refine your customer’s thinking. Probe why, why not, and what else.


    Increase your assertiveness by executing a sales process that defines activities and measurable outcomes for each stage. Exert control with, not over customers.


    Map the customer organisation, get to executives, and sell across the decision-making group to gain consensus and support and cultivate a coach. Gain consensus among your team.


    Build your business acumen and develop industry, market, and customer specific knowledge. Leverage all team members, keep abreast of research, and tap into experience with other customers. Learn from customers as much as they learn from you.


    Build solutions with your customers. Collaborate with customers by providing business advice, listening to them, and refining how they think about their challenges, to build winning solutions together.


    If you are doing it, kiss any semblance of order-taking goodbye. Dig in by asking why, why not, and what else. Ask the tough questions.

Introduce and champion alternatives you believe in. Take an equal place at the table. Be persistent in helping customers think outside the box. Be passionate about solving business problems.

The speed of change is unprecedented. The Beatles got it right in the song ‘Revolution’, when they said, “We’d all love to see the plan.”

Linda Richardson is the founder and Executive Chairwoman of Richardson.

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