I’m not a whiskey drinker, but I do love history, and selling. So when I read this quote from the October 16, 1861 Memphis Daily Appeal in a University of North Carolina blog recently, I couldn’t help get a chuckle and also make a connection to today’s sales enablement challenges.

“Times are tight here, as indeed they seem to be everywhere. Pea-nuts have advanced fifty per cent., and three-cents-a-drink whisky is now so diluted, I am told, that a good sized drink would come near to bursting a five gallon demijohn [a large bottle having a short, narrow neck, and usually encased in wickerwork]. I have noticed several who kept well soaked during the winter season have not been generally more than half drunk during the present, owing to the aqueous element present in the elevating fluids, thus preventing the stomach from holding enough to affect the head.”

This quote relates to sales performance in two ways. First, this article was written at a historically significant time in regard to how your sales force probably sells your offerings today. Second, a trending business strategy — in response to contemporary financial challenges — has diluted the potency of what, until recently, your buyers valued most about your salespeople.

Your Selling System Is Outdated

About the same time as the article above was written, professional selling was coming of age. Companies such as NCR, led by John Patterson (image below) improved systemized sales process and training innovations that were developing at the time. For the next 150 years, companies used derivative approaches to train salespeople to sell. The emphasis was on finding a need for a product and providing deep expertise on the capabilities and application of their products. Customers needed product education and sellers provided it for a century and a half. Yet today, most companies haven’t fully realized that their selling systems — deeply rooted in obsolete selling approaches — need to radically adapt to profound changes in how companies buy in this century. The Selling System In The Age Of The Customer will require new principles and approaches to add value to buyers to grow sales.

Salespeople Aren’t The Experts They Once Needed To Be

To boost revenues, companies have been aggressively adding more and more products to their portfolios (through product development or acquisition). Many salespeople now represent hundreds of individual products. As a result, their depth of knowledge of any given offerings is vastly diluted.

Buyer Expectations Have Changed

In the age of the customer, buyers have access to potent alternative sources of product information to get educated on what they require. For buyers, salespeople are — for the most part — no longer a necessary source of product knowledge.

On the other hand, executive buyers are more challenged than ever to solve increasing complex problems for their companies. What these buyers say they need and appreciate — with their checkbooks — are salespeople who engage them and their teams with empathy and knowledge about the complex problems they face, and who provide the expertise to help them solve these problems. Unfortunately, our research shows that only 20% of the salespeople who call on executive buyers today are focused on problem solving.

The Future Of Your Salesforce Requires A Makeover

Companies will continue to replace salespeople to lower their cost of sales, meet customer demand for 24×7 access to product information, and make buying easy. eCommerce sites that provide intuitive interfaces for product information, configuration, pricing, and transaction capabilities will increasingly be the norm for product sales. This only makes sense for commoditized offerings, where managing down cost to protect margin is an imperative.

To make your sales force a relevant, high-potency solution to revenue growth, however, you must revamp your selling system to hire, train, equip, develop, and support salespeople who guide your buyers solve their complex problems. The challenge is in overcoming organizational muscle memory and creating clarity for what must change. 

Check out Elevate Your Sales Training Impact With A Strategic Framework, the first installment in an ongoing series I’ll be producing to help you transform your sales force in the age of the customer.

What are you doing to modernize your selling system?