We use strong standpoints and expressions in our blog posts to make them more interesting. In 90% (not a scientifically tested number – just using a strong statement) of these posts, the author starts the rest of the post by saying that this is of course not so etc. and we can smile and maybe continue reading. Sometimes however (should be 10% according to my strong statement above) the reader seams to mean it. Sorry to say most of these are used when the post (or the one posting to be correct) is trying to sell something.
Take this example, a post in the American Express OPEN Forum called “A Crash Course in Lead Generation: #Sales Without Selling”
(I skipped all the “Marketing is dead” statements, and besides, sales is my research field)
According to the article:
“Traditional lead generation through cold calling and other hard sales tactics is dead” – No its not… (See traditional selling below and later arguments).
“This is because we actually cant sell anything to anyone. We just need to be there when people are ready to buy.” No its not… (See a broader value approach).
So lets start with:
When doing a Google search on sales strategies you will get more than 550 million results, and a quick review of some of these shows that the opinion about what is a sales strategy varies. Also within academic literature there is a large amount of different approaches with different names, but which can be difficult to distinguish. It is therefor easier to present them as bigger “trends”, which co-exists in the marketplace:
Traditional selling (seller centric view)
Traditional selling, often called “hard selling” or “transactional selling” has been the dominant view of the sales process from the beginning. In this approach closing the sale and winning the order seamed to be the final goal for most sales reps, and indeed was what they where measured on. Out of the transactional approach grew the picture of the sales rep as an aggressive, pushy and annoying individual, not focusing on the customers needs but just bluntly trying to sell their product at any cost. The metaphors used were obtained from the military, and the sales field was often viewed as a battlefield. Most of the literature on this approach is traditionally what you would find at an airport bookstand and written by non-academic self-proclaimed sales experts. In 1980 Dubinsky presented his framework “The seven steps of selling”. This was a presentation of all the steps from initial contact until the closing of the sales and was influenced by the traditional view of sales and that most sales included traditional products.
And even today this is a dominant sales approach for many companies.
Solution selling (customer centric view)
The move towards increased sales of services and a stronger competitive climate and the understanding that customer retention cost less than customer acquisition, paved the way for a more customer centric approach. Terho, Haas, Eggert, & Ulaga (2012) presents several approaches of this view, among them the adaptive selling approach, where the salesperson alters the information and approach based on customer reaction during the process. The consultative selling approach, where trust, credibility and looking at the salesperson, as an expert is central aspect. In the relationship selling approach the focus is on cooperation with the customer in all stages of the sale, mutual disclosure and intensive follow-up.
A broader value approach (customer organization centric view)
For some the solution selling approach (in a broad sense) could be translated into the statement that “the customer is king” or “the customer is always right”.
In the later years this view have been under attack. And the opposite view can simplified be expressed as “the customer is not always right”. One could argue that Steve Jobs was a long-standing supporter of this view, since he in several interviews has rejected the idea of using market surveys in product development, claiming that the consumer do not know what they want.
(Terho et al. 2012) presented Value-based selling, defined as: “the degree to which the salesperson works with the customer to craft a market offering in such a way that benefits are translated into monetary terms, based on an in-depth understanding of the customers business model, thereby convincingly demonstrating their contribution to customers profitability”. When using value-based selling they see a shift in the selling approach where salespeople focus on the solutions implication on the customers whole business, not just focusing on expressed needs or creating customer satisfaction.
In line with the value-based selling approach, Dixon and Adamson (2011) argue that the most successful seller is the “challenger”, not the relationship seller. The challenger profile has the ability to teach, tailor and take control, the three basic attributes of the challenger-selling model.
So the challenger challenges the customers to find the best solution to their problem, not just accepting the needs presented by the customer. In their article “The End of Solution Sales” Adamson, Dixon, & Toman (2012) argue that just presenting a solution to a stated customer need is not enough. According to them “a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision–researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on–before even having a conversation with a supplier”. In such an environment the solution based seller lose their advantage because the customer already has defined the solution they want.
So to round this up: Hard selling is alive and kicking. And relationships selling are under attack by value based selling. No one is dead yet…
When deciding on your sales strategy or approach you should get back to your basics. What kind of product or solution are you offering, how do your competitors approach the market, what does your ideal customers base look like etc. – basically use your old Kotler and Porter books on marketing management and strategy.
When that is done your preferred sales strategy should be easier to decide, and it might just be possible that this will be the hard selling method!