From Legacy to Modern Sales Approaches, Who Leads | Part 7

The Gist:

  • In a transactional sale, the salesperson has too little power to lead the client.
  • In the legacy solution approach, the salesperson must negotiate a linear sales process.
  • In the modern approach, the salesperson leads the client.

One way you can identify where your sales approach falls on the continuum of legacy to modern is by asking who leads the conversation and what challenges they are addressing. On the legacy side of this continuum, the client leads the salesperson. On the modern side, the salesperson leads the client through the conversation and the decision.

From Legacy to Modern Sales Approaches Parts 1-6:

Legacy Laggard: Follow the Client

Salespeople using the legacy laggard approach didn’t always follow the client’s lead. There was a time when the salesperson would have managed the one conversation that would have been necessary to sell their product or service. But because the legacy approach was—and is—transactional in nature and the balance of power has shifted to the prospective client, these salespeople find themselves in a difficult situation. When you sell in such a way that your client perceives your product or a solution as a commodity, you lack the ability to lead the conversation.

It might seem like the problem here is the product. After all, when there are many options and alternatives readily available, it is difficult to command a client’s time, let alone to control the process. But the real culprit here is how legacy laggard salespeople approach the sales conversation. When a salesperson creates no value outside of the product or service, there is no need to schedule a meeting or even take a call.

The legacy laggard approach often results in the salesperson just sending the prospective client their information, so the Purchasing department can send the salesperson an RFP when they decide they need an upgrade. That transactional approach clearly has the salesperson following the client’s direction.

Legacy Solution: Negotiate the Process

Legacy Solution: Negotiate the Process

The legacy solution approach to sales was a giant leap forward from the transactional approach you find in the older legacy methods. The importance of solving problems that prevented companies from producing better results increased the significance of their buying decisions. Unlike buying a product or a service, buying a solution meant doing the due diligence necessary to make a good decision for their business.

This shift in decision-making, along with a more complex business climate, causes two important outcomes. First, it generally means that more people from the client’s side are going to participate in the conversation. Second, it leads to more conversations. Those who have sold using a legacy solution approach will recognize that the conversations and the meetings generally looked like the traditional, linear sales process older generations followed.

When clients had their own purchase procedures, it was sometimes necessary to negotiate the process, ensuring that the salesperson could have the conversations they thought were necessary. The intention here was not so much to serve the client as it was to follow the sales organization’s process (and to avoid chastisement for coloring outside the lines). If it helped the client, all the better, even though none of the checklists included “did you help your client make a good decision?”

Modern Approach: Lead Your Client

Modern Approach: Lead Your Client

Clients’ complex environments make it more difficult to make important decisions, so they need different things from salespeople—and few if any solutions even approach one-size-fits-all.

As we have already explored in this series, both legacy approaches start discovery with the idea that your client is already compelled to change and that all you need is a confession that they have a problem. You will see this idea popularized on social media sites as “sell the problem you solve.” That advice is too simplistic to meet actual clients’ real needs.

Your prospective clients almost always recognize that they have problems and that they need better results. The reasons they don’t act on that knowledge are varied and complicated. But because it is difficult to make decisions in an uncertain environment, it feels safer to do nothing and hope for the best. The modern salesperson needs to lead their client by helping them make sense of their world and what they need to do. We refer this as “sense-making,” and it is one way to help your contacts consider the changes they need by providing context and understanding.

Important decisions result in more stakeholders being invited into conversations, something that is necessary to a decision. Consensus is difficult to achieve under the best of circumstances, and it can feel impossible when different individuals and groups have competing priorities and incentives that prevent change.

When any individual or group make a decision infrequently, they lack the experience to know how to make the decision, what factors they should consider, how they should weigh them, as well as how to go about making the decision. Because the salesperson sells what they sell every day, they have greater experience guiding people through a process that produces the conversations necessary for a good decision.

Read the next chapter in the series: Part 8 | Locus of Value

Do Good Work:

  • Recognize when clients make decisions that prevent them from making good decisions.
  • Don’t assume your client has a clear understanding of how best to make a decision about their future.
  • Help your client have the conversations necessary for a good decision.

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