Out With the Cold, In With the New: 5 Major Ways Sales Is Changing

November 13, 2015 // 8:30 AM

Written by Mike Renahan | @mikerenahan
5 ways sales is changing

If you’re in sales, it’s time to rethink how you’re approaching your prospects.

A field that was once built on reps holding all the power has become one that is focused on the buyer. Today’s prospective buyer has just as much information as the sales rep, and doesn’t need to go to them for much other than to actually purchase the product or to seek clarification.

So as a sales rep, it’s up to you to adjust accordingly. In this new era of the empowered and informed buyer, traditional sales strategies are becoming less and less effective. Cold calling and “show up and throw up” are fading into the sales twilight while warm outreach and relationship building move to the forefront.

Instead of hard selling, modern reps need to start developing and using new sales techniques that are both good for the buyer, and good for the seller. Here are five sales tactics from the new playbook of inbound sales that salespeople must embrace to remain relevant.

Modern Reps Don’t Sell, They Help

Thanks to the internet, buyers no longer need to rely on reps for basic product information, and this drastically changes the role of the salesperson in the buying process. High-pressure sales tactics no longer work on informed prospects who are more than capable of gathering data and making their own decisions.

So what’s a sales rep to do? Prioritize helping over selling.

Modern reps help their prospects by answering questions, brainstorming solutions to pressing problems, and offering clarification about their service or product. If a prospect wants to know the differences between their product and a competitors’, helpful reps answer honestly and enable the prospect to better understand the relative merits of each option.

Helping also means being there when it comes to support issues. Some reps might hand the problem off to another team member after the deal is inked, but helpful reps stand by their customers’ sides through the thick and thin. If the customer isn’t delighted with their purchase, inbound sales reps work hard to solve the problem.

Here are five questions to ask next time you’re speaking with a prospect to make it clear you’re committed to helping them above all else:

  • Is there any part of the product you found confusing and would like clarification on?
  • How can I help you decide whether or not this product is for you?
  • What kind of value do you want to see out of this product?
  • What can I do to help you better understand our service?
  • What are the major challenges you’re grappling with, and how can I help you solve them?

Modern Reps Build Long-Term Relationships, Not Short-Term Sales

In the past, once a prospect signed on the dotted line, the rep would often vanish (until the time came to renew the contract).

The modern day rep has a different approach altogether. Developing a relationship with prospects is critical in today’s sales environment. As author Ken Cook puts it: “Relationships matter because selling today has evolved. Twenty-first century sales success depends on trust before solutions.”

And the relationship has to start from day one. The old sales playbook advocates for trying to build a connection out of thin air with cold calls. But consider that 64% of sales reps say cold calling hasn’t improved in the last three years. The modern inbound sales reps research their prospects, engage with them online, and seek warm introductions to build rapport — before they ever pick up the phone. After the relationship is forged, then and only then is it time to introduce the buyer to their product.

Here are three easy ways to build a relationship with a prospect:

  1. Engage with them on social media. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, sparking up a conversation and becoming familiar to a buyer is an easy way to foster a connection.
  2. Ask a ton of questions. Get to know your buyer. Ask questions that go beyond the usual “How’s business?” Dive into family, sports, the weather, interests, passions, goals — any and all topics that might help you build a relationship.
  3. Follow up often. By sending a “Hey, how are you?” email every two or three weeks, you’ll start to develop a personal bond with your prospect. Not only is communicating regularly a great way to build rapport, it will also help you stay top of mind with buyers.

Modern Reps Sell Strategies, Not Products

Prospects have overarching plans and goals for their businesses, and as a sales rep, it’s your job to help them achieve these objectives. In other words, a modern sales rep isn’t just the “product guy,” they’re also business strategists.

Solving for the prospect and/or customer is the most important part of being a sales rep today. Instead of dumping a product into buyers’ laps, offer them strategy advice to help them achieve their goals. Approach every prospect as if they could become your next great case study.

The best way to help with development and strategy is to learn where your prospect is on both a business and personal level today and where they want to go. It’s important to ask open-ended questions here and give your prospect a chance to candidly speak to their challenges, goals, and dreams.

A few easy ways to assist with strategy:

  • Analyze the prospect’s market and look for opportunities for improvement.
  • Share content and case studies of companies that experienced success with new tactics, and ask for buyers’ feedback.
  • Hop on the phone for regular check-ins to ensure they are staying the course and getting to where they want to go.

Modern Sales Reps Are Authentic, Not Scripted

Cold calling with a one-size-fits all script in hand is no longer an effective method for building a relationship. Buyers now expect personalization and customization in all their interactions.

Gaining trust is critical to building rapport with today’s buyers, and the best way to do that is to be genuine from the get-go. In fact, Brian Tracy says that a sales reps’ unique personality can be responsible for up to 80% of their success.

The easiest thing to do to start embracing your personality is simple:

Throw away the script.

By researching your prospects, creating tailored decks, and getting rid of the generic sales script every other salesperson on the floor is using, you’ll allow your personality to shine through. Don’t miss your chance to go a little off the grid and connect with prospects on a personal level, and not just a business level.

Modern Sales Reps Issue Guidance, Not Demands

Because inbound sales reps take the time to discover what their prospects need and genuinely care about buyers’ goals and challenges, they aren’t focused on simply forcing a product down buyers’ throats. Instead, the modern day sales rep believes in providing guidance and options to every prospect to ensure that they are getting what’s best for their business — if it’s the product they sell, or another.

As HubSpot’s VP of Sales Pete Caputa said, sales reps should “give more than they receive.”

On your next sales call, put together a list of three options for your prospect. The first one might be your product, the second a competitor, and the third the status quo. Objectively discuss the pros and cons of each decision and how it could affect business in the long term. Instead of bragging about your product, present all the choices the prospect has, build trust, and then let them make a decision.

Modern Sales Reps Are Inbound, Not Outbound

While outbound sales reps cling to outdated and no longer effective cold sales tactics, inbound reps are adopting the above behaviors to better serve the modern buyer. Rather than automating obtrusive sales tactics of old, inbound reps are revolutionizing the way they sell.

The inbound sales rep has all of these new tactics in their back pocket. They’re focused on being themselves with every prospect, offering help, building long-lasting relationships, assisting with strategy, and offering guidance and options as each prospect enters their funnel.

How do you think sales reps can better serve the modern buyer? Share your perspective in the comments.

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