THE BLOG
09/30/2013 03:42 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2013

Stop Pretending You're Selling

Definitions count in discussions, if for no other reason than to ensure everyone is talking about the same thing before they take sides. If the meaning of key terms are fudged, diluted or distorted, there can be little good or progress from the discussion or debate to follow.

A recurring discussion that has dominated business-to-business (B2B) sales for the past few years, has been the role of salespeople in customer engagement in a web 2.0 world. In sales this has come to be symbolized by the impact of Sales 2.0 and social selling.

For a productive discussion It's important to define and differentiate between salespeople and order-takers, and buyers versus prospects.

A rallying point for Sales 2.0 proponents has been the perceived shift in the balance of power between "buyer" and "seller", insisting that the role and even the need for traditional sales people has greatly diminished, if not become obsolete. Many advocates leaning heavily on claims that "today's buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent of the way through their journey before they reach out to the vendor" or similar assertions.

Here is the problem with the above, if the buyer was 66 to 90 percent percent through the "buying process", they weren't sold, but rather initiated and nearly completed the "buying process" in response to a self-identified need. They went to the web, social networks, and peers to get input and direction; they visited the various vendors' web sites to learn about their products, potential advantages and pricing. The person they then engage with is little more than an order-taker, definitely not a salesperson, more the equivalent of checkout clerk at the supermarket. There is no more selling there, than when the kid at the fast food outlet asks if you'd like fries with your shake.

Further, many pundits insist that at any given time, only 3 percent of your marketplace is in active buying mode, another 7 percent who would be interested if the right offer came along, and the remaining 90 percent are just not interested or see a need to be interested -- happy on the sidelines. Meaning that at best, maybe 10 percent of your market will travel the 66 to 90 percent journey described above. The remaining 90 percent must be engaged by a salesperson, not an order-taker, if they are to become your customer.

A mainstream definition of selling: to persuade or influence or induce someone to buy' - or to a course of action or to the acceptance of something

According Selling Power -- a leading B2B sales publication, sales is defined as:

  • to persuade a person to take action
  • a process of asking directive questions to help customers visualize how they could satisfy a need
  • a process where a salesperson and a customer walk the road of agreement together
  • finding a need and filling that need
  • selling is an art and a science. The science is the ability to diagnose a problem and find the best solution. The art is the ability to create the relationship and to co-create the solution with the customer.

Salespeople are paid to spend their time identifying latent need, where a potential prospect did not see one before being engaged by that salesperson, and as a result of the salesperson's actions, they move from the sidelines to being active, with the salesperson helping them navigate through the process of becoming a customer.

Clearly the job of the sales professional is to go out and identify and "create" potential targets, convert those targets to leads, leads to prospects, and then sell those prospects and convert them to clients. Professional salespeople are not paid to "check out" self-serve buyers at the end of their "buying process". Salespeople initiate a sales process, as in the last bullet above, "create... and... to co-create"; when buyers go through 66 to 90 percent of their purchase solo, there is no creating or co-creating, there is just "checking out", something technology can easily do.

Before becoming Sales 2.0 central, in another Selling Power piece, "Selling Is Not Order Taking", Maxine Goldstein states: "Order-takers are limited because they allow the client to control the sales session, opening only the accounts requested and nothing more. Sales professionals guide clients through the sales session, listening, acknowledging, supporting, and closing on not only what the client came in for, but also on products which fulfill client needs uncovered during the sales session."

It is truer than ever that If you want to grow sales, you need to hire and develop sales people willing and able to engage 90 percent of your potential market, not foster order takers who at best can serve the lowest margin 10 percent. But without clear definition, you may confuse the two.