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Nothing, it is said, lasts forever. Despite popular belief, even a well-packaged Twinkie will not outlast humanity. And recently, the manufacturer of the much-beloved Twinkie, Hostess announced that their doors will soon be closed. 8-tracks, and their obligatory 8-track players, were once the preferred medium for music aficionados, lost their appeal decades ago and have become the target of jokes.
Things and times change. And so does the wonderful world of sales.
Sales professionals were once well know (and poorly reputed) to be focused solely on making a sale. They were expected to be fast talking influencers that needed to be able to think fast and smooth talk their way out of anything.
For decades, this perception permeated and persisted in the minds of consumers. And, never wanting to disappoint, many in the sales industry responded to this public belief by adopting the expected personality traits. In training, sales professionals learned how to close hard and were instructed to “always be closing.” Seldom was sales training filled with effective listening modules nor how best to create a satisfied and loyal customer.
Before I paint too negative an image of sales professionals in the not so distant past, understand that it was not that those sales professionals were bad people; seeking only their gain in the form of larger commission checks. Quite the contrary. It was the sales training during the 1970’s through the late 1990’s that taught that a sale is only made when the right amount of pressure (sometimes euphemistically called “persuasion”) was brought to the bargaining table.
“A prospect needs to be closed. Sometimes, you may have to close hard!”
There are many reasons why sales training evolved away from the hard-sell style to the more elegant styles used in the true professionals of today. Some point to the Internet, Social Media, the “Information Society” or any other number of historical events. The truth, however is that no one single event caused the changes, but all of them together. And like anything else, there would have been no change if change was not needed.
While many new to sales or those committed to improving their sales skills may still learn different types of sales closes. Sales opportunities still need to be closed, yet the methods and styles used to turn prospects into customers has evolved drastically.
Customers are now seen not as added digits to a paycheck but as business partners in many industries. Instead of trying to influence or persuade, sales professionals now seek to build trust and rapport with their customers and can feel confident when returning to a customer to ask for a reference or referral. A sales professional who used (or uses) hard-closing tactics seldom could ask for a referral and were infrequently welcomed back into a decision makers office.
Sales professionals are slowly but surely becoming seen as consultants and as problem solvers. The general public may still retain some residual suspicions, but those beliefs will continue to be broken down by those in the sales industry who see their profession as noble, important and as critical to helping others achieve their goals.
One thing about evolution is that it never rests. The business climate and industry in which you sell will always to changing. While the changes may be subtle and recognized over years; know that changes are happening. One of your top objectives in your career has to be to always seek to improve, to adapt and to become welcomed back into the offices of your customers.
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