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Were the Good Old Days Really That Good For Sales People?

Ever wish you could go back in time to a time when things were simpler and selling was easier and less complicated?

Occasionally, someone expresses this sentiment in one of my sales training workshops. It is usually a seasoned veteran who has decades of experience -often in one industry- and someone who has experienced difficulties adapting to the challenges in the new sales environment.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.

I remember talking to a sales rep more than 20 years ago when I was opening a new restaurant for the company I worked for at the time. Gord had been a sales rep for a major beer company for at least 15 years and he frequently lamented the fact that he couldn’t conduct business the way he had in the past. Gone were the days of sitting down with a restaurant owner and spending the bulk of the afternoon consuming beer and reaching a gentleman’s agreement during that ‘meeting’.

I certainly won’t deny that selling used to be easier. But, this could be said of each decade that has passed in the last century. However, this doesn’t always mean that the changes are negative.

Let’s consider some of the changes that have occurred in sales in the last few decades.

  1. Availability of information

    There is so much information that is readily and quickly available to sales reps now compared to ten or fifteen years ago. Consider how easy it is to find out who the key decision makers are in a company or how much revenue their company generates or how many people work for a particular organization. You don’t have to scour annual reports, make countless calls or talk to dozens of people. Most of the information you need is now available online.

  2. Access

    We now have so much more access to people. This article is a perfect example. Twenty years ago I would have had to print and mail it to people in my database. Talk about time consuming and costly! Now, I can send it to tens of thousands of people with a click of a button.

  3. Instant communication

    Years ago we relied on fax machines-before that it was the teletype (I think I just dated myself!). Sales reps also carried pagers and a roll of quarters so they could ‘call in’ for messages. There was no voice mail which meant sales people had to keep calling and calling and calling. Now, the majority of sales people have smartphones attached to their hips and have ready access to anyone they need to contact. We also have instant messaging, email and texting plus social media.

  4. Social media

    Although many sales people have not fully embraced social media as a way to generate leads and increase their sales, it is becoming a force to be reckoned with. I wish I had fully embraced social media two years before I actually did because it is an excellent way to connect with people that are looking to buy your products or services. Plus, social media also gives you the opportunity to interact with many other people who can give you different insights, ideas and solutions.

  5. Web Conferencing

    When I was kid, I remember ‘futurists’ talking about video telephones and how every home would be equipped with one. While that hasn’t happened (directly), streaming and web cams have made the concept a reality. A face-to-face meeting with a client who was located on the other side of the country used to require many resources including time, flights, hotels, meals. Now, technology has made it easy and cost-effective to have a video conversation with customers or prospects.

  6. The recession

    There’s nothing like a serious kick in the head to make you realize that what helped you become successful can change in an instant. The recession certainly did this. Budgets were slashed, buyers were given a mandate to cut purchases, and multiple layers of decision makers were added to many organizations. And many companies suffered tremendous losses.

Where’s the positive in this?

The recession has forced sales people to change their approach. Smart sales executives and their companies realized that they needed to become more strategic in nature and adapted accordingly. Less intuitive companies continued doing what they had always done but got a much lower ROI for their efforts. This has given the ‘smarter’ companies (and people) a serious competitive advantage.

So, what’s my point?

Evolution is a natural occurrence that applies to every aspect of our lives, including sales. Even though selling is more challenging and difficult now there are many advantages for sales people in today’s environment. After all, do you really want to hop in a time machine and go back to the days of limited communication?

Embrace the challenges of change. The good old days aren’t as good as you think they were.

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