In 16 BIE (Before Internet Era), business purchases were made by decision-makers who needed to buy stuff for their operations, and they almost always needed help with technical questions, innovations, pricing, availability, delivery, etc.
That year, a/k/a, 1977, every business buyer went to work expecting salespeople to call on them, unscheduled. To a prospect, a “cold call” was not optimum but usually was tolerated. Yes, in those days, you could walk into a business where you were previously unknown and leave with a sale. For current customers, dropping in was expected as good service. Remember, this was BIE, when a salesperson was the equivalent of a website.
As beautifully as this dance by motivated parties worked – one needed information and the other provided it – salespeople were still trained to conduct business with what Xerox (where I worked in 1977) called Professional Selling Skills (PSS). There were three key components to PSS: overcoming objections, closing skills, and probing.
Overcoming objections is discovering what’s really on the mind of the prospect, which, BIE, was often different from the classic pushback, “Your price is too high.” Closing skills are the ability to take the prospect on a journey of understanding, where both sides share information and next-step decisions are agreed to. Professional closing starts at first contact and doesn’t stop until a sale is made – or not. In either case, a skilled closer never lets the prospect feel pressure during this mutually beneficial part of the journey.
The last component, probing, is the foundation of the other two. There are two kinds of probes: directive and non-directive. Directive probes elicit only yes or no responses: “Would that benefit you?” “Is that date good?” Non-directive probes require more illuminating words: “How would that benefit you?” “What date would be best for you?” Notice a non-directive probe begins with one of the interrogatives: who, what, when, where or how. Professional salespeople know when to use the right kind of probe at the right moment in order to keep this journey of understanding moving along productively (read: not get thrown out).
Long ago inducted into the Business Fundamentals Hall of Fame, professional selling skills have delivered success for many generations of salespeople. Efficient use of time for you and your prospect dictates practicing the fundamentals of PSS.
Today, 29 AIE (After Internet Era), I fear professional selling skills are not being taught or practiced at a time when, arguably, it’s more essential than ever before. There are many reasons, but the overarching one is the Internet. No longer are prospects and customers waiting for salespeople to drop by to educate them. First available to the public around 1993, the Internet has since flattened and shrunk the world and placed it under the tip of an index finger. Like most everything else, the Internet didn’t end professional selling, but it did disrupt it.
Professional selling skills are even more fundamental than ever, because in the AIE, prospects need less general help, and that’s where the disruption occurs. The essentialness of professional selling skills as a fundamental is more front-loaded in the first contact segment than BIE because today, cold calling is dead. Let me repeat that: Cold calling is dead. Any questions?
Consequently, here’s how the PSS components must be practiced AIE:
The first AIE objection is … crickets. If you hear crickets, you’re irrelevant. Only salespeople who skillfully prompt and answer the 2nd AIE objection – “Who are you and why should I care?” – are able to achieve a face-to-face appointment by penetrating what I reveal as the “Relevance Firewall” in my book, The Age of the Customer.
The Internet has inverted the closing-difficulty continuum. BIE, when cold calling was accepted, closing started easy and became harder the nearer you were to asking for the sale. Today, it takes your best closing skills to earn some level of relevance just to get the first appointment. But once you’ve crossed over to the other side of the Relevance Firewall, closing is just like BIE – Old School. And since you may be the only one who knows this, don’t be surprised to find that most of your competition doesn’t get through. It might just be you and the prospect.
The selling environment, like the AIE marketplace, is moving at light-speed. Attention spans have been slashed to seconds. If you can’t probe effectively at every step, you won’t get the gold you seek in the precious face time allotted by customers. Remember, in an urgent world, nothing buys you more time than Old School, BIE professional selling skills.
Professional selling skills – like cash flow, saying “Thank you,” and email – are a non-negotiable business fundamental more relevant today than ever.
Write this on a rock … PSS became fundamental because it just works, across all platforms, 99.65% of the time. And it’s more essential now, AIE, than ever.