Your sales process is old and it sucks


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* Lead qualification is nonsense because there are not enough leads.
* Cold calling is less and less effective as nobody returns the call.
* You no longer see inquiries because prospects google their stuff.
* Email lands in spam filters and advertising is ignored
* Reference selling is old because clients find the real users of a product themselves in groups, online communities or blogs like this.
* Consultative selling is limited as you are no longer the most trusted person – nor is media or the “independent” analyst

* When a client comes to you – they know what they want and what price they are willing to pay.
—> Step 6 of 7 “NEGOTIATION” in your old sales book is today actually your step 1 because the other steps were skipped by the customer.

What you see is what you get ;-)

The sales process you follow was developed 20 years ago and it matched with the buying behavior from back then – but no longer today. The CRM systems you are using was built around those old processes – no big help either. There is just no way in heaven that you ever are successful with your old sales tool box.

Or did I miss something?

What you will want to do is bring your sales processes in alignment with the way consumers and corporate buyers make educated purchase decisions.

The new sales process was developed by the leadership team of the Social Media Academy and Xeesm. It is tested since several month now with good success. The new Xeesm system is an online social business application supporting the outline process. But very clearly the process has to be in place first – not the system.


Axel Schultze
CEO of Society3. Our S3 Buzz technology is empowering business teams to create buzz campaigns and increase mentions and reach. S3 Buzz provides specific solutions for event buzz, products and brand buzz, partner buzz and talent acquisition buzz campaigns. We helped creating campaigns with up to 100 Million in reach. Silicon Valley entrepreneur, published author, frequent speaker, and winner of the 2008 SF Entrepreneur award. Former CEO of BlueRoads, Infinigate, Computer2000.


  1. Good insights and an interesting new sales model. We all “feel” that selling has changed a lot becasue of social media. It’s good to see someone writing intelligently about the changes. Thanks.

  2. … are selling to private residential consumers, and not in a B2B world.

    For every statement you make about how the ‘old’ sales process of 2 decades ago sucks, I can give you 500 tangible pieces of proof that clearly and unconditionally validate that what you write here is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

    That said, I do admit that the tactics of executing the process have indeed evolved, and significantly. But the process itself is sound as steel.

    All you appear to be doing here is giving new age labels to a universally recognized, step-by-step process. Nice attempt at buzzword/buzzterm-creation and viral marketing, though!

  3. @Kenan I’d be interested to hear at least a few of your 500 😉 I’m always learning and love to learn from you too.

  4. Kenan,
    I’m with Axel on this one – I don’t necessarily agree with his model but I agree with his sentiment and intent. There is simply too much evidence that B2C buying behaviours are starting to take hold in the B2B world.

    So whilst the value of face-to-face engagement remains, the issue is that the buyer is arriving at the point of f2f contact with a very different view of the company, product, and path forward; whereas the sales rep is stuck in ‘show up and throw up’ mode – or worse, some dated sales methodology where his goal is to fill out his blue/gold/brown sheet…

    Mark Parker
    Smart Selling

  5. I do agree about the fact that the sales process is changing – but how fast the change will be differs between different markets. I do think that the US is way ahead of many of the European countries though. Then of course nothing totally change overnight anyway, so Axel is probalby right about what the future will look like (at least if I would guess)…

    Interesting thoughts! /christian

  6. Imagine an all-brick building that occupies an entire city block. On the first level, there are no windows and no doors, but people want to get into the building. Several people are standing outside trying to break down the brick by running into the walls over and over. Nothing’s working. Others join in, suggesting that using bigger people to slam into the wall will have a better result. Others try combining in groups of twenty to push on one brick, thinking that method might be more likely to cause the wall to give way. Lots of people suggesting lots of combinations with lots of trials. But basically, everyone is attacking the problem the same way. The results aren’t getting any better, and it’s exhausting.

    Finally, a young child who just walked up notices that there are windows on the second story, and doors on the sides of the building. She maps out plan to get in the building through those openings. The crowd abandons what they had been doing, and follows her idea, which eventually works. Asked how she came up with her idea, the girl answered “I just used what’s already there.”

    I’m sure there’s a well-known fable that illustrates this point more eloquently than I did. (I just made this one up). And I don’t intend to suggest that Axel is a young child. (apologies, Axel!). But I agree with his idea in principle. (At least for me, debating the specifics risks missing the opportunity he has presented). Slamming into walls is what many people do every day in sales. They may not like it, but they’re used to it.

    But buying has changed. If we don’t change selling strategies, and if we continue to use legacy tactics (think “get a foot in the door,” and “spend 40% of your time cold-call prospecting”) our valuable sales opportunities will mutate into challenges, hurdles, and impediments. There are difficulties and friction between buying and selling processes. They won’t be eliminated. But many are completely avoidable.

    We all know how painful it can be to repeatedly slam into a brick wall. It’s a relief to know there’s an easier pathway, if we’re open-minded to finding it.

  7. Success in selling today is a blend of ‘old school’ and ‘new wave’. Modeling one sales process to match the client buying process is ‘old school’ (think Solution Selling by Eades). I agree with the premise that because of the web clients come to the table with significantly more ‘information’. However this does not necessarily more ‘understanding’. In fact, I think many buyers today are extremely confused especially in the B2B world when selling ‘intangible services’ (such as we do at Jobs2Web) due to too much information. We are finding differentiation over our competition by deploying ‘old school’ techniques (in person meetings, detailed discovery conversations, telephone conversations) now neglected by ‘web 2.0’ sales people. Lastly, I think many people are using ‘web 2.0’ as an excuse for being lazy. Sending e-mails, surfing linkedin for contacts, tweeting, blogging, etc. are nice compliments to core selling principles but are too often confused with ‘selling’. Show me a rep today that can follow a disciplined, traditional sales process, engage prospects in all channels (web 2.0 or otherwise), understands how to ask good probing questions, knows how to present online, over the phone and in-person and handles objections smoothly and that would be a successful balanced rep. Good conversation, thanks!

  8. Axel, I’m in wild agreement with so much of what you say. Most selling processes are outmoded. They don’t reflect the current reality of the way customers are informed and buy. Organizations and sales professionals that don’t change the way they engage customers will be left behind.

    That being said, rumors that the role of professional sales is dying have been greatly exagerated. The role of the sales professional in facilitating the customer buying process is changing. The “social customer” is raising the bar on their expectations of sales people.

    Great sales professionals still have a lot of value to add to the customer’s buying process. There are still many times where the customer doesn’t know what they don’t know–where the saels professional can add a great perspective. There are times where a sales professional can help the customer see new opportunities to achieve their goals and grow their businesses. Sales professionals will increasingly be in a business advisory role, creating new value for their customers.

    The old days of pitching products, educating customers, are gone. But the role of the sales person is still much broader than negotiating and closing the deal.

  9. I agree. There is definitely a clear change IMO (almost in the news daily and tweeted by the minute). But the business frameworks to help understand are still rare.

    Another way to frame could be by looking at the “Touch vs. Scale” matrix – which seems to be the comments on B2B, B2C, F2F, etc.

    As for direct sales models in place today, most are B2B/enterprise sales (High Touch, Low Scale, F2F Sales Teams, Med-Long Cycles) or B2C/Consumer sales (Low Touch, High Scale, Marketing, Call Center, Fast Cycles). And the SME sector has been (often awkwardly) in the middle.

    Recent shifts in technology are further enabling moves into the High Touch / High Scale “fourth quadrant” – an area often targeted, but rarely achieved, until recently.

    I think most already understand (or “feel”) this, but have a hard time figuring out the ramifications to their current business models. There is already large number of technology solutions, but they are without a business framework to address and guide the IT strategy and CRM technology selection.

  10. The article makes a good point where B2B and B2C processes are becoming similar. When marketing to a business, its about ROI and impacts on business processes as much as distribution. With the explosion of information on the internet, this is turning individual users to similar aims of products and services that deliver ROI, making life easier (usability), and even social networks (B2C distribution in a sense).

    Sometimes what seems like common sense ends up being genius because no one actually executes this properly. Buyers are getting smarter and successful businesses will adapt.

    The problem is that sales guys and rockstars are trying to hang on with techniques detrimental to trust as I wrote about in this post

    For a bit of humor, watch this clip of the salesman’s last stand with this speech by Dwight Schrute in The Office

    The die hard sales culture, with all of its allure, remains a stumbling block for applying common sense, but I am all for selling through trust building as a path to trust, relationships and sustainable revenue.

    Rick Speciale
    MyCMO – Director

  11. The question discussed is important but not all that new. I asked it already back in July 2008 But I remain curious on new sales process models hoping to learn something new. In the model described above, I find the first 4 steps interesting and I can believe they take place.

    When looking at step 5 (Trial), I have some serious doubts whether the proposed model can be universally applied. In the context of selling software applications I can imagine it to work. For offerings where no trial download can be made available for the customer to evaluate the solution for the problem to be solved, this model sucks.

    But not only is it model limited in its application to certain categories of offerings where the exchange up to this point can be done entirely over the internet. It also depends on the complexity of the problem the customer needs solved. Whenever the customer is needing help after step 5 entering directly into negotiation sucks again.

    I also have doubts about the applicability of steps 6 and 7. If the customers are able to determine with certainty what the solution of the problem is, after having gone through the first 5 steps, what added value does the negotiation led by a human on the sellers side bring to the buyer and seller? I think for the categories of offerings this model (up to step 5) applies, there is no negotiation between seller and buyer. A hedging of risk/price is done by the buyer alone and closing is done via mouse click. It is the same paradigm shift that happens whenever a brick and mortar retailer introduces a self service concept. The retailer at this point surrenders the possibility to walk away from a deal.

    So, I fail to see to whom we should teach this process. It does not apply for things that can be bought with a mouse click because no sales person is needed. It also does not apply to situations where the seller needs help to gain certainty whether the envisaged solution (found through the first 4 steps) is viable for the problem to be solved in other forms than a trial download. A sales person just wanting to negotiate at this point will not be able to give this certainty unless we still believe in sales tactics of snake oil peddlers.

    Do we need to revise our sales processes? absolutely, but not with the proposed model.

  12. I am sure that Axel is spot on in his observation that the process of B2B buying has changed dramatically, but that point has been made (as many of the commentators observe) many times before.

    But there’s a risk in replacing one obviously damaged process with another that might not reflect the subtleties and variations that still clearly exist in buying behaviour.

    Technology can help, but what’s really required is an attitudinal change. I believe that sales people need to show a respect for the buyer that has been sadly lacking in much conventional selling.

    Even faced with a “new age” well-informed buyer, an intelligent, thoughtful sales person should be able to conduct a conversation that stimulates the prospect to think about what they really need, and how it can be best achieved.

    I think there’s abundant evidence that in complex sales, and particularly ones that involve new concepts or paradigms, the role of the sales person hasn’t been diminished, but it has certainly changed.

    The answer doesn’t always lie in automation. My own experience suggests that free trials of complex offerings – particularly unsupervised – don’t always contribute to the prospect’s problem solving process.

    In a world of smarter buyers, we’re going to need smarter sales people – and smarter management.

    Bob Apollo | Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners

  13. I’m learning a lot from this discussion, as I learned from many others. Clearly there is not a single sales process model in the world that fits all cases. But being a cookie cutter sales model is not the point and drilling it details whether or not this or that step is universally applicable to the person why buys a ring tone and to the person who buys the satellite system to distribute that ring tone is actually not the point.

    The point is

    1) “The way the larger part of buying power is educating themselves resulting in an educated purchase decision has changed” Full stop.

    2) We train sales people who are less fortunate than those natural talents who sell everything to everybody, to follow processes that have proven to work based on an alignment between buyer and seller. If we continue to do that based on the old model – we not only be bad teacher but we create bad sales people.

    What I learned in the past 5 years and continue to try to get my arms around is the fact that the harder times get the more people defend their position. That means are defensive of change which makes it even harder… (I guess when the tough gets going the going gets tough is the right phrase).

  14. @Brett – I hear you and can see those sales people just behind email failing. But isn’t that what the CRM discussion is about? Tools never provide success. Whether it is a CRM system or a facebook page – it is the WAY people sell not the TOOLS people use.

    @Christian. You are right of course not every product allows for a trial. But it isn’t bound to software either. Look at WholeFoods you get to sample a lot of food that you wont see in other stores. Would you buy a new copy machine without testing it first? Don’t you do test drives with a new car? Can’t you return almost anything – no questions asked? We are very far with trials on almost any product – yet we fail to recognize how important it is in our sales process – up to “We don;t do trials”.

    And step 6 and 7 are actually unchanged from the traditional sales process. The REAL change is in step 1-3 maybe 4 and 5. And that is why so many companies miss forecasts because they are not there when a buyer is in the market.

    @Bob you brought it to the point: “The role of the sales person hasn’t been diminished, but it has certainly changed.”

    And one word about automation: “The social economy is the end of automation”. Not in production but on relationships. We automated our relationships to death – sometimes literally. The low touch or zero touch sales model dd nothing but alienated us from our most important party in business – the customers.

  15. Axel,
    I agree with your title. Sales processes in general suck and are outdated. Sellers need to focus on customer buying processes. And from an execution perspective, forget about managing the damn process, moving the process forward, moving towards the close, whatever you want to call it. Sellers need to shift their thinking to creating value during the buyer’s process, enabling them in their process rather than management of the process. Forget consultative selling. Just be a consultant. Educate. Facilitate. Stop selling!

    Just two challenges to your model. First, the right side of the model still implies a separate (albeit mapped, parallel) selling process that is managed independently from the customer’s buying cycle. In a customer-empowered environment, those activities should be supporting activities within the buyer’s cycle. The only other comment is that your model reflects a linear process with a defined start and end. Perhaps your model supports this implicitly, but it needs to be pointed out that, due to the proliferation of information access and technology, buyers will enter the process at multiple points.

    This is supported by several formal studies, including McKinsey’s Customer Decision Journey research of last year.

    Thanks for the info.

  16. The last two points of clarification resonated.

    1) Its clear this is not a one click sale, or covering a very simple product sector/operating environment. I automatically assumed this covers solution selling, such as in software, but in the majority of B2B sectors requiring sales forces where key parts of information are still incomplete or will remain ambiguous. Sales forces are not threatened by a one-click context in these sectors, they just need to change as per the post.

    2) The cycle has collapsed, but don’t think we have completely lost a logical start to close function sequence. Have not read the HBS article but I there is still what is now “monitoring / listening” to “purchase to support”. If the HBS article argues that it C can go to D or it start at any point, e.g. you are “listening” during post sales support, then I totally agree. Customers do not care what step in the process they are in, and those steps can be swapped, but there is still a logical sequence as some type of sale – close – support remains – – which should hopefully be the goal of any businesses desiring a revenue, they just can start wherever now (call center support functions are blurring with marketing / sales).

    3) Totally agree in that selling is not selling anymore. Where it is, where information is complete and not complex, that has been impacted by a “one-click” context, and those companies are product marketing and service focused, not sales. In consulting all this ideally comes naturally as part of a combination of a customer need, a type of specialization, mutual agreement, partnering and most important trust.

    Trust is what has been shattered in the former model and is what is most critical in the future. Your “old style” sales rep cannot sell to the “new” customer anymore, because customers do not want to be “sold” to. This is especially a customer pet peeve in the enterprise software sales sector after the 90-00s (ahem)!



  17. Barry brought up an interesting idea:

    “And from an execution perspective, forget about managing the damn process, moving the process forward, moving towards the close, whatever you want to call it . . .”

    As sales professionals should we move from “manage the sales process,” to “facilitate the buying process?” Even if we wanted to, could we, if we’re carrying a quota? At first, the thought of a salesperson not asserting control seems ludicrous.

    Then I remembered a similarly counter-intuitive idea from Peter Drucker that firms that organize around performing valuable activities that employees are passionate about are often more profitable than firms that organize simply to generate profits. A related idea is that Google developed their search engine without a clear idea about how it would be monetized. The advertising revenue model came later.

    For sales strategists, perhaps now is the right time to pay Barry’s idea more than lip service. But first, the culture of selling must change.


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