Why do those good old sales techniques not have (much) impact in B2B any more?


The one sales model that dominates all others is called Solution-Selling. It was born in the United States in the 1970s. The method is very effective: “The bad news is you have a problem. The good news is I have the solution.”

The techniques used by the vast majority of sales staff are based on this model. A rough outline would be: ask good, open questions to find out what the client needs, adapt your pitch to match what you have discovered, defend your prices and ask good, closed questions to seal the deal…

And that worked very well for 35 years.

But the world has changed. Nowadays:

  • If the lead discovers his “problem” through his chat with a potential service-provider, it’s already too late for him. His competitors are already ahead of him.
  • If the lead knows about his problem and has decided to take care of it, it’s already too late for us. Thanks to the Internet, in a matter of days he can identify possible solutions, benchmark his competitors, define his goals, scope, planning and budget, make a short list of competitive offers and identify the pros and cons of each one. By the time he contacts us he has all the information he needs except one: what discount will we offer?
  • In addition, “problem resolution” has switched floors definitively. The “operatives” take care of this now, deputised to do so by the final decision-makers to whom they will do anything to block our access.
  • Lastly, the sales techniques used by reps are now known and have been decoded by all those involved – a fact which has rendered those techniques far less effective.

Consequently, we note that mastering such sales techniques is less and less a business development lever and that the ROI of sales training is shrinking…

I recommend this excellent article in the Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2012/07/the-end-of-solution-sales


At the same time, we sometimes witness a sales rep who engages effectively in the sales process with a prospect … without asking a single open question!

Perhaps, consciously or not, he is using an alternative sales model that is beginning to gain traction in a number of American service companies. It is known as “Insight Selling“.

Here the method is as follows: “You have no problems. But I can help you achieve your strategic targets more quickly by reviewing your way of doing such-and-such.”

There are three fundamentals to this approach:

  • The pertinence of the substance (insight) and the attitude (challenging) is take precedence over the sales technique. This restores value to the profession of the sales rep.
  • This is a pro-active logic of creating value rather than solving a problem as cheaply as possible. So this is differentiating.
  • This is a theory that interests final decision-makers, with the result that we will at last be able to meet them at the beginning (and not at the end as their name would suggest). So this is, then, a business accelerator as it enables us to either win faster or lose faster.

In short, it is perhaps time to question the excellent methodology of the 1970s – as has already been done in marketing, supply chains, risk-management, HR and all the other vital functions of a company incidentally….

François Drillon, EXECUTIVE SELLING (www.executive-selling.com)


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