A powerful new paradigm is rumbling through the world of sales, transforming how professionals relate to and connect with their clients, vendors and employees. In contrast to previous sales techniques, seventh generational sales puts the client firmly in control — with enormous benefits to both prospect and salesperson.
Richard Stewart and David Jackson of The Sterling Co. can tell you about the benefits of seventh generational sales. Before transforming their business, Stewart and Jackson employed six staff members to help service 831 clients. They spent an average of 62 hours per week managing $74 million in assets.
One of their first steps was to sell off $15 million worth of assets under management–the portfolios of nearly 600 clients. This bold move gave them time to apply the principles of the new paradigm with their remaining clients.
Within a year after they began to transform their interactions with clients, Stewart and Jackson went from managing $59 million of assets to $102 million. They now work with only 203 people who meet their ideal client profile.
Their reduced workload means they only need one full-time staff member. All three take Fridays off as part of a 28 hour work week. They often fail to get all 28 hours in, too. Stewart took 151 days off in 2000 while Jackson skipped 139.
Are they suffering financially? Not at all. Profits are up 24%, and personal before-tax income is up 41%.
Theirs could be an isolated example… except for the fact that Stewart and Jackson are in the company of other financial professionals who’ve achieved similar results by changing the way they “sell” their clients.
This new approach is more profound than simply trying a different sales style or technique. It represents dramatic evolutionary change, the way the Internet represents dramatic evolutionary change in access to information. That’s why I call this breakthrough Seventh Generational Sales.
Let’s take a look at how the sales process has evolved.. The first generation entailed a trade or barter. Thog give you this if you give Thog that. You don’t even need language to make someone understand you want to trade one thing for another. This simple, prehistoric method of exchange goes on to this day.
Sales got slightly more complicated after a sociological shift took place. People stockpiled goods. In order to do so, the primitive salesperson had to do one of two things. First, Thog could be a very shrewd trader. Thog give you one of these for two of those. Stockpiling also occured through controlled access to a necessary or desired commodity like food, water, shelter, salt, obsidian, etc. You want flint, go see Thog.
In the third generation of sales, Thog took flint on the road. He became a peddler, looking for customers instead of waiting for them. Today, many insurance sales techniques are a variation of the peddler system, as agents constantly look for new prospects. Pitch, pitch, pitch–in person, over the phone, through the media. A modern variation of peddling is the infomercial.
The fourth generation of sales took the form of a sales route–the first systematic approach. Thog learned that certain clients bought from him at predictable times.
There first example of this in financial services were debit agents who collected premiums by going door-to-door every payday. A contemporary, more common–and less obvious–example is cross selling. You build a book of business, your company comes out with new products, and you go right back to your existing clients (your route) to sell them the new products. Your life insurance customers make easy prospects for new annuity products.
Any process that continually re-contacts the same client base is a form of fourth, or route-based, generational sales. Stockbrokers do this by selling a good investment to 100 people. They then “drip” on them periodically about additional products and services. The banking industry is another example. The average customer uses only 1.8 of the 12 to 20 services a bank typically offers. Banks, however, understand that customers who use less than 3 services aren’t captured clients. So banks continually send out statement stuffers to entice their customers to use more services.
Fifth generational sales is called “the scientific approach.” It’s also known as need-based selling and developed, as far as I can tell, in 1939. In short, the salesperson must find a need and fill it. If you’ve ever attended a formal sales training, you probably learned fifth generation, need-based selling. This technique depends on a presentation by a salesperson..
Fifth generational sales is about approaches and openings, features, benefits and evidence, along with tie-downs, nail-downs, hold-downs or pin-downs. It’s about responding to objections and rebuttals and 119 classic closes. This style of selling is the foundation for nearly every sales program taught today.
In the mid-to-late sixties, though, prospects got tired of being pitched. They started saying things like “Wait a minute. You don’t know enough about my situation to know if your product will actually help me. You need to find out more about me and what I need before you start trying to sell me something.”
Sales managers and trainers developed consultative–sixth generational–selling, in response to these client demands. The notion behind consultative selling is that the salesperson acts as an assistant buyer, putting the client’s needs first. However, consultative selling is an illusion bordering on manipulation because it still focuses on what works best for the salesperson.
Consultative selling methods teach you to function as an assistant buyer by building rapport, talking in terms of your prospect’s interests and trying to understand the situation from the prospect’s point of view. It’s still just a presentation punctuated by questions, the answers to which tell you what part of the presentation to give next.
As much as consultative salespeople talk about putting the client first, their questions indicate something different. You can tell by listening to the way they probe. The salesperson uses the answers to qualify prospects and gather information with which they can be leveraged later on. In consultative selling, the salesperson’s goal is to completely understand what prospects want and why they want it. Whether or not prospects understand their needs and motivation matters less because the salesperson assumes the role of an expert. Statements like I need to understand this in order to help you are dead giveaways.As long as the purpose of the discussion is to answer questions in the salesperson’s mind, it’s an illusion that the prospect’s interests really come first.
Here’s why this illusory process doesn’t work. Imagine that you, the salesperson, understand exactly what your prospect wants and how your product and service will help achieve this. On the other hand, your prospect doesn’t have a clue. If your prospect doesn’t make a connection between current circumstances and the impact of your product or service, are they going to buy?
If you’re trained in fifth or sixth generational sales, you’ll default to a pitch, trying to give your prospect more reasons to buy by increasing the perceived value of your product or service. Of course your pitch or presentation focuses on the reasons you think your prospect should buy.
Your prospect starts to back away because you’re not addressing what’s most important to them: their reasons for buying. Your prospect begins to use put-off objections to keep you at bay. “I need to talk to my spouse, accountant, lawyer, banker, advisor, friend, etc.” Sound familiar? People use put-offs when they feel pressured.
In contrast, imagine that your prospect discovers that a decision to use your product or service supports what he or she values most highly. He or she discovers the connection your product or service provides between what is and what could be. Let’s say that you only marginally understand this connection. Will your prospect buy?
You move into a new paradigm–seventh generational sales–when your prospects’ interests truly come first. Their willingness to buy a product or service increases in direct proportion to how well they understand its impact on their highest values.
Seventh generational sales–or Revelation Buying–is builds on what’s most important to your prospects. It isn’t really selling at all. Instead, you create an environment that allows prospects to discover for themselves a new connection between what’s paramount to them and a product or service. This newly discovered insight about how a product or service allows them to act on their highest values compels them to take a step toward making that connection real. Prospects sell themselves as a result of the conversation, and the entire process takes place without mentioning a product or service.
Here’s how: ask questions for your prospects’ sake, not for yours. This requires you to set aside the universal human question,What does this mean to me? You have the patience to stifle your need to know whenyou operate at the level of making a difference, rather than making a sale. You measure your effectiveness no longer by what you do, but by what your prospect does.
By focusing on your prospect’s discovery, without interjecting your own ideas or needs, you communicate a very powerful message. Not only are you completely trustworthy, you trust your prospects to make good decisions. And they act more expansively on their own inclinations than when responding to information, suggestions or requests from you.
Here’s a critical point. As soon as you ask questions on your own behalf, not theirs, you shift the conversation from a discovery process to a sales technique… the magic of trust stops.
While you can ask questions to help your prospects move toward discovery, they must experience the moment of epiphany firsthand. This is obviously great for the client, but how do you benefit?
Your belief that your prospects have the right answers for themselves and can be trusted to make good decisions creates an exchange so unique that they want to tell all their friends about you. Like Richard Stewart and David Jackson, when you let your prospects sell themselves, you get more referrals, bigger and higher quality sales, more time off… and far more personal satisfaction.