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Sorry, We're Out of Silver Bullets For Sales
By Dave Stein, CEO, ES Research Group

I've been in sales for a generation and I've seen a lot. That's a long time; but my mind is always open to new ideas. One thing I'm well aware of is that we're fresh out of new silver bullets.

When you are new to sales or haven't yet been exposed to the array of approaches, each new audio program, book, training program and sales tactic is like putting on a mask and snorkel and seeing for the first time that there is another world under the surface of the ocean.

Silver Bullets: The Aha Moments

In my early days, I remember the excitement I felt and the progress I made when I first learned how to close a deal (a silver bullet from Zig Ziglar), and later, when I began to look at a sales opportunity strategically (Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman). I clearly recall when I first mapped and then utilized the corporate politics within my customer's organization (Jim Holden).  Formulating a ROI that was of board-level quality was another high point (Mack Hanan via Tim Noonan).  There were many more milestones I reached, with each aha moment signaling that I now had a skill that would provide me a greater capability to sell.

I went down a lot of dead-ends as well, especially early on. Just like many people new to sales, I wasn't experienced enough to discern the difference among 1) a new version of an old, proven approach, 2) an approach that was proven and used widely but I had never seen before, and 3) an unproven or even ineffective, new approach.  At the time, they all appeared as silver bullets to me, but some turned out to be fool's gold.

The World's Oldest Profession

Here is the way I see it now:  We've pretty much invented everything that will be invented so far as one-to-one selling is concerned.  (The same isn't true for marketing, by the way, but that's a different subject, mainly because it's a one-to-many communication.) We're not talking about nanotechnology here or medical research or even rocket surgery, (borrowed that from the mixed metaphor of a clever TV commercial). 

Sure, writers, consultants and trainers with your best interests at heart will always come up with new twists on overused and stale approaches, clich's, and concepts.  I did plenty of that myself over the years, delivering measurable business value to my audiences, clients and the readers of my books and articles.  But the bottom line here is that, contrary to popular belief, sales is the world's oldest profession. (There is no need to get into what was being sold when it began.) And therefore, the only silver bullets are still the old ones.

I know that as the business climate inevitably changes over time, so must your approach to selling.  Otherwise you won't be able to stay competitive.  But any of these changes requires only an adjustment in what we currently do now, not a full course reversal. 

Look Back for the Answers

Here is an example.  As I write this, I'm on a plane on my way home from Dublin.  I worked with a small group of CEOs around the subject of improving their companies ability to export their products internationally.  Invariably in Europe the subject of tenders comes up.  In Europe public companies (and government agencies) are required to publicly post ITTs (Invitations to Tender) allowing any and all companies, qualified or not, to bid for the business.  The challenge for suppliers is getting any control of the buying process.  Once the tender is offered, it's extremely difficult to recruit champions and influencers to help you win, since there are laws governing how the buyers must proceed.  What silver bullet will help us out deal with this situation, the CEOs wanted to know.  Nothing new, just  an old one: Targeting accounts.  Getting into those companies and government agencies before they are involved in even the early stages of their buying process.  More specifically, defining your sweet spot, doing some market research, and then strategically deploying some sales resources to build relationships, create demand, and steer those carefully selected future customers toward your vision of a solution.  So when requirements are finally defined and put into the form of a tender, they are aligned with your unique capabilities to deliver results and you're in the lead.

I can't say I know who originally figured this out;  but I can tell you that at one point, perhaps literally hundreds of years ago, this was a new silver bullet.  It still is a silver bullet, but you have to look back, not forward to find it.

What Should You Do?

Some of the best sales performers I know understand the situation completely.  They read every new book about sales book, listen to the latest audio CDs, and travel to the hottest seminars.  Not because they are looking for new answers.  They are looking for new ways to understand, refine and re-apply the tried and proven ones.  There is a big difference in attitude between these people and the silver bullet seekers.  It's the golfer who spends her time at the driving range perfecting her swing, instead of in the car driving from one pro shop to another looking for the perfect club.

Where does that leave you if you aren't delivering to target?  Let's look at that for a moment.  First, are your hopes elevated by the promotion of each new sales book, cleverly-named training program, seminar, webinar and podcast?  Do you really, really want to believe that the answer that has been eluding you for all these many years has finally been invented?  It has.  But it's been there all, or at least a lot of the time and you haven't seen it, or did see it and didn't understand its value.  As just one example, numbers of years ago Mack Hanan wrote books about value selling.  Read one of his books and you'll have most, if not all of what you need to sell at the highest levels of any company.  I certainly haven't seen every approach to selling business value, but I've seen a lot.  And every one I've seen does basically the same thing.  Tie the benefits of your product or service directly into your customer achieving a key component of their business and or financial plan.

A New Silver Bullet After All?

Let me just say that the answer doesn't lie outside the existing collective body of work on selling.  Just like winning the Masters or the Ryder Cup isn't about discovering or inventing a new approach to playing golf.  It's all about employing what already exists better than anyone else.  It's all about refining your skills, complying with a process, measuring your progress, and continuous improvement. That's what I'd like to see more of.  Hey, maybe that's the new silver bullet!



Dave Stein, after 25 years in sales leadership positions and delivering his own sales training and consulting worldwide, founded ES Research Inc. ESR offers independent, authoritative advice on Sales Training and Consulting and the Companies that provide it through weekly briefs, in-depth reports, online seminars and advisory services. For more information go to www.ESResearch.com or call 508.313.9585

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