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Collaborative Selling

Tony Alessandra

The world of business has changed and continues to change dramatically and rapidly. Markets have grown from local to national to global. Technology no longer offers a competitive advantage, and customers have become much more savvy. All of these changes and more have created an environment in which salespeople must adopt new attitudes, learn new skills, and gain a new understanding of how to approach their markets and work with customers.

No doubt, you have seen this quantum shift and its consequences in your industry: your competitors have increased in number and become more aggressive. Your products or services are more difficult to sell than in the past. It has become a challenge just to differentiate your company from your competitors, and price issues are a constant problem.

The upshot of these market influences is that the differentiated products of yesterday are the commodities of today. Instead of making differentiation easier, technology has made differentiation more difficult. Differentiation is, however, the only way to be successful in today's market. Differentiation must come from quality, price, or service; and few companies can survive competing on price. This is a monumental challenge that every company faces. It is a challenge met by collaborative selling, a system in which salespeople can create differentiation and its accompanying competitive advantage every time they go after business.

The Fallacy of Traditional Selling Techniques

The traditional approach to selling was largely developed after World War II. When the war ended, the demand for consumer goods shot up to an all-time high. Consumers were not very sophisticated, so selling techniques revolved around this typical scenario, which still exists today.

Traditional salespeople paid little attention to targeting their markets or planning their sales calls. They approached the market as a "numbers game," delivered a canned pitch to as many prospects as possible in the shortest amount of time. Good salespeople began by breaking the ice with a little small-talk (and equated small talk with relationship-building). Then they delivered razzle-dazzle pitches to wide-eyed, hopefully-receptive prospects. There was little if any information gathering. Instead, the sales process focused on a persuasive pitch, manipulative closing techniques, and the salesperson's skills in handling customer objections. Superstar salespeople were those who had mastered the art of arm-twisting.

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