This simple chart illustrates the fundamental shift in selling theory which occurred particularly during the 1980s, reflecting the development of an increasingly competive market-place and a better-informed buying and purchasing audience.
The advent of the internet and globalization during the 1990s meant that old styles of selling, based on one-way persuasion and control theories were finally obsolete for all mainstream business activities.
The development of selling ideas and methods is progressive. Selling inevitably reflects the changing world of business and communications.
Please note that where reference is made to the customer 'organization' this reflects a business-to-business scenario, however, the principles in all other respects apply for business-to-consumer, or for person-to-person sales scenarios.
The columns compare traditional old-style selling versus modern selling ideas.
| traditional selling
|| modern selling
| Typical 1960s-80s selling, and still found today.
|| Essential to sustain successful business today.
| standard product
|| customised, flexible, tailored product and service
| sales function performed by a 'sales-person'
|| sales function performed by a 'strategic business manager'
| seller has product knowledge
|| seller has strategic knowledge of customer's market-place and knows all implications and opportunities resulting from product/service supply relating to customer's market-place
| delivery service and supporting information and training are typical added value aspects of supply
|| strategic interpretation of the customer organisation's market opportunities, and assistance with project evaluation and decision-making are added value aspects of supply
| good lead-time is a competitive advantage
|| just-in-time (JIT) is taken for granted, as are mutual planning and scheduling; competitive advantages are: capability to anticipate unpredictable requirements, and assistance with strategic planning and market development
| value is represented and judged according to selling price
|| value is assessed according to the cost to the customer, plus non-financial implications with respect to CSR (corporate social responsibility), environment, ethics, and corporate culture
| the benefits and competitive strengths of the products or service are almost entirely tangible, and intangibles are rarely considered or emphasised
|| the benefits and competitive strengths of the product or service now include many significant intangibles, and the onus is on the selling organization to quantify their value
| benefits of supply extend to products and services only
|| benefits of supply extend way beyond products and services, to relationship, continuity, and any assistance that the selling organization can provide to the customer to enable an improvement for their staff, customers, reputation and performance in all respects
| selling price is cost plus profit margin, and customers have no access to cost and margin information
|| selling price is market driven (essentially supply and demand), although certain customers may insist on access to cost and margin information
| seller knows the business customers' needs
|| seller knows the needs of the business customers' customers and partners and suppliers
| sales person sells (customers only deal with sales people, pre-sale)
|| whole organization sells (customers expect to be able to deal with anybody in supplier organization, pre-sale)
| sales people only sell externally, ie, to customers
|| sales people need to be able to sell internally to their own organization, in order to ensure customer needs are met
| strategic emphasis is on new business growth (ie, acquiring new customers)
|| strategic emphasis is on customer retention and increasing business to those customers (although new business is still sought)
| buying and selling is a function, with people distinctly responsible for each discipline within selling and customer organizations
|| buying and selling is a process, in which many people with differing jobs are involved in both selling and customer organizations
| hierarchical multi-level management structures exist in selling and customer organizations
|| management structures are flat, with few management layers
| authority of sales person is minimal, flexibility to negotiate is minimal, approvals must be sought via management channels and levels for exceptions
|| authority of sales person is high (subject to experience), negotiation flexibility exists, and exceptions are dealt with quickly and directly by involving the relevant people irrespective of grade
| selling and buying organization are divided strictly according to function and department, inter-departmental communications must go up and down the management structures
|| selling organization is structured in a matrix allowing for functional efficiency and also for inter-functional collaboration required for effective customer service, all supply chain processes, and communications
| supplier and customer organization functions tend to talk to their 'opposite numbers' in the other organization
|| open communications to, from and across all functions between supplier and customer organization
| the customer specifies and identifies product and service requirements
|| the selling organization must be capable of specifying and identifying product and service requirements on behalf of the customer
| the customer's buyer function researches and justifies the customer organization's needs
|| the selling organization must be capable of researching and justifying customer organization's needs, on behalf of the customer
| the customer's buyer probably does not appreciate his/her organization's wider strategic implications and opportunities in relation to the seller's product or service, and there will be no discussion with the seller about this issues
|| the seller will help the buyer to understand the wider strategic implications and opportunities in relation to the seller's product or service
| the buyer will tell the seller what the buying or supplier-selection process is
|| the seller will help the buyer to understand and align the many and various criteria within their own (customer) organization, so that the customer organization can assess the strategic implications of the supplier's products or services, and make an appropriate decision whether to buy or not
Nowadays, more is demanded from the selling process by consumers, professional buyers and organizations choosing their suppliers. The analysis below refers both to the development in recent decades of what customers require from the selling function, and also to the progression of a relationship between supplier and customer.
This is different historical perspective of the way that selling methods and theory have changed. The grid tracks the sales function from its beginnings to what sales means and entails in the modern age.