The problems with traditional selling – and how to move beyond them

The well-worn Latin phrase, Caveat emptor – “Let the buyer beware”, may have finally had its day in the sunshine of traditional sales methodology.

In a world brimming with information the ball is firmly back in the customer’s court. And, with this change, perhaps it’s time that salespeople became better acquainted with another, equally pertinent phrase; Caveat venditor – “Let the seller beware”.

Today’s buyer is no longer reliant on salespeople to obtain the information they need. Everything is already out there, accessible, and informative. No more in-your-face, abrasive, hard-selling salespeople, the market has evolved and is now more competitive than ever.

That’s why, by the time the buyer does approach a vendor, 70% of the purchasing process is already in the bag. Good news for the salesperson, right? Wrong!

Even with a prospective customer demonstrating an interest in your product, there is no room for complacency. With only 30% of the sale still to make, it may appear – on paper – that the salesperson is on the home stretch.

But, you might be surprised just how many salespeople still manage to fail, simply by neglecting a few unwritten commandments.

#1 Not being a problem solver

Traditionally, sales people focused on the quality, price, and features of their product in a bid to land the sale. But, times have changed. You have competitors who can match, or even exceed your prospect’s expectations, and what’s more, thanks to inbound marketing, your prospect is probably aware of them.

Your prospect is engaging you, because they have a problem, and have identified your product in the process. They are ready to take the sale to the next stage. But, it’s likely you’ll never reach that next stage if you are unwilling to listen to their concerns. If you fail to listen and understand, you will never manage to help solve their problems. You have failed to focus on your prospect’s pain points, and you have failed to gain their trust in your product, your company, and in you, personally.

#2 Pitching too hard

As great as your presentation may be, it’s still just a presentation. A one-sided affair. Your presentation should come, only after you have really listened to the prospect’s concerns. If you are 100% certain that your product can solve that problem, then, and only then should you make your presentation.

#3 Afraid to say it loud

Asking easy questions usually receives no credibility. How you win that credibility comes from asking hard questions, which prove that you have the answers, and the confidence to back them up. “Give me your honest concerns about the product”, or  “How does the price sound to you?” These are the questions which will demonstrate your willingness to facilitate a solution to your prospect’s concerns.

#4 Thinking it’s all about money

Everyone likes to save money on a deal. They love that feeling of walking away, smug in the knowledge that they just won. But remember, that feeling is fleeting and doesn’t offer much satisfaction when the thing they thought was a bargain, doesn’t the solve their problems. As a salesperson, try to remember that, it’s never only about the money.

#5 Be confident, not cocky

There’s a difference between confidence, and cockiness. Being confident means that you have faith in your product, and faith in yourself. Prospective customers can recognise that, and will respect you for it. They can also recognise the swagger that comes with cockiness. They are well aware of the hollowness it portrays. When you make a pitch, pitch with confidence, and pitch with the intention of closing the deal.

#6 Ask if they’re heard enough yet

When you’ve addressed your prospect’s needs, never be afraid to ask if they’ve heard enough to make a decision. Many salespeople break down their presentations in manageable segments, concluding each segment with exactly that question. The worst thing that can happen is that they need more information. But, they are equally liable to say ‘Yes’, allowing you to conclude the deal even faster. There is also one other hugely important factor – the real decision-makers may not even be in the room.

#7 Mention the price

It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your business is. It doesn’t even matter if the buyer is 100% content with your product, the idea of cost will cross their minds early in the conversation. Traditional sales people were trained to first demonstrate value to their prospects, then offer them the price.

If a salesperson can present their price with confidence, early into the presentation, they can carry on, having removed the question from the prospect’s mind. They may not like the price, but if you’ve truly listened to their needs, you can then demonstrate the problem solving benefits of your product with confidence, demonstrating that results outweigh price. Plus, by offering the price early, demonstrates that you have no hidden agendas.

#8 Set time limits

Set a time a limit on your deal qualification, easily done using quality sales CRM software. Prospects which overstay their welcome, without any indication of closing are wasting your time, and should be dumped. The same can be said for those who sign up for free trials, then drag their heels in the sand. The salesperson needs to be assertive, and ask the hard question; “Are you interested, or should I move on?” Some salespeople are afraid to broach this question for fear of seeming too pushy.

Inbound sales – solving your problems

What is an inbound sales strategy?

As the flip-side to traditional selling, the philosophy of inbound sales centres around the ideology of ‘consultative selling’ – the sales process which puts the customer’s needs to the fore. In place of an abrasive interaction, inbound sales is dedicated to actively listening, understanding, and solving the customer’s problems. It is an holistic and all-encompassing process, designed to hand the buyer optimum control.

The process behind the inbound sales strategy

Long before you’ve found them, your prospects have already started their buying process. They have been searching for an answer to a problem which you may have the ability to solve; that’s where your journey begins.

Firstly, make them aware of your existence, and demonstrate your willingness to cooperate. You can do this by interacting with their queries through social media, personalised messages reflecting the needs of their particular pain points, and through offering free web-tutorials, and ebooks. Your Sales CRM is the perfect place to plan and implement this strategy. Offer them value appealing to all aspects of their persona; their industry, their function, and their preferred methods of interaction. If this catches their attention, you’re ready to move to the next stage of the process.

It’s time to fully understand their problems, their needs, and their level of urgency. Once you have on-boarded all of this information, you can begin addressing their concerns. If you’ve done your prospecting correctly, you have already gained the prospect’s trust.

So, what are the inbound sales steps?

Most experts agree that there are four distinct stages to an aligned inbound sales and marketing strategy:

  • Identify – This is the stage where you identify ideal prospects from time-wasters, analyse their compatibility, and begin the conversion process.
  • Connect – You have already identified your prospective leads, now it’s time to qualify those leads, and to  guide them carefully towards a decision.
  • Explore – The ability to listen intently is a skill crucial to the inbound sales process. You already have your leads attention, now it’s time to fully understand the lead’s concerns and pain points. Only by listening can you have any hope of closing the deal.
  • Advise – Advice is the wonder weapon in your sales arsenal. Leads will require nurturing towards closing the deal, and very often, good advice, rather than the hard-sell, will help you cross that line faster.

The gospel of Inbound Sales Strategies

There is no singular inbound sales strategy. Companies differ, and because of these differences, the sales strategy which works for X, may not work for Y. But, there are several common components of the inbound sales strategy which can be adopted by every sales team.

  1. Know the difference between your buyer’s persona, and your buyer’s profile.
  2. Know how your buyers buy long before you start selling
  3. Advice beats the hard-sell any day
  4. Be human and be a connector long before you become a salesperson
  5. Death to the hard sell

#1 Know the difference between your buyer’s persona, and your buyer’s profile.

Buyer persona refers to the purchasing patterns of companies within your ideal buyer profile – the type of company your are actively seeking. The buyer persona is the individual within that targeted company, with whom you are attempting to connect.

Singular focus on buyer personas can be a route to missed sales. Targeting a buyer persona which you’ve identified as being an ‘ideal-fit’ is a sound strategy, unless the buyer persona sits within a non-compatible company. This may be due to company size, location, or a host of other factors.

Knowing your ideal buyer profile allows you to identify future prospects using a broader range of qualification characteristics. Once you’ve identified the ideal fit, you may then begin sourcing the relevant individual within that fit.

#2 Know how your buyers buy long before you start selling

Don’t force your customer to change in order to suit your selling style. It’s your job to adapt to their buying habits. The core philosophy of the inbound sales process is focused on the buyer, not the seller.

In the traditional selling process, organisations were solely focused on the qualities of their product, and on how it should be sold. Little regard was given to the buyer’s needs and pain points. With this process confusion reigned, and conversations were unfocused. Salespeople wasted time focusing on buyers who were the wrong fit.

The inbound selling process identifies the buyer’s journey, long before contact is made. The successful inbound sales strategy is designed, and tailored exclusively to the buyer’s needs. Through this methodology, the salesperson is aware of all stages of the buyer’s journey, and all of their concerns. This awareness leads to constructive and fully aligned conversations, conducive to selling a solution rather than a product.

#3 Advice beats the hard-sell any day

Being an advisor first and a salesperson second is embedded in the inbound sales philosophy. Modern Sales CRMs can aid greatly in offering you the ability to be this advisor. By carefully considering the needs of the buyer, the salesperson can:

Ask the right questions and not only the comfortable questions in order to support and advise the buyer in a constructive manner.

Tutor the buyer in new and better approaches to solving their pain points, and help them reach their aspirations.

Listen to the buyer in order to move forward together to facilitate solutions, not just for now, but for the future.

Guide the buyer, and their organisation toward solutions to their pain points, and enable them to work smarter and more simply, with better results.

Avoid the hard sell, by being aware of the buyer’s specific needs, and avoiding conversations with no relevance to the outcome.

#4 Be human and be a connector, long before you become a salesperson

The inbound sales philosophy differs from traditional-selling methodology as it recognises that the philosophy should be an holistic one, and that by offering the prospect value – advice, guidance, valuable materials, ie. white papers, ebooks, webinars, etc. and through empathy with their concerns.

With such an holistic overview of the inbound sales process, when the buyer enters the consideration phase, the salesperson and the product should already figure highly in the decision.

#5 Death to the hard sell

The bottom line for traditional sales processes was a signature on a contract. The inbound sales strategy avoids the hard sell at all costs, offering long-term value, problem solving solutions, advice, guidance, and the formulation of a symbiotic relationship between buyer and seller.

Regardless of how ‘easy’ the sale may appear, the inbound sales strategy dictates that the holistic view is never far away. Being a good listener, advisor, and problem solver will continue working for you, long after any deal is won or lost.


Ever since the first days of commerce, the sales process has constantly been in a state of flux and evolution. Until recently, the traditional hard-sell was the only show in town, but that’s all changed.

With the glut of information available the game has changed dramatically and the inbound sales strategy has rocketed to the fore. The power now lies with the buyer, and not the seller.

Each individual salesperson will adapt the inbound sales process to suit their own personalities. We can also be sure that the inbound sales process will continue to evolve with the onset of new technologies, such as even smarter sales CRMs. But the most important fundamentals of the process will remain in place for the foreseeable future. These principles include:

  1. Knowing and understanding your market – your ideal buyers (and how you identify them), and how they can differ from one buyer to the next. Being aware of these differences, and their accurate identification.
  2. Mapping your buyer’s journey, step by step, and matching your inbound sales, and marketing strategy to suit their journey.
  3. Be the advisor your buyer looks up to, and forms a valuable relationship with.
  4. Learning to communicate in the manner which is most conducive to both parties. Listening to their concerns, and communicating the right advice, at the right time, in the right way. An intuitive sales CRM will simplify this process dramatically.
  5. Offer a solution to the buyer’s problem, and make your product indispensable to that resolution. Through attentive listening from the onset, a salesperson embedded in the inbound sales philosophy can ensure that their product is never far from the buyer’s final decision.

Adoption of an inbound sales philosophy can transform the hard-selling salesperson from being a intrusive and abrasive outsider, to being a trusted, attentive, problem-solving collaborator, who is constantly there to make the buyer’s journey pain-free. In return, the salesperson who actively follows the tenets of the inbound sales philosophy, will work smarter, faster, and with more productive visible results.


  1. Thanks for sharing! I found it very interesting that you suggest mentioning price as quickly as possible. Obviously, if this is something that bothers your customer they are going to like whatever you say afterward less (including your entire presentation). Sometimes life is about doing the right thing. I prefer the idea of repeat customers which is typically established through trust and consistency.