The new ‘sales’ ABC: always be conversational

Saying ‘everything is sales‘ was tantamount to dropping poison into the ear of the idealistic youth (OK, so I was 29) who’d spent a decade reading and teaching obscure sixteenth and seventeenth century literature, couldn’t get tenure, and thought publishing sounded like an easy gig with a solid future (how was I to know? This was 1998, after all), so I sucked it up for a decade, because I didn’t think it would be.

It turned out everything was mostly sales, as a matter of fact, regardless of the publishing function that one worked in.

Today, everything is still sales, but ‘sales’ itself now means something very different.

Sales are largely indirect and transactional-conversational rather than direct-transactional. Effective ‘salespeople’ are now engaging informers, not pressurizing influencers. The endpoint is still revenue generation, of course, but the way we get to ‘I’ll take it!’ is not a road we were able to travel with ease ten years ago.

This is what sales used to sound like (Glengarry Glen Ross is a great film of a great play, but this tense clip explodes the F Bomb all over the place so could be NSFW. However, if it is NSFW where you are watching it, are you sure you’re working in the right place? 😉 ):

Sales is now less ‘always be closing‘ than it is ‘always be conversational‘.

The business model, the product, and the way we deport ourselves professionally have all changed. It, and we, are social.

Sales is now not so much about ‘being the brand’ as ‘believing in the brand’. Of course, if you don’t actually care about what you’re doing, you’re still a snake oil merchant, and nothing is going to change that.

The social web has afforded us the opportunity to make a living by being the best exponent of whatever service the niche we like to be in offers. Consequently, if we align ourselves with something that we genuinely care about, and that we believe can make a difference then our working life has the potential to be a liberating rather than an enslaving experience.

We are not here to sell through force of will, the allure of our irresistible charisma, or the blunt force of an argument that will brook no contradiction. Frankly, unless you’re someone of the intellectual stature and rhetorical prowess of a Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Karl Marx, or Martin Luther King, Jr., you’re unlikely to have to ability to change your interlocutors’ minds about anything anyway.

Yet sales has always been social. People sell to people.

Sales has always been conversational. People talk to people.

Sales has always been relational. It’s just now we don’t talk about ‘customer relationship management’ in the third person as an abstraction, we tweet people we follow, reach out to people we know via a professional networking group, or message someone we’ve friended.

Often we won’t be talking about a product or service at all; but if and when we do, the nature of the conversation that may lead to an invoice being generated is qualitatively different from the ‘sales pitch’ of the past, and it’s as easy as ABC:

ABC: always be conversational


11 thoughts on “The new ‘sales’ ABC: always be conversational

  1. I get loads of sales calls. The chatters I respect and listen to (they are listening to me), the sellers who are are objection handling and battling through (not *really* listening to me) get nowhere.

    I had the most chatty sales guy call me from a market research agency two days ago. I booked in a web viewing of this company’s service within two minutes – chatty doesn’t have to mean long and drawn out.

    I believe that the reason that people don’t do ABC is because they are not passionate about what they are selling, they just don’t believe and a chat will expose this.

    Anyone fancy a chat?

    @aurorahealthpr ^NC

    PS I want a deck, fire pit and view like that from my house

    • Hi Neil

      I absolutely agree. It’s something we’ve tacitly incorporated into our day-to-day working practices.

      From the outside, everything looks the same; yet if those who wish to connect with us do not adhere to these unwritten rules, we’re unlikely to view them as credible – and they won’t even know why.

      There’s another blog post in there 🙂


  2. LOVE the movie scene, Andrew, as well as your thoughts on sales…

    Now in pharma I am debating to take your thinking even a step further:

    Do we still need sales reps going into physician offices to sell? Do we need DTC to tell patients to”go and ask their doctors” when in fact we know they “get up and go to the bathroom” instead?

    What if we entered a complete new era in which not the way you sell is changing, but the fact that you do not sell anymore…that everything becomes about guiding vs. convincing, informing vs. pushing about knowing what I need vs. knowing what you want?

    • Hi Silja

      You’re absolutely right, and that’s why I began to put ‘sales’ in scare quotes.

      I wanted to try to flag the fact that one does what one does professionally – i.e. for remuneration, and to create revenue – yet qualitatively the nature of the work one undertakes is not what we would have called ‘sales’ ten years ago.

      It is revenue generative, yet is it sales? Is ‘sales’ a concept that needs redefining, or retiring?


  3. Lovely posting. I totally agree, it is about “conversation” today, it’s about building meaningful lasting relationships with customers and all relevent stakeholders. SM provides a fantastic opportunity to build on this & engage & have the conversations to support “informed customers”. however as a sales manager I would make just one comment and that is that closing is still important. I have met numerous “chatty” representatives over the years who did not sell a bean, all they do is chat. You are there for a reason – the customer knows it too!

    • Hi Carl

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      The issue here is that if you accept the hypothesis ‘sales is changing, conceptually’ then it’s hard to sneak ‘…but don’t forget to close!’ in through the back door.

      What would ‘indirect influence to close a sale’ look like? And does the logic behind that leap of faith work? I’m not sure.

      For me, this is a further facet of the relinquishing of control. The vendor cannot control the purchaser. If the vendor attempts to influence the purchaser, and the purchaser feels manipulated, the relationship is damaged, possibly destroyed, and the conversational economy – at least in the context of this example – implodes.


  4. Great post Andrew, as always.

    Pharma companies are seeing the effectiveness of their sales force decrease and most of them are trying to figure out how to continue to provide value: transform the role of the sales rep to one that does not just provide information and samples, use of online tools, etc.

    While we may have pharma on board with slowly changing the model from direct selling to conversational selling, we still need doctors to embrace conversations and use the tools to do so. I believe that training doctors to change the work they work, receive training, collaborate, etc., is also key to change the model from selling to coversations. In my country (Spain) some clever pharma companies are understanding this and providing training to docs as they deploy new ways of providing value.


    • Hi Eva

      Thank you! Congratulations on your new blog. I am honoured that you linked to this piece from your first post.

      Healthcare professionals need everyone’s support in working through the issues here, because they concern us all. I have to discount issues that boil down to ‘I haven’t got the time!’. In a sense, none of us do, and we have to reassign our time according to the relative value the activities we undertake deliver. To that end, it is beholden upon us to demonstrate a) need and b) benefit for healthcare professionals to pick up these tools.

      I also appreciate – and wholly approve of and support – the caution shown with regard to privacy and professional ethics. However, in the same way that pharma has used concerns regarding regulation not (IMO) because they were genuinely worried about what may happen to them (when has that ever stopped pharma?) but because it was a convenient excuse for not doing anything, so healthcare professionals may swing on this particular hook forever if they’re not helped down off it.

      Some terrific thought leadership from this key stakeholder group (@amcunningham, @drwes, @healthissocial et al) is emerging and clearing ground around these issues, and there is a great deal of goodwill around making progress across the board.

      However, as the inaugural #nhssm discussions have shown, there are still a number of first principles (the why, who, how, when and what of hcp/provider social media; macro/micro policy implementation issues; establishment of social media governance) that need to be defined before anything resembling progress can be made, and need and benefit must be proven.


  5. Pingback: ABC, always be conversational | El blog de Eva Velasco

  6. very interesting post and discussion.

    It is impossible not to acknowledge that the way we all want to receive information and interact with the world has changed dramatically. At the most basic level most of us expect to have personally designed relationships with even the largest of corporations.

    This will always need to be multi-faceted however. What is important for pharma is that we support health care professionals, patients and the public through whatever channel or channels they find most useful for them.

    With many companies portfolios increasingly based in specialist and often highly complex therapy areas the need for companies to invest in highly qualified representatives has never been more important.

    What is exciting is that this personal interaction can be augmented with new forms of communication and innovative support. Sometimes the face to face can be replaced.

    I had hoped we had moved away from the decade old ‘e-rep’ discussion. We are all customer facing now, even if like me you are mostly in front of a computer screen


  7. Thanks Andrew for this thoughtful post. I first had to have a look at the definition of sales – “The exchange of goods or services for an amount of money or its equivalent; the act of selling”. In many cases we are looking at the act of persuading and permission aren’t we. Whilst we at it lets made sure that without permission you’re spamming me and there is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation. If you believe that I will make a complex transaction that involves many other people and my own reputation just because I like and trust you please forgive me but I’m out. These signifiers of trust, relationship, respect and expertise are built over many interactions and now on the social web are broader. Getting people to do stuff is a key element in leadership so I would suggest that as has been true for time began persuasion is all about dialogue and energy. Neil is absolutely right in people having the passion to move people. As a sales manager years ago I can remember asking prospective sales representatives to talk about their outside work interests and then see the passion and energy that came from that. Invariably if they had energy this could be passed on to the everyday job.

    Complex persuasion also needs solid evidence it needs an ability to say where the logic gaps are it needs authenticity to say where further work and questions need answering. That is true for any salesperson whether it be selling to a health care professional (HCP) or indeed a HCP selling the benefits to a patient. It also (in my mind) needs to be honest about where the limits of the evidence are.

    The other dimension that arrives with the social web is the existence of building a community or network where again leadership is key. This is not the old networking of old but building community where something is going to happen. We’ve moved from persuasion 1.0 to persuasion 2.0 where being part of something is about creating meaning and overall value to all – not just the seller!

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