401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Selling is dead. The Customer Community killed it.

Selling was something that worked when the customer knew less than you did. Selling was something that worked when customers had to depend almost exclusively on companies for information about products produced by those companies. Selling was all about “convincing” someone that they “needed” something.

Well, those days are gone, over, kaput. Not in the minds of company managers, sales managers, or salespeople, mind you. Nope, they’re still playing the game as if selling still works, and selling still matters. It doesn’t.

Customers begin their buying process with a need and a set of questions. Note that the need already exists. They start their research doing one of two things: they search on Google (for Low- to Medium-Scrutiny products and services) or they talk to their peers (for Heavy-Scrutiny and Intense-Scrutiny products and services). They start getting answers and recommendations, from other customers who have purchased the same product or service that they are thinking of buying. In other words, they turn to the Customer Community for answers – using reviews, discussion groups, blogs, and direct contact via email and conversations.

By the time these customers come in contact with a salesperson – or a website serving the role of a salesperson – the Customer Community has already served the role that the salesperson used to perform. Most of their questions have been answered, and the answers have steered them in a particular direction.

So why do we still need salespeople?
Well, at some point, towards the end of the customer’s buying process, especially in the case of a more complex buying process, some questions will have to be answered by a knowledgeable person. They are situation-specific questions, and questions that involve what it will be like to work with the company selling the product or service: Will this work with MY thing? How much will you charge ME? How long will it take for you to do THIS thing I’m thinking of doing? Will this fit me or my situation? Will I like how you do business with me? Are there people on your staff who can help me? And, the Big Deal Question most commonly asked by buyers and most commonly ignored by sellers and marketers: “What’s going to happen to me after I buy?”

In the end, the sale will be made by the company that answers these very specific questions most successfully. “Hunter” salespeople aren’t really good at this. “Nurturer” salespeople are much better. They are patient. They don’t push. They just keep answering questions or getting the answer from a company specialist until the customer is satisfied.

Unfortunately, most salespeople are only able to answer the questions that the customer has already answered for himself. Salespeople are also trained to “convince” the buyer, which is really stupid, because the buyer already had the need when he started his buying process. His buying process is a search for the best solution to his problem, if a solution exists. It is now the salesperson’s game to lose.

We are now experiencing the biggest disconnect that has ever existed between the buyer’s process and the seller’s process. Buyers are frustrated. Here are just two examples that have landed in my email the last few weeks:

  • Very savvy manager is looking for a cloud-based PR/marketing system. “I first contacted them over 5 months ago after responding to an offer for a free iPod in return for sitting through a 30-minute demo online. I was intrigued by their technology. The presentation by the salesman was mechanical and showed no signs of homework and its relevant application. After a month and no followup or iPod, I called them. Turns out my presenter was MIA. After talking with a manager, I was assigned to another salesperson. He was conscientious, but still didn’t get what was needed to position their system’s offerings to our needs. I am still waiting for the iPod’s arrival. Talk about lousy first impressions.”
  • Another smart business person is looking for a CRM system. “I was asked to sit in on a sales pitch for an accounting package that has CRM and eCommerce. I walked out of the presentation in less than ten minutes. The sales guy was a wind-em-up talking suit, all buzz words. ‘We sell to big companies, small companies, 10,000 companies, so buy from us. We are the only alternative of choice versus Oracle and SAP for any high-growth but medium-sized company.’ Yada, yada, yada. When my CFO asked a particular question, the guy had no idea which companies were actually like us. When I went to their website, it was all generalizations. No pulldown on CRM, though I eventually found it under the products tab. The different elements of CRM shown there were the right ones, but the descriptions were all too vague to mean anything. ‘Gain real-time and accurate visibility into pipeline and forecasts, boost sales efficiency…’ I want to talk to someone who can tell me about the struggles of putting it into practice and living with it day-to-day. It was clear from the 5 – 10 minutes that we spent with this guy that he was not going to be able to address any of the practical issues.”

These salespeople UN-sold these prospects. These prospects came to them hopeful and left discouraged, even disgusted. They will look elsewhere.

By the time a customer has come to you, the Customer Community has answered many questions, and you are now on the prospect’s short list. If your salespeople are selling the “old” (normal) way, you will lose the sale.


  • Interview customers who have already bought from you, asking them what their concerns were as they were buying and how you finally successfully addressed those concerns. Map out their buying process and make sure you are aligned with it, at every step. When they take their next move, you should be right there, with exactly what they need. (Instructions here.)
  • Make sure their concerns are all addressed on your website, answering the question, “What’s going to happen to me after I buy?” Be sure you answer these questions in your content marketing as well, including blogs and emails.
  • Make sure your salespeople can answer the very specific questions they will be asked when the customer finally makes contact with you, after the customer has gotten the “generic” questions answered by the Customer Community. If a salesperson can’t learn what he needs to learn, or doesn’t have the patience to answer questions properly, replace that pushy, superficial hunter with a nurturer. Personal experience with clients has proven to me that nurturers can outsell the hunters.

Buyers have already changed their buying process. You must change your selling process – now – if you don’t want to be left in the dust.


  1. The customer really is king (or queen / president…)

    Customers have information now that used to be tightly controlled by sales. A buyer can easily find expert opinions, alternatives, customer reviews, case studies, faults, prices… without even letting the vendor know they’re interested.

    The Internet gives us free access to so much more information.

    Yes this is disruptive to the old sales model. Vendors have 2 responses
    1) invest more in marketing and less in sales
    2) upgrade sales

    There will always be the need for top-quality sales professional to manage commercial negotiations for high-value complex deals.

    But apart from the very top-end, vendors need to raise their game from just providing information to real education and expert advice.

    1) Marketing must educate the market on the need before buyers know they have the need. They need to establish a trusted source of information so that buyers come to them for advice.
    Marketing also needs to empower and amplify the customer community message, so positive messages are heard widely and negative messages get help to make them happy

    2) Sales should upgrade to become expert advisers. The top sales folks have always been consultative stars.

    So yes selling as we have known it is dying

  2. I almost referred to “nurturers” as “educators” – for this very reason. But marketing AND sales need to work hand-in-hand on the education. The problem is, so much marketing content tells buyers what they already know! Buyers want very specific answers to questions regarding the product or service, NOT generic stuff about the topic in general.

    You also say that salespeople should be “expert advisors.” Well, they better be willing to learn, then. I find so often that salespeople just get bored learning the details of their product, especially the very technical products. The just don’t want to think that hard. In fact, that IS what separates the “consultative stars” from the “pushy empty-suit salesperson”: THINKING.

    Thanks for your comments.


  3. Kristin,

    Working in the auto industry your concepts are valid, however many managers rely on the “old way” which I call “brute-force” selling. You throw enough resources at it brute force works, however its the law of diminishing returns. Changing this reasoning is like turning an aircraft carrier. Not quick or easy.

  4. Hi, Andrew.

    I chuckled when I read what you wrote, because it can certainly feel like you’re turning an aircraft carrier.

    But it can be easier than one thinks. I find that when I bring the customer’s truth into an organization, in the form of the interview findings and analysis, where the CUSTOMER is making their truth known loud and clear – most managers pay very close attention and realize that the solutions are both wise and doable.

    Any business owner or manager who has the desire to get onto a more customer-centric path can do it. It starts with that truth – which can, amazingly, be uncovered in 5 – 10 in-depth phone interviews of current customers, then analyzed and discussed, which then leads to customer-centric decisions, which turn into customer-centric actions – new processes, people, policies, products (mostly minor modifications), packaging, etc. The “solution” is different for each company. There is no such thing as “one size fits all.” There is only “one size fits perfectly.”

    So in my experience, if it’s done right, it’s more like a barge being pushed by a tug boat. It can be more nimble than you’d expect.


  5. I love this post, Kristin. It’s spot on, but you don’t just nail the problem, you provide the solution. I’d add that because sales people are now only involved toward the end of the buy cycle, and are often kept at arm’s length, they don’t often have an opportunity to develop a relationship with a customer. Therefore, information needed to feed case studies and other marketing vehicles (and sales training) becomes extremely difficult to obtain.

    Your one-on-one interview process solves this issue. Information gleaned during these interviews could be used for multiple purposes including case studies / success stories and testimonials – the most effective sales tools.



  6. Hi, Bob. Yep, very good point, I’m glad you made it. It’s true that the information from interviews can be repurposed into wonderfully relevant and convincing content for prospective buyers. They will recognizes themselves in the copy.

    Thanks for bringing this up.


  7. As usual your points are all valid. I would just make the observation however that the best sales people have always been nurturers as the long term relationships that they create lead to repeat sales and ongoing transactions. For me, the best of your many good points is to realize that today much more homework and customer understanding in advance of a call is needed…..the sales call really has to begin with a recognition of mutual knowledge already being shared.

  8. Hi, Wilder. Nice to see you comment here. Hope you’re doing well.

    Yes, there’s that thinking thing again. And I like to think of selling more about helping than pushing. So you are correct.

    I do worry about people using the word “relationships,” though, since all the buyer really wants is to get their questions answered honestly. Sellers love relationships; buyers want products and services provided by people who understand their needs, and who are there when help is needed. Yes, you could say that “relationships” contain those components, but I think there has been way too much emphasis on building relationships versus supporting the customer’s buying process.

    I heard a “cold call” made by a telemarketer today, and the telemarketer was calling the prospect “man,” towards the end of the call, as in, “Hey, thanks, man.” All buddy-buddy. The buyer, who had spent more time on the call than he really wanted to – out of politeness, said, “Whatever,” or something similar after hearing all that buddy-buddy talk. Just becuase the man with the cigar and his arm around your shoulder wants to think he’s your friend, doesn’t mean that the person just “befriended” feels like a friend.

    I know you didn’t mean it that way – I know you’re smarter than that – but thanks for the opportunity to bring that up. As I say in my book, no one wants the car dealer showing up for dinner. We just want them to do their job – answer our questions, honestly – which they never do.


  9. In vendor relations, good relationships only grow through focusing on customer needs and one’s products’ or services’ ability to deliver. Buyers DO want such relationships as they provide “go to” resources for future needs and assistance. But the converse is also true, i.e. ongoing sales will not emerge from vendors focusing first on creating good relationships

  10. Thanks for the post Kristin.
    As a tech turned salesperson, it makes me think that I may be in a better position than “real” salespeople under the new world order that you describe throughout your blog.
    Quite a morale booster! Thanks again.

  11. Yes, you are spot on, Bryce. I have found in my career that it is much easier to teach technical people about marketing than it is to teach marketing people about technology. Since I have discovered – and practice, and teach – that marketing is a logical process, not an emotional one, technologists eagerly embrace that concept, and the process.

    When it comes to marketers learning technology, there is a mental block, which really hurts them and their companies. They think – and say – “I’m not technical,” which is like living in an agricultural society/age and saying, “I don’t understand farming.”

    Marketers also have too little exposure to real customers. It is partly because salespeople are so careful with their customers – they literally don’t want marketers talking to them – but I have found that they are much less reluctant to let marketers talk to their customers if the marketers understand the technology that the company is selling. That understanding will allow them to have a meaningful conversation with their customers, a conversation that will not horrify the salesperson. And, truth be told, salespeople may know more than marketers, but they also create their own glass ceiling and refuse to learn any more than they think they have to. So they are not able to answer the customer’s questions, which is their MAIN job.

    How on earth can marketers write relevant copy if they don’t understand what they are selling? Customers who are trying to buy that technology read what marketers have written, and think, “Oh, man, this person does not understand what he/she is writing about!”

    So your chances in this new economy are fantastic. Use that tech brain of yours to soak up everything you can about your technology AND your customers – what they want when they come to buy, the concerns they have, who else will be involved, what their concerns are, and how your company can satisfy those concerns. Be ready to answer that all-important question, in detail: “What’s going to happen to me after I buy?” You will knock the ball out of the park, over and over. People will be thrilled to buy from you.

    I am so glad you found this a morale booster. I love boosting morale. LOL



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *