Selling is Dead: A Provocative New Perspective on Consultative Selling31 Jul, 2006 By: Darrell Amy imageSource
Selling is Dead: A Provocative New Perspective on Consultative Selling
a recent trip to visit a client, a book figuratively jumped off the shelf in the
airport bookstore. The book was titled, Selling is Dead. With a controversial
title like this, how could I not pick it up? And since Neil Rackham, the
respected author of Spin Selling had endorsed it, the book immediately
moved to my must-read list.
Despite the title, author Marc T. Miller actually believes selling is far
from dead. In fact, in technology markets like ours where products are
increasingly viewed as commodities by buyers, the sales function is even more
critical than ever. Miller presents a compelling model to move beyond
traditional sales roles and practices to revitalize growth.
The book directly addresses our industry’s key sales challenge: How do we
equip a tenured copier representative to sell solutions?
We all know that our industry faces big challenges as hardware profit margins
face pressure from competition and commoditization. And, while the current
economic boom and the wave of color promises a temporary resurgence in hardware
profitability, the fact is that the copier is still hurling towards the end of
its product lifecycle.
In the words of a 2003 Cap Ventures’ study, “It is critical to keep in mind
how unkind mature markets are to the profit margins of commodity products. This
is especially true in mature technology markets.”
In our industry, many dealers are trying to make the logical leap from
copiers to document management and print management. Some are experiencing
moderate success; some have tried and are failing, while others haven’t even
started for fear of failure.
Why are Solutions Sales Initiatives Failing?
with the dealer’s partnerships with solutions vendors and investments technical
support infrastructure in place, the real challenge question remains, “Why are
most copier sales reps not that effective in selling document solutions?”
Unfortunately, in many cases the attempt to move a sales team from selling
copiers (commodities) to selling solutions (innovation) is littered with failure
and disappointment. So what is the answer? Should we all throw up our hands and
ride the copier lifecycle through its slow decline without doing anything else?
Through his book, Miller uncovers some good news to this pressing question.
The quick answer is this: a copier sale and a solutions sale are two totally
different types of sales.
When a sales representative understands the differences in selling style
between the two, they can develop a framework to successfully sell both copiers
and solutions. Let’s explore the differences between a copier sale and a
Selling Copiers: A Concurrent Offering
Everyone has copiers. And thankfully for the industry, they wear out or become
obsolete after three to five years. Therefore, a copier sale is always an
upgrade—either with the current vendor or a new vendor. As a result, most of our
sales teams are focused on creating new or additional demand from accounts that
already have copiers.
Miller calls this type of sale a concurrent offering:
> The buyer already has a copier.
> It is already in their budget.
> They have experience buying copiers.
> There is a defined organizational structure to facilitate the purchase.
In this type of sale Miller defines three types of demand:
> Aggregate Demand—the lease is expiring and the customer needs replacement
> Continuous Improvement Demand—a better mousetrap like a multifunctional color
> Economy Demand—cut overhead expenses with a cheaper, more economical copier.
In our industry, sales reps are experts at taking aggregate demand that is
created by lease expirations and adding in continuous improvement to place a
bigger and better system. Or, they use economy demand to show the customer how
they can save money.
The challenge is that while these traditional sales roles are still
important, they become less profitable as products reach commodity status.
Buyers are experienced at purchasing copiers. As a result, the bulk of their
attention has moved from understanding features and benefits to hammering
desperate competitors to negotiate the best price.
The other challenge is that as customers become more comfortable buying
copiers, they may lean towards the Internet for purchases much like how they buy
Selling Solutions: A Divergent Offering
Software-based document solutions, such as print management and document
management, are much different than selling hardware.
Miller calls these sales divergent offerings:
> The buyer does not have document management.
> It is not in the budget.
> They have not bought document management software before (even worse, a
previous software implementation from another vendor didn’t go well).
> There is no defined buying process.
In this case, the sales representative’s role shifts to creating new demand.
The sale moves from selling a tangible product to selling a vision for an
According to Miller three key steps in a divergent sale are:
> Gaining an understanding of the buyer’s business objectives.
> Creating awareness of the buyer’s problems.
> Moving the buyer to a point of dissatisfaction where they are willing to take
the risk to explore and implement better options to solve their problems.
The skill set for this type of sale is different. But the good news is that
this style of selling is attainable for the average copier sales representative.
Why? This skill set does not require huge amounts of technical knowledge.
Creating Business People Who Can Sell
Initially, many of us thought the challenges copier sales representatives faced
when it came to selling solutions was that the products were too technical.
Recognizing that it would be a challenge to get a tenured copier sales rep to
understand the technical aspects of document solutions software, many dealers
hired technical sales people that have more network certifications on their
office wall than sales awards.
In many cases, we have learned that a “technical person who can sell” is a
very rare and often non-existent breed. Certainly, a technical resource is a
necessary part before and after the sale.
However, buyers do not buy for technical reasons. Buyers say “yes” when a
sales representative has helped them identify a business problem, elevated it to
the status of a pressing issue and presented a sensible vision to solve the
Miller’s advice is powerful: instead of looking for technical people who can
sell (which is not what they were originally trained for) we need to develop
business people who can sell solutions. It makes sense; most business decision
makers are not technical people. We are business people needing to address real
challenges in our businesses.
We’ve all seen it happen. Put a technical junkie in front of a business owner
and many times they aren’t even talking the same language. The business owner
ends up looking at his watch searching for the quickest way to end the meeting.
Instead, we need to send out sales reps that are adept at talking with
business people about business problems. Without getting bogged down in the
technical part of the sale, the sales representative needs to be able to sketch
out a clear vision for a solution.
For example, in a case study featured in imageSource magazine last year, a
sales representative used this strategy to sell a solution to a real estate
company. In a strategic conversation with the broker, he learned that it was
taking the agency up to a week to get new listings on the market.
Without bringing confusing technical language into the conversation, the
sales representative asked the broker a simple question, “If we could come up
with a way to get your properties on the market faster, say in a day or two,
would we have
At that point, the sale was well on its way. After a brief proof-of-concept
presentation, the broker approved the installation of a document management
system and eight business model color MFPs!
The reason the broker forked over a substantial amount of money for
technology that would be new to the organization (and not originally in the
budget) was that the sales representative identified his dissatisfaction and
created a vision to make the problem go away.
I think the real challenge we face in moving solutions sales forward may be
the simple fact that a solutions sale is a divergent sale and not a convergent
The skill-set required to sell divergent offerings is different. Sales
representatives that up until now have only sold concurrent offerings need to
develop the skill-set to sell innovation. These skills are the key to success.
Where can a sales representative start? A good way to get the conversation
going might be to read Marc Miller’s new book, Selling is Dead, to get
ideas on approach. Consider having your sales representatives read this book and
then present a summary on various chapters at upcoming sales meetings.
Next, move sales training from product training to “problem” training. Focus
sales training less on the technical aspect of solutions. Instead, focus more on
business problems and how document solutions can solve those problems. At sales
meetings, take time to talk about recent sales calls where business problems
were discussed. What did you learn
from these conversations with your customers?
The good news is that creating business people who can sell solutions is much
easier than creating technical people who can sell. That should be a breath of
fresh air as we struggle together to make this transition. For more discussion
on this article, visit the Dealer Marketing Systems blog at