Stop Selling Like It Is 1985

Our friend, Jim Muehlhausen of CEO Focus, identified the changing landscape of selling in his video “Stop Selling Like it’s 1985.”  He astutely identified how the power has shifted from the seller to the buyer as a result of seismic changes brought by the widespread acceptance of the internet.

The example in the video is about how a car was purchased in 1985.  The buyer would have to go to the dealer to find out about the car.  The dealer was the one that had all the information and thus controlled the sales process. The potential buyer basically went to the seller and identified him or herself as a prospect.  Then, they were subjected to the sales pitch in order to just get basic information on the automobile.

Wow! Have things changed.  Now, if someone was interested in buying a car they have access to all sorts of information with just a few clicks.  This includes the basic information about the car from the manufacturer, but also reviews about the car, known problems, the price the dealer pays, and reviews about the dealer.  The consumer has more than enough information about the car in order to make an educated decision before they ever go to the dealer to see and test drive the car.

This shift of access to information from the seller to the buyer has completely changes the sales process.  The seller is now in charge of the sales process. This is the new reality.  The problem is that many salespeople are still stuck with the old way of doing business.  They act and do sales as if they are still in control. Salespeople need to do business they way prospects what to do business, or they will not be successful.

Invisible Prospects

This new paradigm for sales creates the “invisible prospect.”  In 1985, the salesperson would know they had a prospect when the door swung open and the prospect walked in. Today, prospects can go through the door of a website virtually undetected. Buyers often remain invisible until they are ready to purchase. They no longer call up a company to get a brochure or wait to speak with a salesperson. Buyers do their homework online and the business has no idea whether or not they have a prospect.

Muehlhausen says there are three things businesses need to do. First, offer free and transparent information, including pricing.  Next, the information needs to be convenient and packaged in the way a prospect will find convenient.  Finally, the process needs to be “sales-free” in the beginning.

The new structure of sales for a business is “Content Marketing.”  It is how the consumer gets to know, like and trust a business. The goal of content marketing is first education and consumption, then behavior and decisions.  Businesses need to first inform the consumer by offering them material and content that focuses on their problems and desires.

Story Telling versus Selling

The beginning stages of contact with the prospect cannot be sales oriented.  Instead, businesses need to tell stories and share examples of other people’s success.  This technique will help create a picture of how that business can solve problems.  Stories build connections and trust. It is a way of illustrating the value that the business can provide. The human mind has 50,000 years of development geared toward story telling.  People get emotionally connected to stories and can remember the detail from a story much better than a table of product specifications or bullet points of product benefits.

The New Way to do Marketing

The sales funnel is still a good way to describe the modern way of doing sales and marketing, however, there are some updates.  To start off, a business needs to cast a low cost wide net to make initial contact with potential prospect.  This can vary from the traditional way of buying mailing lists to having prospects opt-in after they visit the business on the Internet.  Connections can be made through online social media like Facebook and LinkedIn.

The next couple of levels in the sales funnel are a little different than they were in 1985.  Back then, a potential prospect had to “expose themselves” and take action in order to move down the tunnel. Now, potential prospects can remain somewhat anonymous, but still be connected.  For example, they can visit a website, download information or signup for a newsletter.  The middle part of the funnel is now more of a hopper to store prospects until they are ready to move further down.

This middle part of the sales funnel is where the prospect can get the information they want and need without a sales pitch.  Businesses need to offer valuable content in digital format that they own and control.  This area is not just for suspects and prospects, but clients and advocates as well. The prospect can stay here for a long time and until they are ready to buy. Businesses just need to keep them interested and informed enough until the need to buy lines up with the securing of know, like and trust. Build a community or network for all.

Build a Marketing System

A marketing system for a business is a multi-tiered approach.  The initial low cost wide net can be emails, direct mailings and the use of social media.  This is augmented with testimonials, tips and general information videos on the company’s websites.  Prospects can then opt-in to the move to the next level by requesting in-depth information to download or to signup for a newsletter. Consider adding podcasts or instructional videos. For some businesses, a discussion forum is a great way to keep prospects involved. There are some downsides with forums, especially with negative reviews, so investigate using this approach before it is implemented.

The final legs of the modern sales tunnel can be direct teaching and education of the prospect.  This can be done through seminars, webinars and one-on-one sessions. This is the time to specifically address their problems and offer the potential of a solution.  The key is to point them in the right direction, but not solve it all. The resolution of their problems is the final sales technique. Keep in mind that at this point, the prospect most likely has all the information they need to make a decision.  It is just a matter of helping them finalize that decision.


There is no going back to the time when the business had control over the sales process.  Salespeople need to embrace the new way of selling, which is give the prospect the information they need to come to the business.  The good part is that the first few stages of the sales process are easier in a sense that it is information driven and not sales driven. Once established, it will create a proven and repeatable sales process.  Developing personal relationships does not need to begin until the prospect is ready to buy.  This helps the sales person focus on pre-qualified leads rather than trying to work with a large pool of prospects.

So save the big hair, costume jewelry and preppy clothes for a 1980’s theme party.  Go out there and sell like it is 2017.