Return to: GROK Dot Com 12/1/2000

The Grok's REALLY Brief History of Sales    

Come. Gather around my computer and let’s look way back into the past. I've got something to show you:

A guy walks up to a woman. She is lounging under a tree, obviously taking great pleasure in the fruit she nibbles at provocatively. "You won't believe how good this tastes," she smiles and wipes a succulent dribble from her chin, offering the piece of fruit to him.

"Yeah, but isn't that…?" the guy looks about uncertainly.

"How could anything this good be bad?" She winks at him. "Go on, try it. Just one bite and you'll see what I mean."

“But, I don’t know if I should…what if…?” he says with great unease.

“Come on. Trust me. I would never steer you wrong. Try it. You’ll see.” She replies enthusiastically.

The guy is intrigued. The fruit is delightfully red, sounds crispy every time she bites into it, and if her reactions are any indication, the thing must be really great.

"Oh, all right." He lounges beside her, reaches for the fruit and sinks his teeth into it. She made the pitch, he bought it, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I've just reconstructed (with a teensy bit of artistic license) what might be the first recorded sale in the history of humankind: the moment Eve sold Adam on eating the forbidden fruit. Sales! It's great stuff, a big mover and shaker in the human equation. And it's exactly what you want your website to accomplish. You just need to keep this in mind: the time-tested sales principles that have worked offline since forever do work online. In fact, they’re essential. Ignore them and not very many people will buy your apples.

You can trace the development of the art and science of sales from early barter economies through the invention of currency, from nomadic markets to retail stores and then to huge malls, from road shows and door-to-door to telemarketing and TV shopping. In every single case the medium was new, and sometimes even amazing, but the message, the systematic process of getting a customer to buy, has been the same. QVC didn’t succeed by forcing a new technology on its customers and demanding they adapt, but rather by adapting the technology so it could serve customers the way they’ve always preferred to be served, but better.

People have employed every communication medium available as a sales tool, so it's no surprise to Your Grokness that with the recent development of the PC and the Internet, you humans would turn your attention to selling online. There's one small catch, however (if you haven't already figured it out). All previous vehicles for sales allowed for some degree of human interaction. Successful selling is human-centered - people meeting the needs of people based on a series of steps understood, either explicitly or implicitly, by all participants. As far as the recent history of sales has played out online, however, websites have replaced the human-centered sales process with lots of non-human-friendly technology. But the Internet does not change the fact that people do want to be sold (in a positive way), that buying is fundamentally an emotional decision, and that to be successful, sales must stay in touch with its human-centered roots regardless of the medium.

We’ve got plenty of red ink and dotcom failures to prove the present approach to online sales is sorely lacking in fundamental sales ability. When you’ve got fancy designs, elaborate programming and the marketing people burying your site in “eyeballs” but you can’t convert enough of your traffic to make a dent in your expenses, do you have a design problem, a programming problem, a marketing problem or … a sales problem?

What's the next phase in the history of online sales going to be? Pirouetting shoes and strolls through virtual malls? Yikes!! Efforts to make the online environment look and feel just like its physical counterpart may look clever, but they miss the boat. The online experience can’t replicate the offline experience. So instead of using lots of expensive and slow technology trying to be something it’s not, wouldn’t it make more sense for e-commerce to be better at what it is? Besides, customers who vote with their mouse buttons already have proved they’re not interested in “solutions” that are long on sizzle but short on substance, take forever to load, and only delay what they came for: to buy.

The next phase of online sales history is going to belong to those who grasp and correctly apply the concept of what might be called a digital salesperson: a website that performs all the functions an expert human salesperson would in the real world, is able to guide the prospect through all five steps of a professional sale, acknowledges how different people want to be sold and can adapt to those needs. Five steps? Prospect, Rapport, Qualify, Present, Close. If you don’t prospect, you have no customer to build rapport with. No rapport = no trust = no sale. As you build rapport you then can qualify your customer and know both what that customer wants and what kind of presentation will work best. This leads to the presentation of the product in the way that works for the customer. If they want data, why make them stare at testimonials? If they want price, why make them sit through a flash demo? If they’re ready to give you their money and get the satisfaction of buying, why stop them suddenly and demand a bunch of profile info? Which is more important to you, their data or their purchase? Then, when you’ve laid the perfect foundation, you close the sale. You don’t have to just hope your customer will buy; in fact, you can’t afford to.

You'd like to make history rather than become history, right? Then start at the beginning: take a hint from Eve’s story and turn your site into an expert at Sales.

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