Generational Changes Driving Today’s Sales Process


By Rick Mullen, Maintenance Sales News Magazine Associate Editor - Originally published at

During a presentation at the recent ISSA Show North America 2019, in Las Vegas, NV, titled, “Winning Selling Strategies for Today’s Disruptive Sales Realities,” Sales Consultant Jim Pancero told an audience of cleaning professionals that selling has changed dramatically in recent years.

“Fifty years ago, in September 1969, I started my first sales job. I have been in some kind of sales position my entire career. I have been a sales consultant for 38 years,” Pancero said. “What I find so amazing is, I have seen more changes in selling in the past five years than the previous 45 years. We are seeing such dramatic changes right now.

“For decades, selling didn’t really change that much. Managers got their people out there to make more calls. They told their sales reps, ‘Just go out there and build relationships with your customers. Go out there and demonstrate and show your stuff.’

“The most significant change now is we are having a generational changeover. Baby boomers are retiring and millennials, and the millennial philosophy, is now driving the sales process.”

Most buyers have embraced today’s millennial-led buying philosophies:
 Rather text than talk;
 Rather interact electronically than in person (or by phone);
 Comfortable ignoring voicemails, e-mails or texts;
 The less connected they feel to you and your company, the less likely they will be to return phone calls, e-mails or texts;
 Less vendor loyalty. They assume (or even see) few differences between you and your competitors. It’s hard to get a buyer’s attention when they see online how many competitors you have in the area;
 Only want to talk with salespeople after deciding what they want to buy; and,
 Expect everything next day.

“Today’s millennial buyers would rather text than talk. How many of your customers don’t really want to talk to you?” Pancero asked. “I’m amazed how many customers I work with only want me to text, because it is a more comfortable mode of communication. Thankfully, I also think it is a more efficient way to communicate.”

Another way modern-day sales differ from sales in the past is there is less vendor loyalty, Pancero said.

“The idea is, I can find anybody on my cell phone, so why should I develop loyalty to you?” he said. “Today’s buyers tend to only want to talk to salespeople after they decide what they want. One of the major changes I see in selling today is salespeople are being brought in much later in the buying process than ever before.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago, if you and your family decided to buy a hot tub, what would you have done? You would have stopped at a hot tub store, asked questions, and picked up a couple of brochures. Then, you would have returned home and talked to your family about what you wanted to do, followed by making a decision.”

In today’s marketplace, if a person is considering buying a hot tub, going to the hot tub store would come much later in the process, if at all. For older consumers, the first step would likely be to “Google” hot tubs. For millennials, their first step would be to ask their friends, Pancero said.

“The first source for younger millennials is to ask their friends, ‘What do you like?’ That is where they will go,” Pancero said.

In the past, a buyer’s first action would be to meet with a sales rep. Today, Pancero explained, many buyers would prefer to do just about anything than talk to a salesperson.

“It is hard to even get to customers today. How is that affecting your team’s success in selling?” Pancero asked. “Ten years ago, if I left maybe 70 or 80 voicemails with people, they would actually return my calls. Today, nobody returns my calls, but if I send a text, I get an immediate answer.”

With the growing popularity of online ordering sites that can accomplish next-day deliveries, such as Amazon, customers have also come to expect quick deliveries from their distributors.

Pancero pointed out that Domino’s Pizza preceded Amazon in offering quick service.

“How many of your customers want everything the next day?” Pancero asked. “By the way, this is not new. What Amazon has done to 'mess up' our lives today, Domino’s did 15 or 20 years ago when it came out with the ‘30 minutes or it’s free’ campaign. In the past, how many of your customers complained, ‘I can get a pizza in a half hour. How come it takes two weeks to get a part in?’ Today it is, ‘My Amazon order will be here in two days, why is it taking you so long?’”

In his consulting work, Pancero said one of the problems he encounters is the more veteran salespeople are often reluctant to change with the times.

“Their attitude is the same old sales methods still work,” Pancero said. “They say, ‘It is still relationships and knowing your product. I’m going to go out and do my route, work on my relationships, and work on the products.’ However, for many customers today, that is not the value they are seeking.”

Pancero outlined strategies to successfully win business and develop a sales force in tune to the realities of today’s marketplace.

Improve your selling message of value and uniqueness:
 This is not a message on your website that can easily be copied by your competitors, but rather the message you deliver verbally and in individual electronic communications;
 How are you and your team answering a customer asking, “Why, based on all the competitive opportunities available to me, do I want to buy from you?”
 Avoid using the four oldest (and overused) answers — Because of our high-quality products, our strong levels of support, our competitive prices — and you get me.
 Incorporate the “Four Core Values” selling language. Tell me how you are going to lower my risk; make my life or work easier; increase my profitability or lower my total costs; and increase my competitive advantage.

Pancero offered the following scenario: A salesperson is calling on a customer, and the customer interrupts and says, “You are the third vendor I have talked to about this stuff this week. Based on the competitive options available to me, why would I want to buy from you?”

“How would your salespeople respond?” Pancero asked. “What is your message of uniqueness. The challenge I give to sales managers and to owners is, if you want to test if a problem exists in your company, go to each of your sales reps individually and ask them how they would respond to the question. Let’s say you have five sales reps, what do you think you are going to hear? — five completely different answers.”

Pancero said one of the ways a company can measure the strength of its brand is “predictability.”

“For example, Pixar is coming out with a new movie. Is it safe to take your kids?” Pancero asked. “Yes. Just by the name, Pixar, you know it is a safe movie for your children. The question is, ‘How predictable is your company?’

“How predictable is your company if every sales rep, driver and inside salesperson has a completely independent different message of uniqueness? What does that do to your brand? What does that do to your predictability? That is a major problem today.

“There is a vapor lock between sales and leadership. Sales leaders are upset that sales reps don’t have a consistent message. Why are the sales reps upset? Because nobody told them what the message is supposed to be, so they are all making up their own.

“When I ask companies I work with, ‘Why would I want to buy from you?’ I get the same answer, high quality products, strong levels of support, competitive price — we are not the cheapest, but we are competitive — and you get me. What is wrong with those four answers? It is what everybody is saying. When the customer hears that, he/she says, ‘When I asked you what makes you unique, you didn’t say anything, so, who has the cheapest price?’ Now, we are back to buying and selling only on price.”

Pancero said with all the predatory pricing found online, it is a good bet a typical distributor is not going to be the cheapest source available.

An example of a strong message today for a company to promote is, “We are not going to be the cheapest price, but your usage, total consumption, how much inventory you have to store, how much backup you have to have, how much training you get from your vendor, and other attributes means, even though we are a higher price, we are lower total cost,” Pancero said.


Another problem Pancero sees is the lack of sales training and, therefore, no control over the selling process.

“Most salespeople never went through training. So, if you ask them, most sales reps have no structure, control or process. They are not doing things on purpose. There is a randomness to how they sell,” Pancero said. “There are structures that you, as a manager, can teach your sales team so they can have control over the selling process, which will increase your competitive advantage. One is as simple as the steps of a sales call.”

Steps of a sales call:
 Lower resistance;
 Ask questions and qualify. ID customer needs. Learn/understand their environment. Qualify the relevance and appropriateness of your solution;
 Present your solution;
 Close. Where do we go from here? What happens now? What do we need to do next?; and,
 Agree to your next contact.

“Most sales reps can’t tell you the steps of a sale call, so it is a free fall when they go to a customer. The more pressure the customer puts on them, the more the call collapses,” Pancero said. “Ask your sales reps what is the final step of a sales call and 95 percent of them will say, ‘The close.’ If closing is the last step, you can’t maintain relationships with customers over the long term. The final step has to be agreeing to the next contract, not the closing.”

Pancero suggested managers ask salespeople some pertinent questions about the sales process and take note of how they reply.

“How do you win business? How do you go after a new account? We got a sales lead, what are you going to do with it? How many of your people will answer, ‘Well, it depends?’” Pancero said. “Everything is one-of. They don’t have any structure or consistency. They are making everything up as they go. So, every time you ask them about their structure, they answer, ‘It depends. What is your process? It depends. What steps do you follow? It depends.’ There is no structure, consistency, replication or control. It is just giving reactive responses to whatever customers say.”

Pancero said the first place for managers to start is establishing a strong message to allow for consistency in telling customers how the managers’ respective companies are different from the competition. Secondly, managers should establish controls to make their brand more predictive.

“When you ask salespeople, ‘What is your process?’ and they say, ‘It depends,’ it is because they are not thinking ahead,” Pancero said. “If you and I are playing chess, and I only think one move ahead and you think two moves ahead, how many games are you going to win? All of them. So, how many moves ahead are your sales reps thinking? Or, are they just saying, ‘It depends?’”


Pancero said it is critical that salespeople understand how to maintain and support existing customers.

“The average sales rep doesn’t know how to maintain an account,” Pancero said. “So, when they make a sales call, all they say is, ‘What do you need? What’s coming up? How can I help? What do you need next? How’s the family?’ They are not proactive in how they drive the process.

“To drive the process, not only do they need to know the steps of the sales call and how to have control, but their company’s messaging.”

Meanwhile, to mitigate the impact of Amazon and other online retailers taking business away from a distributorship, a good defensive strategy must be in place, Pancero said.

“Many companies are taking a big hit from Amazon, especially among smaller customers, because it is so easy and convenient to shop online,” Pancero said. “The way to block online ordering is to make sure salespeople are proactive with customers. We need ‘arsonists’ not ‘firefighters.’ We don’t need sales reps out there supporting customers, we need them fighting for customers by being proactive.

“The way you neutralize online services is making sure customers see you are investing in them by bringing new ideas, solving new problems and resolving issues to help them improve their business. Salespeople cannot just be order takers, because as soon as they become just order takers, Amazon and other online services become their company’s direct competitors.

“Salespeople need to tell customers, ‘We justify our costs to you because of constantly bringing you new ideas. We are not just an order site, you can get that online.’ This is how you defend yourself.”

In the defensive effort to block the influence of online retailers, Pancero suggested setting up monthly selling campaigns.

“Rather than going out with, ‘What do you need? What’s coming up? How can I help? What do you need next? How’s the family?’ every month you can go out promoting a different theme or concept of your business,” Pancero said.

Selling campaigns should not be about products, but rather to remind customers about the impact a company is having on its customers, Pancero said.

“You don’t go into the hardware store to buy a drill. You go into the hardware story to buy the opportunity to make holes. So, the idea is we don’t talk about why customers need our drills, but rather we talk about the great holes we can help them drill,” Pancero said.

Monthly theme examples:
 Helping improve your workplace safety;
 Helping reduce chemical waste (when crews overmix their cleaning chemicals, etc.);
 Lowering paper (or packaging) costs;
 Improving your food packaging;
 Equipment operations safety coaching and training;
 Reminder of a company’s emergency delivery program; and,
 How can we make our ordering process easier for you?

A monthly campaign is not about a special a company might be running, such as paper products are on sale for a month, Pancero said.

“A campaign is about you and your brand, reminding customers about the extras and solutions that you bring them. Remind customers that you offer more than just products. Remind them there is value buying from you versus purchasing online. That’s the direction, that’s the focus that we are trying to achieve,” Pancero said.

Another suggestion Pancero made is for companies to ratchet up their prospecting efforts.

“The longer a salesperson has been at a company, the less prospecting he/she is likely doing. The tenured sales rep has his/her accounts locked in and is not doing much to shake the place up,” Pancero said. “One of the problems is most of the time there is no organization to the prospecting. Salespeople just go out and start calling on people and ringing doorbells. There is a randomness to it, so your rep is never an expert on the industry he/she is prospecting.”

Pancero said companies should target their prospecting, both for efficiency and effectiveness.

“So, let’s say we decide to take on a particular industry — this month we are going to call on all the school systems in our area. With this kind of focus, a sales rep becomes more of a technical expert,” Pancero said. “In the old days, selling was pretty simple. If I was a salesperson and you were the buyer, I just asked, ‘What do you need? What is your biggest challenge? What keeps you awake at night? What is the biggest problem you currently have? What would you most like to improve in your business?

“If we asked those exact same questions today, how many customers would say, ‘I don’t have time for this?’ They would brush you off immediately, because the assumption is, I’m not going to let you go on a fishing trip like the old days.

“Your sales reps have to go out and start leading with ideas. They just can’t go out and start asking questions anymore.”

Pancero said companies need to find the time for prospecting.

“How many of your people never quite have time to prospect?” Pancero asked. “I was so impressed by a company that sells temporary services to hospitals and medical professionals. Their business is to go to small, rural hospitals and sell expertise.”

For example, if a rural hospital needs a thoracic surgeon to take over while their regular surgeon attends a two-week training class, the company will supply a temp surgeon.

“I was conducting training for that company and was warned to not be surprised when, at 11 a.m., an alarm goes off and everybody leaves,” Pancero said. “I was told that from 11 a.m. to noon is what the company calls its daily ‘golden hour.’ When the alarm is sounded, every salesperson goes to a phone and starts prospecting.”

Pancero suggested companies set aside a block of time on a regular basis that salespeople are expected to prospect.

 In part two of "Winning Selling Strategies for Today's Disruptive Sales Realities," which will be published in the February eNews, Pancero discusses the importance of a company's electronic footprint in today's marketplace, and more on how the generational changeover has dramatically changed the job of a sales team leader.

Contact: Jim Pancero,
Phone: 952-913-8998.

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