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Sales Training and Mad Men

“Mad Men” is getting ready to kick off its fourth season on TV. It’s my favorite show partly because there are so many sales lessons packed into it. It’s about a 1960’s New York advertising agency and is an accurate depiction of the times (or so I’m told -- I missed the sixties by a few years).

Anyway, the biggest sales-related lesson is just how much customers have changed over time. Here’s an example. In the third season, the lead character, Don Draper, is working with a client whose product is getting some really bad attention. Draper tells his client… “If you don’t like the conversation, change it.” If only it were still that easy…You and I know that if Don tried that today, he’d flop with the super-sophisticated, plugged-in customers of the 21st century. Salespeople have to listen to their customers more now than ever. They’re too savvy to be “played.” In fact, I think customers have become more sophisticated in the past ten years than they had in the last hundred. Think about it. What’s happened in the last ten years? • Wikipedia replaced Britannica • Google gave you easy access to virtually all knowledge • Social networking means almost-instant access to anyone in the world • The list goes on and on… In short, we can get any information we want whenever we want it effortlessly. And that’s exactly what your customers are doing. They have access to more information and resources than ever before. When they’ve got a question, they turn to Google. And, when they look through the results, they’re less interested in what you’re saying about yourself and more interested in what other people in their situation are saying and doing about the problem you solve. So what does that mean? They’re not waiting for a salesperson to show up to give them a solution. They’re asking, listening, and learning. And it means your sales team must be part of the conversation. It’s not possible for Don Draper (or anybody else) to just “change the conversation” anymore. So rather than wasting time and energy fighting that impossible fight, salespeople should focus on… • Learning everything their customers know (or might know) about their offerings. • Getting to know their customers’ customers. • Understanding their customer’s competitors. • Thinking about their customers’ customers’ competitors. Get the point? That’s more than information overload – it’s an overload of information overload. But to be positioned as the expert your customers expect, you have no choice! The moral of the story is that sales professionals (and their managers and leaders) will have to become increasingly more sophisticated, too. So, the question we’re left with is: If Don’s 1960’s skills are no good today, what’s going to be required in 2060 @JebBrooks