Are You Still Selling Like It’s 1982?

Did you know closing ratios on deals that employ traditional selling methods (e.g., cold calls and direct mail) have not changed since the 1980s? Seriously. They’ve not budged at all since “Eye of the Tiger” was a hit song on the radio. And yet there are still salespeople and team leaders today—four decades later—who remain stubbornly fixated on this entirely outdated way of looking at sales.

In a sense, they’re behaving as though they’re the 1982 Sears Catalogue: sitting on a lonely shelf, quietly waiting for their customer to come to them and place an order. Next, when the silence gets to be too much for them, they double down! They make cold calls and send stone-cold pitch letters (sometimes even by snail mail). And then they act surprised when they don’t get the response rate they’d hoped for.

You’d sure get looked at funny today if you went out in public dressed like it’s still 1982. It’s no different if you’re still selling that way. It’s time to put away the new-wave hair, the skinny ties, and the oversized shoulder pads. Stop selling as though it’s 1982.

All the top-ranked sellers in the marketplace know this. They’ve already radically changed how they think about their customer so they can navigate an equally radically transformed marketplace: one where some 4.7 billion people are now online and e-commerce commands about a quarter of all sales.

We all used to live in a buy-from market. Now it’s a sell-to market. Here’s what you must do to ensure you and your sales team are in full alignment with the way things are now…and not stuck in the way that things used to be.


One of the biggest overlooked facts about the emergence of Amazon and Shopify over the last decade is that they didn’t just replace brick-and-mortar stores like Sears. They also rendered a lot of salespeople obsolete! Market research bears this out: today’s buyer no longer needs a salesperson to start the buying process. This Amazonification of the marketplace has meant buyers today do more than just accept a seller-free experience: they actually prefer it…and seek it out. In a recent conversation with Brent Adamson from Gartner, he revealed that 43% of all buyers now desire a seller-free sales experience—a preference that jumps to 54% for millennials. That shift isn’t just fueled by the rise of next-generation buyers. It’s been accelerated by the global pandemic. Expect that to continue. As Gartner concludes in a related study: “By 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels.”


More than ever, your buyer today is armed with a massive amount of information at the front-end about what you’re selling. They don’t need you for fact collecting anymore. They need you to help them make smart, informed decisions. And that can only happen if they trust you first. Everything now hinges on needs and value. Therefore, you must focus on creating and fostering meaningful personal relationships with those you do business with. If your buyer doesn’t sense there’s a meaningful connection with you, that business relationship will be as short-lived as a one-hit-wonder pop song on a 1980s radio station.


Just as your customer defines the changing needs they have for you to meet, it’s your job as the seller to correctly define the value you bring to that business relationship. As I’ve talked about recently, your task is to convert all intangibles into tangible ROI. Do that by asking probing questions that help you better understand your customer’s business, including the value of saved money and saved time in their business operation.


Even after you have rethought your relationship with your customer and realigned based on needs and value, your work doesn’t just stop there. You also must provide your customer with the buying options they want on the terms that make sense to them. Since 2020, everyone’s made a sudden (and sometimes difficult) shift to doing business online. But that has gone from being a necessity to becoming a convenience. As a Duarte consultant mentioned to me during a sales kickoff presentation earlier this year: up to 25% of your customer’s valuable time (and yours) is being saved now…just by switching from face-to-face to virtual meetings. All without eroding one iota of the quality of that hard-earned relationship. Why would you not embrace that opportunity? 

As is the nature of change, transformation of today’s marketplace happened gradually and then suddenly. The global pandemic didn’t start this shift. It accelerated it. Big changes have been afoot for a long time. That’s why you must embrace all of this change rather than fight it. You can broaden your reach and boost your bottom line better and faster than before. You can learn from the best sellers out there. And apply it quickly. And measure results.

Do it right and do it now. You’ll see that this is the best time ever to be in sales.

Connect with Colleen on LinkedIn about traditional selling methods

4 responses to “Are You Still Selling Like It’s 1982?

  1. […] chasing some singular, right way to define how your customer sees the worth behind what you’re selling. There are multitudes. You just have to start […]

  2. I am an old school sales person who has incorporated twenty first century marketing. I still do direct mail as well as LinkedIn marketing.
    Within the last 90 days, I have had successful face to face meetings where I have satisfied their needs while confirming the values that I can provide.

  3. […] you can’t blame them. As I talked about in a previous article: this is a sell-to marketplace, and it’s almost entirely digital-driven. That’s why Garter […]

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