In order to thrive in today’s digitally driven business environment, sales folks need to think and act more like marketers. I suppose to some degree this has always been true, but it is painfully so now that prospects have access to mounds of information, have tools to deflect unwanted sales messages and have the ability to freely publish both flattering and unflattering information about the companies with whom they choose to do business.

So, in order to survive in this new world order salespeople need to take things in their own hands and connect much more deeply with the marketing side of things. I’ve often said that getting marketing and sales on the same page was one of the biggest challenges for departmentalized business, but now it’s become an individual challenge.

In the traditional model marketing owned the message while sales owned the relationship. In the new model there can be little distinction. Marketing must get better at relationship building and sales must get better at message building and delivery.

For the individual salesperson this means the following:

Listening is the new prospecting

While it has become much more difficult to gain access to prospects via phone and email, it’s actually become much easier to understand the individual needs of a prospect due in large part to social media.

Salespeople need to create their own socially driven listening stations via tools such as Trackur and HootSuite. They need to add social profiles in their CRM tools. Then need to create Google Alerts for customers and competitors.

Prospects and customers will voluntarily and publicly scatter sales clues if you listen actively. When you employ a tool like Rapportive you never have to pick up the phone or send an email to a prospect without digesting the last few things they said on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Educating is the new presenting

In days of old salespeople were encouraged to perfect their pitch. They still teach this in many sales training courses. The pitch became little more than they effective manipulation of proven psychological principles and gimmicks.

Today’s salesperson must be ready to teach, publish and demonstrate expertise. Every salesperson should answer questions via blog posts, engage in social media conversations and conduct online and offline seminars.

It is very hard for some to turn the selling off, but the ones that do are reaping the benefits.

Insight is the new information sharing

Our prospects have access to the best information in the world. They have access to all the information we put out, all the information our competitors put out and all the information shared by customers and partners about us and the industry in general.

This collection of information allows them get either very smart about what we are selling or very confused about what we are selling. Today’s salesperson must act as a filter and provide insight about the information.

Today’s salesperson must help the prospect understand the questions they need to consider before providing the answers. Today’s salesperson needs to get very good at helping the prospect aggregate, filter and condense the mass of information.

Storybuilding is the new nurturing

Stories are the greatest relationship builders. Good old Mister Rogers used to say – “It’s hard not to like someone once you know their story.”

Today the job of storytelling is a collaborative one. Salespeople must be able to relate the organization’s core stories to the world of the customer and they must help the customer build a new story that stars them in the leading role in a world where their problems and challenges are a thing of the past.

While this may sound like a nice fairy tale, the fact of the matter is that this is accomplished with proof over promise. Today’s salesperson must actively understand, measure and communicate the real results that clients achieve in every engagement. And they must bring those real-life stories to new customers and prospects.

Relationship building is the new closing

Whenever I hear the word closing all I can think of is Alec Baldwin’s epic speech in the film Glengarry Glen Ross. Well, today’s salesperson must always be building relationships.

Relationship building coupled with education makes traditional closing tactics a thing of the past. But this isn’t simply a call for more schmoozing; this is a call for genuine, mutually beneficial relationship building.

This includes building relationships with referral sources and strategic partners in ways that benefit your best clients as well as your partners. Today’s salesperson must build a relationship platform that allows them to provide introductions to anything that a customer needs to meet their objectives, regardless of how unrelated it may be to the products and services their organization offers.

Today’s salesperson can operate as a one person army, generating their own opportunities, creating their own leads, and taking control of their own direction by effectively applying the tactics of marketing to their proven ability to build relationships.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • I love that that scene with Alec Baldwin.

    I spent many years in small business B2B sales and found out very quickly that most small businesses do not know how to market for lead generation.

    So I was always my own lead generator.  After doing that for long enough I started getting very good at marketing in general and started my own business as a marketing consultant.

    I think a good combination of information marketing with sales people who are savvy enough to understand that and use it their full advantage is key.

    Great stuff!

    • That’s such a great validation of this idea – so many sales people are held hostage by the fact that the company they work for can’t generate leads – you got so good at marketing you took control. Love it!

      • Looking at some of these replies I think a commission only sales person over other has to see himself as his own company.  He can cultivate a relationship and stand out form his competition as an individual very well if he will use some basic marketing practices.

        How much more of an impact could he make if when he goes cold calling business to business he leave a 5 or 8 page report on the “true cost of xxxxx and for xxxxx position of person”.  And it gives that prospect a chance to see his expertise.

        It has a lot to do with positioning.  If you are seen as just anther sales guy you will close much fewer sales and you will not get access to the bigger deals.

        The sales guy who is positioned as the expert and authority will always win out.

        When your prospect comes to you and says “hey I read your report and we need to talk” you are then a trusted adviser.  You don’t have to “sell” you just have to do what you do.  Which is solve their problem as good as or better than anyone else can.

        And in a way as John is saying that makes them want to do business with you again and tell all their friends about it.

        • Shon Messer

          Does anyone introduce themselves  as a sale rep to a prospect or customer?   I would love to hear your feedback on why you do or don’t.  

  • I would love every one of my competitors to subscribe to this theory.

    The deal is: we sell.  We sell or we die.  And the subtext here, John, betrays the absurd idea that selling hard is mutually exclusive with building lifelong relationships.  You don’t exactly come out and say it, but that’s the idea.

    I sell my company with all I can because my competitors are doing indifferent, shit work.  I can’t let them be in that category.

    When I don’t hustle, sell and CLOSE, good businesses will be in the hands of others who won’t revere their brand.  If I fail to close someone on the 80 details that makes my animated demos better, then what could happen is that they wind up with brand X.  

    Brand X will do a nice bit of unresearched work that won’t convert.  If the company still has money 6 months down the road, they’ll start again with us.

    If I focus on “relationships” that aren’t commercial first, I lose, my client loses. I don’t yet have time to build relationships with noncustomers, though I run through walls for people that are our customers.

    You have to treat this with urgency, and the tendency to pat yourself on the back for “relationship building” cancers the reflexes of good people doing good business.

    It’s entirely possible I misunderstood you, but at every turn it seems that people are saying “measure less, get soft, be friendly.”  

    •  Chris – actually I see our disconnect as one of semantics and degrees only.

      When I talk about relationships I’m not talking about wasting time I’m  talking about mutual benefit – here’s the money phrase that tells me that’s what you’re about – I sell my company with all I can because my competitors are doing indifferent, shit work.  I can’t let them be in that category.

      You are doing exactly what I’ve described – thinking like a marketer doesn’t preclude you from being passionate about closing – but you’re passionate about closing not to get the sale, but to get the customer a result and that’s the entire difference.

      It appears to me that you’re already thinking like a marketer so how you then turn that into mutually beneficial sale is simply part of your success quotient.

      The problem is that so many salespeople don’t come with this point of view and end up at the mercy of a marketing department.

      • I dunno.  I’m not trying to be pugilistic.  Really.  But, it seems that a relationship starts with a sale.

        “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can sell what you create.”  -David Ogilvy

        We have to sell first, seek a relationship later. A relationship is culled from the subset of people that are clients.  When there is a real, mutually profitable way to do something, we do it.  Otherwise, we need to become the best in the world.  When we are the best in the world, it becomes our obligation to make sure that people don’t get inferior service.

  • GlennPWallis

    Thanks John – really interesting that the new ways you speak about have a much more “connected as humans” feel to them where you get the sense that the players are on more equal terms. Fascinating. 

  • AJ

    Great post John!
    Marketing can do so much of the heavy lifting when done correctly. Sales is a part of marketing.
    For lack of a better term, selling is what is done face-to-face.
    I can hard sell, and close you today, but will I be setting the stage for the right relationship?
    I think not.
    What do you want your clients to experience?
    One last thought.
    A customer is just someone who does a transaction with you.
    A client is under your care, protection, and guidance.
    I work with clients.
    How about you?
    Thanks for sharing John 🙂

    • Scott

      Well said AJ…. love it!

      “One last thought.
      A customer is just someone who does a transaction with you.
      A client is under your care, protection, and guidance.
      I work with clients.”

  • So Arthur Miller understood the marketing vs. sales thing fifty years early!

  • Kip Marlow

    Wonderful post.  I never would have thought that sales and marketing are morphing together.  We still have to be sales people, but we need some “meat” behind the selling process.

  • Yeah, this is a topic I’m familiar with as well. Now though, I’m focusing on self-publishing and writing and working with authors as my main focus these days. Authors are really, really bad at selling themselves. 🙁

    It’s like bloggers. They finally started to realize they could sell themselves. Now, with the wave of new authors coming in, we’ll see the same thing happen, but it will take years.

    I did just launch a new community to help authors do marketing so I’m doing my part.

  • Catherine D. White

    This is a fantastic post.
    Relationship building is a key to success in today’s marketing.
    It is an obvious fact- people like to do business with someone they like know and trust.  Building a relationship with your prospect will develop these characteristics.

  • Massive LIKE!!!!

  • Always great to be back and read your post John;) If we want to thrive, we need to think and act like a marketer.  If we are a true marketer, we will always have the opportunity to make money or to sell.  Thanks

  • Thanks John

    I’d have to admit, I have always found the imposed dichotomy between Sales and Marketing to be false and counterproductive, as I noted here:

    It seems to me that semantics sometimes gets in the way of common sense – for us, at least, we’re all just primarily focused on ensuring we meet our customer’s (spoken or unspoken) needs.

    Certainly, this attitude (and the means to deliver) will be one of the key criteria we look for in recruiting our new General manager for Initiating, Opening and Sustaining Client Relationships – more details here very soon: 



    PS I did like your referrals book, but note that I posted no review for it.  Have added the other one to the cart.

  • Interesting post.  I really like the Alec Baldwin connection, that brought back some memories.

  • When i see stuff like this I want to take a shower.  I feel so slimy, really. It sounds like we are institutionalizing a used car salesman stereotype.  I’d rather Alec Baldwin’s approach, I’m here to make money and sell you something, period.  This is the hypocrisy of our times, we want to be both Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino (characters from Glengarry Glen Ross, one of the greatest movies of all time). 

    No, i think your core is true to one or the other.  If you try to be both you’ll be both unsuccessful and miserable.  

    •  Honestly Albert I can’t figure out what you’re trying to say here? I do know this – people are here to make money and sell me something period won’t hang around in my world very long.

      • are you saying that if people come to your world to sell you something then they won’t be in your world very long? Yes I agree, but then what we are teaching is, disguise your selling so you can hang around in someone’s world long enough to convince them you are not selling, then when they buy something they will think they have a relationship with you.  

        • Now Albert that’s not what I am saying at all – I’m saying that if your only desire is to make money and sell me something then good luck – what about letting me come to know you and experience why I should trust anything you have to say. Then let me sample your brilliance – then sell me something but stick around and make sure I get a result, then come back and sell me something else and let me introduce you to my friends.

          See the difference – it’s really just marketing, but sales folks better get good at it!

          • Here’s the problem with that, depending on your situation, you might need to sell something now.  That’s called working on commission.  and why do they work on commission, because it’s pay for performance.   Marketing guys get a lot more leeway than sales guys in our corporate structure.  However, there was a study that showed CMOs average job tenure is 18 months. 

            that’s why sales guys usually, don’t put me in a box here, I  am saying usually, don’t have much time or respect for marketing folks.   Back to Glen Garry, most leads suck, except for the Glen Garry leads.   

            Relationships take time, and there but for the Grace of God, some people, marketers or not, may not have time to wait for someone to buy.  Especially when those folks are getting 80% of the information they want for free.   I don’t disagree with your points, I’m just pointing out my approach which is – This is what i do for a living.  My blog is free stuff, anything else I need to put 5 kids through college, if you want to help and get some valuable advice  here I am.  

            In fact as I’m writing these comments there are plenty of selling buttons all around me.  So perhaps your own blog is the example for your point. Plenty of ways to relate to you, but also plenty of ways to compensate you for your work.  

            all the best,   

  • Dr. Letitia Wright

    My question is this. Once you target a client and talk with them and find out you are not a good fit, but they still want you to send a proposal anyway… do you send, do you not send? You know no one at their company is going even look at it anyway and even if they do, YOU know you have found out some information that does not make them a good customer ( one whose needs you can meet) for your company.


    • Hi Letitia,

      Personally, I would not send them a proposal in this case.

      I would work hard to get them to tell me that they don’t really want the proposal. Sometimes people say “send me a proposal” because they don’t know how to say “no”.

      By “work hard” I mean ask a lot of questions about what is going to happen after they receive the proposal – who is going to evaluate it, how do they make their decisions, when will they make a decision. If you send them a proposal, what are they willing to commit to do?

      You may even have to say “Based on our conversation, even if I send over a great proposal, it doesn’t sound like this would be a good fit for you, do you agree? Yes, ok, then what would you do if you were me?”

      If you come at this with an approach of “I want to try to help you, even if that means helping you discover I’m not the best fit for you need”, then you may have more luck having people tell you no when they mean no.

      Hope that helps.

  • I also love this post.  I’m busy building my relationships now.  Some with start ups, some with current business owners.  I also am not trying to sell them anything if I *know* I can’t help them.  I think if you’re honest about selling, that’s ok with a customer/client.  If you’re dishonest about what that product/service *does* or *could* do for them, that’s where people get upset with you.

  • Once again you nailed it John! Since the late 90s I have told sales people who worked for me that they needed to address the new developing reality – the buyers weren’t going to need their sales literature much longer. They will get the vast majority of their information online!

    Some listened and took it to heart, the rest are either retired or unemployed.

    Today, thanks to technology, sales people can be armed with as much, or more, information as the buyers. But, the real key is the marketing part as you outlined in this post.

    Salespeople today really do need to take control of the message; and, if they do it right, they won’t need much of a ‘pitch’.

    Say, what is Alec Baldwin doing these days anyway? Oh yeah, pitching credit cards on TV. Some things never change. Always Be Closing Alec.

  • nearbythis

    This is a great article John.  I’ll make sure to share this with the team.  Thanks!

  • Love this post John. So often the person in marketing has never sold a thing. The message to often is way off base. Yes, listening is the new prospecting. Our prospects and customers will tell us everything we need to know if we ask the right questions and listen intently. All marketing does is push information. Sales is truly an art. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  • When are we going to realise that sales is a function of marketing? Companies still treat them as two separate divisions which is absurd. Marketing in its simplest form is about preparation of product/brand, identification of the market most likely to purchase the product/brand, sales of product/brand, and maintenance of the market’s experience with the product/brand. Where in this mix do we see sales as separate to marketing, or even in a position to drive marketing? The marketing process is holistic to the business of sustainability incorporating everything to do with business dynamics.

  • I think it factors to a increasing pattern I have been considering a lot lately people don’t know what marketing is, so they use the phrase to very much anything they want. 

  • Chip

    This is very true. I especially like and appreciate the storybuilding part of this post because I have found , in my case, that customers are done with being told a line and promised all these different things that people never come through on. They want the person working for them to care about them and it almost becomes a close friend relationship. The customer wants to know that I am here for them and whatever they went through in the past, will not be repeated when they hire me. It really is as though you are writing a new story for them. 

  • You’ve hit the nail on the head in one article that encapsulates the shifts we must face in the changing dynamics of marketing. Love it. Thanx.

  • Excellent post. Closing still needs to happen in an intentional way, but it’s so much easier when you focus on helping first.