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Is It Harder to Sell Now or Way Back When?

By Steve Bonoff posted 01-02-2019 08:34


by Bill Farquharson

Today’s print sales reps grumble that it’s harder than ever to sell. Decision-makers hide behind voicemail and caller ID. “No one ever calls me back,” they moan. Prices are all over the map and customer loyalty is as dead as disco. “Things were better in the old days.” But is that really true? Is it harder to sell now or way back when (defined as the early 80s)? Let’s look at a few sales challenges and make a comparison...

Sales Challenge #1: Finding a Hot Prospect

Then—Identifying prospects took on two forms, primarily: You could work from a list or you could perform what was called, “Prospecting by driving around.” Lists were outdated the second they were printed but that is offset by the fact that people used to stick to one job longer, so they had a longer shelf life.


Regardless of whether it’s today or yesterday, the process of growing your new business starts with identifying worthy prospects. There is a difference between finding a prospect and finding a quality prospect. Al Gore has given us a tool that makes it possible to scan through mountains of data until we find just the right company or companies to call on. With just a few keystrokes, it is possible to uncover hot markets, hot verticals, and hot prospects. In addition, the Internet has made networking easier and faster. Answer: Harder a landslide!

Sales Challenge #2: Getting Someone on the Phone

Then— Voicemail

Now— Voicemail

The original purpose of voicemail was to capture missed calls so they could be returned. Believe it or not, voice mail was created as a courtesy to both caller and recipient (read: sales rep and customer). In fact, it was rare and considered rude not to return a call. Today, it’s used to capture all calls so that they can be ignored, deleted and tossed into the abyss. Answer: Harder now.

Sales Challenge #3: Winning a Bid

Then—Lowest price wins

Now— Lowest price wins

Nothing is changed. This was a lousy way to sell back then and it’s a lousy way to sell now. This one is a tie... although it is important to note that the solutions-based sale was an option back then but a requirement today.

Sales Challenge #4:   Loyalty: Building a Relationship

Then— Customer loyalty was created through excellent service. Clients became friends and often stayed with a sales rep until he or she retired.

Now— Often, you are as secure as the last job you shipped in.

Strong client relationships are still important. It’s how you go about it that’s different. Schmoozing is gone. No lunches, dinners, or golf. Face time with customers is replaced with Facetime. Answer: Harder now.

Sales Challenge #5: Building a Book of Business From Scratch

Then— It required diligence, chutzpah, a pretty face and a nice wardrobe, and a valuable message.

Now— It requires a similar checklist but because the doors are locked and the receptionists are long gone so personal hygiene and a keen eye for fashion are not as important.

This one’s easy: Harder now. A wall has gone up around customers, complete with a moat and no drawbridge. Communication is often limited to email and text. While the fundamentals still apply, it requires an uncommon diligence and drive.

Final score:

Other than the challenge of finding quality prospects, today’s sales rep faces more and greater sales challenges. Technology both helps (Internet, websites, Google searches) and hurts (voicemail, caller ID). Doors are locked, buyers are less defined, and everyone is busier than ever before.

But four truths remain:

  1. Make a high-value, well-researched sales call;
  2. Find the right targets;
  3. Apply a prospecting process;
  4. Be diligent.

Do those four things and your success is guaranteed. It was true then. It’s true now.

Bill Farquharson is a sales trainer and author for the graphic arts. He can be reached at 781-934-7036 or through