The debate rages, there are 100′s of articles discussing the future of selling. To many, the future of selling is social; to another large segment it’s inside sales; to some it’s the channel. Many declare cold calling is dead, still a small number declare selling is dead (I suppose to be replaced by ????) Likewise, there are debates about whether the future is based on Challenger, Insight, Relationship, Provocative, Solution, and others are how selling must be conducted in the future. And some declare Transactional Selling as long past it’s expiration date.

It’s enough to confuse even the most seasoned of sales people or managers.

In an effort to shed some insight on the future of selling, to hopefully put to rest much of the speculation around the Future Of Selling, we have undertaken extensive research—Mike Kunkle and I chatted over a cup of coffee a couple of weeks ago. I have leveraged the most powerful analytics, and reflected sitting by the pool with a Guinness.

I think we have come up with the Definitive Guide On The Future Of Selling. (Drum roll please)

The answer to whether it’s social, inside, channel, transactional, field direct, or electronic trading is…………. It depends! With the additional caveat that it is certainly unlikely to be a single approach by any individual organization and certainly not within the profession.

Naturally, many would tend to get excited by social selling as the future–it’s because we’re preaching to the choir/converted. The places we evangelize and debate social selling are primarily on the social channels — blogs, LinkedIn, online discussions, Facebook, Google +, Twitter, you name it. For those of us that are actively leveraging the channels, we’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid. But we forget, the millions that are not using social/technology based channels. However, well we leverage them, if our customers aren’t here or aren’t listening, we’re talking to an empty room.

Likewise, with any approach to selling you might mention, there are strong advocates and arguments for each approach–whether it’s social, inside, channel, Challenger, Insight, or whatever one chooses. It seems to me, those who declare the future of selling is one or the other or the other or the other—are people who are selling solutions or services based on that approach. So the future is social if you are selling social tools and services. The future is inside selling, if you are selling the systems, tools, and services associated with inside sales. And it’s all about Challenging, providing Insight, being Provocative if that’s what you do.

But in our deep research, we’ve managed to make some more definitive observations, beyond “It Depends.”

The first is, you’ve got to hang out where your customers hang out. It’s not so new. When I first started selling, I sold to bankers and brokers on Wall Street. Consequently, I hung out at the East River Tennis Club, the squash courts at 1 New York Plaza, and, naturally, Harry’s at Hanover Square. In addition to their offices, those were some of the key places where I found an engaged my customers. Today, our customers are hanging out in places we never anticipated. Some are hanging out on the web, others in their offices. Others don’t have offices, so we have to figure out how to reach them. We can’t keep going back to the same old places if they aren’t hanging out there. Likewise, we can’t hang out where we want to, in the hope a customer might show up.

The second is, our customers are likely to be hanging out in a number of different places, so we have to have a multichannel approach to engaging our customers. Customers will engage through our content marketing, socially, at trade shows, through any number of channels. Customers typically don’t limit their research and discovery to one channel, so it is an error for us to focus exclusively, or even predominantly on one channel. We have to engage our customers across all the channels they leverage to learn, explore, and discover.

Third, when we engage, they will be at varying points in their buying cycles. Some won’t be buying, they’re just continuing to learn. Some don’t recognize they should be doing something different, they don’t see the limitations of their current approaches. Some will recognize they have a problem and will need help in defining their problem. Some won’t know how to buy and need to be guided through the buying process, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, have a well defined buying/evaluation process and want an effective/efficient transaction. We have to recognize the buying cycle may be a little squishy.

Fourth, when we do engage them, we have to engage them in a way that’s relevant, meaningful, impactful for them–not us. We have to connect with them, creating value that’s aligned with what they value. Whether it’s teaching them, challenging them, presenting them data about our products and services. Our engagement strategies are defined by what they want and care about, not by what we want to present/pitch. This impacts not only the conversation we have, but how that conversation is most effectively conducted(for the customer). That may be on the phone, electronically, with a data sheet, through a shopping cart, or face to face. It might be by us, an agent, or a partner.

Fifth, it’s unlikely a sales person can cover all the first 4, so we have to learn how to collaborate, within our organizations, with sales specialists, inside sales, sales development reps, product management, and (never thought I’d be caught dead saying this) marketing. We have to design agile/nimble processes that align with how the customer wants to be engaged and buy, with smooth handoffs between those that need to be involved. We have to become masters of extending that beyond our enterprise, into the buying ecosystem and into our customers’ organizations themselves.

And finally Sixth, just as we’ve settled into an effective, efficient, and impactful engagement model, things will change. Our customers will change how they buy, we will go into new segments, acquiring new customers, new business models will arise. We have to constantly be learning, improving, innovating, and changing. We need to learn how to lead that change, not react to changes being driven by others.

So hopefully, I’ve put to rest all the questioning and hand wringing around the Future Of Selling, and how we most effectively, efficiently, and impactfully engage our customers–solve their problems, grow our presence and share with them, and profitably grow our businesses.

We can be very definitive about the Future Of Selling—-It depends!