Oh, come on! Just make the buying decision already, the salesperson is thinking. What on earth is taking you so long?

Experience, that's what. Buyers have been disappointed so often that they are determined not to be disappointed by you. Salespeople have told them, "No problem," and whatever it was turned out to be a BIG problem. Websites have promised, "easy to use," and the product ended up being infuriatingly unintuitive and didn't do what it was supposed to do.

When it comes to being fooled, customers have "been there, done that."

Today's customers are aggressively trying to avoid buying mistakes. Because of the tools available to them now, they believe that if they dig hard enough, they should be able to find the "gotchas" and avoid making a regrettable purchase. Even a simple Google search using "[name of product] problem" can often help them discover a product's weaknesses prior to purchase.

Customers can also easily read (and watch) agenda-free advice from other buyers; this is the first place most buyers turn now when investigating a purchase. They read reviews online and they also consult with others in discussion groups and social sites.

Because customers now have this ability, they studiously ignore the vague, dismissive claims of salespeople and the enthusiastic, positive copy they read on websites.

That is why "selling" is dead. Thorough investigation has taken its place, and high time. Even impulse purchases such as candy bars are being subjected to a careful reading of ingredients by customers hoping to avoid bad-for-you ingredients.

Customers have absolutely no desire to sit through a canned pitch made by someone who can't answer specific questions about the product or service. By the time the customer is to the point where they are ready to talk to your company, they are well beyond the boilerplate pitch. They have very specific questions, and they want honest answers to those questions. They want the salesperson to be able to say, "We don't do that the way you described it. However, you could accomplish it by doing this, this, and this."

I am now recommending to clients that they focus on "educating" rather than "selling." Their current salespeople should be able to answer those very specific customer questions. The company must provide in-depth resources for their salespeople. The salespeople don't want to make the effort to learn what they must to answer those questions, need to be replaced with people who will learn.

Customers won't accept anything less than a helpful, informative discussion. If you deliver that, they are most likely to buy from you. If not, they will definitely find a way to take their business elsewhere.