However, it would be foolhardy to not anticipate that, as buyers become increasingly self-educated about our products, our companies and our market sector, the sales role in many industries will undoubtedly become diminished. The role of sales is shifting to a consulting model that brings expertise in the areas of business, industry, company, stakeholder, and capabilities.
While the role of the order taker salesperson will go the way of the Internet, in the case of the complex sale, for the foreseeable future, the role of the salesperson is secure. There will always be a place for the professional business consultant – the “Top 5% Player.” These people consult more than sell, as they assist their clients in making sound buying decisions.
Despite my predictions, we all know that nobody has a crystal ball! Perhaps the way to look at the future of selling is to compile a team consisting of a sales and marketing professor, a technology professor from MIT, maybe someone from Apple and Disney, a few buyers and for good measure a science fiction writer – history has shown writers like Ray Bradbury have been truly prophetic.
I am not a clairvoyant, but in working with salespeople, sales leaders and customers, a vision of sales is emerging. Let me share those ideas…
The ability to gather and analyse data will help salespeople to be more precise in identifying customers and anticipating their needs, so they get to them before those customers get to the market.
Everything will be more precise. I see sales organizations not having a defined sales process, but rather multiple processes for renewals, new business or accounts at risk, etc.
Telephone will be the way of the sales, and face-to-face will be reserved for major deals and major milestone points in the sale.
So how does a sales organization survive in this constantly changing world? How do we get ready for the world of sales hot on its heels?
I see two avenues that are vital – the first is expertise and the second is relationship. The second being the greater challenge.
Expertise is exactly what customers are looking for today. The bar has been raised for sales organizations in how they select and develop their people. Customers will spend time with salespeople who they believe will bring them relevant expertise, and who will help them solve their business problems. In the content era, expertise was product expertise, but today it goes far beyond that to business acumen, industry knowledge, company and stakeholder knowledge, and team leverage knowledge and access, etc.
Continuous training gives 50% higher net sales per employee.
The impact of sale training is hard to measure and so many sales leaders doubt its effectiveness. The truth is that investing in your people has a positive impact on your organization, even if that impact is not clearly seen in sales results immediately following a training program.
The average company spends £6K – £10K hiring an individual and only £1.5K a year in sales training.
Sales training is paramount for new salespeople. If you hire ‘A’ players, but don’t invest in their growth, you will never have an A team. What should this look like for the future? On boarding, I think, will revert to what it was in the 1990’s, with rotations so salespeople have breadth – i.e. modular on-line training and testing – and then specialization for deep expertise. Teams will become more important. Global teams are often in a state of chaos today, but organizations will use technology to connect the dots among team members, customers and partners.
When I opened my first consultancy thirty years ago, I built it on four principles: Knowledge, Skills, Process and Attitude. I hold they are still relevant today, but for the future let me say something about the one that stands out: Attitude. It is fundamental to any achievement, because individuals with the right attitude are far more likely to embrace the essential Skills, build their Knowledge and follow a defined Process.
Organizations must step up to the plate and re think how they develop their people. Sales coaching and sales tools will be the primary developers. Classroom will be 20% of development at best in the next 10 years. Ensuring salespeople have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed will be easy compared to developing relationship skills. So, let’s look at that.
Relationships: Technology has given us so much, but as young people rely more and more on online communication, they are not developing relationship skills such as the skills to read people’s expressions, read body language, or tone of voice. People need to relate, they need to trust and use intuition in making decisions. Research shows emotions are more a factor in decision-making than data (David Brooks). The need to connect is hard wired into people.
But my concern is salespeople and customers alike will not have the skills needed to connect. The ability to connect and build relationships will be the big differentiator. In the first era of selling, relationship was the thing – but relationship is redefined here.
It is the ability to earn trust and connect built on transparency, vulnerability and genuine concern in working with customers to bring value that will help them grow their business. Young people would rather send a text than use the phone. Face-to-face is warmer than phone and video, and both of those are warmer than text. Computers will win out with data, but making emotional connections is the advantage humans bring to the table.
Sales organizations have a long way to go…
Let’s be clear, “Customer Experience Management” is a strategic understanding – not a departmental name. Most people, in most companies, don’t think about their responsibility for providing good customer experience, because they simply don’t see it as within their remit.