In the beginning there were people who made stuff and people who needed stuff. Then there were the peddlers of stuff who helped the makers and the buyers find each other. The peddlers of stuff were very successful for hundreds of years, because both the makers and the buyers needed them. Stuff was bought and sold and everyone was okay. Then things changed.
Today’s business landscape is rapidly and radically changing and people and organizations are struggling to keep up. Product information was once the golden nugget that every salesperson owned and shared only with those people who they chose to enlighten. The salespeople were once the Kings and Queens of data and information and they reigned supreme. The true product that the salesperson offered up was the information that the client could not easily find. That was then.
Consider this: between the beginning of time and 2003, 5 exabytes of data were created. In 2013, 5 exabytes of data were created each day. In 2014, 90% of the total data and information in the world had been created in the last 2 years. And the prognosis is that the amount of data and information in the world will double every year shortly, and then every 6 months, and on and on. This commoditization of data and information has totally changed the value that a salesperson must deliver today. This rapid change in the creation of information is closely tied to the shifting trends in the nature of work and business. Some futurists estimate that close to 50% of jobs will be extinct in 20 years.
The jobs on the endangered list are not just the obvious ones like travel agents and the milkman. Accountants, air traffic controllers, utility engineers and teachers are all at risk – and so is the sales professional.
The sales professional is on the verge of extinction. Up until now the salesperson was the keeper and deliverer of information, but now they are not really needed for that anymore.
So what do they do?
The good news is that there are clear and valuable answers to that question. In recent months and years there have been a number of sales methodologies presented to bring relevance to the field of selling. The Challenger Sale is the best of those in my opinion. The basic tenets of Teach, Tailor, and Take Control only come from an in-depth understanding of the true value of insight and how best to create and deliver it. Done poorly it is just another substitute for commoditized information. And even in the domain of insight there are key differences that you can make. We will explore those as well as many elements in this journey.
The key difference in the work that Hendre Coetzee and I have done over the last several years shows us that methodology shifts are not sufficient. To stay relevant and avoid obsolescence you will need to make a mindset shift FIRST. Only from there can you properly attack making a shift in what you DO. The specific actions needed to make the shift will be detailed in the book and in the works from Hendre and myself.
Shifting mindset AND methodology is required for completely reversing the erosion of the sales professional’s relevance in a highly commoditized world.
As I find myself studying Edwards Deming more these days, I realize there is an amazing amount of fundamental business wisdom in much of his thinking and many of his quotes. This past week I was reminded of the vital nature of one of his most challenging quotes ever: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
I have had numerous discussions about dinosaurs and the desire to not become one. That focus is more critical than ever today, growing daily. Change is what defines us, change is what makes us different today and what will build our future.
I was fortunate to spend a few days with 90 of my peers in the sales world at the recent CEB Chief Sales Officer meeting. I found myself in company of an amazing group of sales leaders from the world’s leading companies. A few of these companies are Staples, FedEx, Penske, Analog Devices, Wells Fargo, John Hancock, Dow, Kemper, Airgas, Siemens Building Technologies, Vision, Jacobs Eng, Interstate Batteries, Georgia Pacific, Intelsat Daimler Trucks, Fluke, Cargill, National Instruments, Bose, Kaiser Permanente, Rockwell, Avery, Smucker, Medline, Honeywell, Herman Miller, Gates, NetJets, Kroll, Avis, Brocade, Fidelity, Gannett, Frost Bank, Comcast and a bunch of others!
These companies represented hundreds of billions of dollars of combined revenues. They come from every industry, from technology to healthcare, banking, oil and gas, materials, building, investment, pharmaceuticals, legal, foods, automotive, and a favorite of mine, J.M. Smucker (they make the best jams and jellies). These companies sell cardboards, advice, gas, pills, jams, oil, batteries, recovery, prevention, million dollar pieces of equipment and products that sell for less than a dollar, like us.
The common denominator that we all shared was that we all came from backgrounds where we sold product features and benefits with a vengeance. We all offered ‘solutions’ that we just knew were exactly what the customers needed. Why? Because that’s what our customers wanted in the past.
The challenge we face today: Our customers no longer want what they did once upon a time.
Most of the folks in attendance were still struggling to really grasp what they needed to do DIFFERENTLY. They had heard, they had read, they even believed, they were just too tied to the past to ACT. They were on a dinosaur path, they knew it and they were very uncertain. Enlightenment is just starting to take hold. It is moving quickly in the ranks of those folks that have the vision to move forward.
Only a handful of companies in the group had reformed their ‘funnel’, or pipeline, into a client perspective of how they make decisions, rather than the old view of what the salesperson needs to do. We made that shift MANY years ago and it has been a key part of our thinking ever since. Mark Sellers of Breakthrough Selling guided us in that critical stage. Helping our clients make better decisions is our focus and it remains the best place to exist.
If you decide that survival is preferable, that relevance is better than turning into a fossil, then change is necessary. Our journey continues to grow and evolve, and it has required shifting both mindset AND methodology.