It seems that the wave of the sales revolution is picking up steam. Just now we are seeing many “sales experts” announce that the role of the salesperson is gone. The internet has won and people in selling can be replaced by specialized recognition systems driven by big data manipulation running on machines.
First of all, where the heck have they been? The commoditization of information via the internet is not new - it is just moving at a non linear rate that is staggering and catching everyone’s attention. As of April of 2015 (ancient times in the data world) the stats are crazy. Ninety percent of the world’s existing data has been created in the last 2 years. Every day we create enough NEW data to fill 10,000,000 blu-ray discs (remember those?), which when stacked would measure the height of 4 Eiffel Towers on top of one another. EVERY DAY… a year ago. (No newer validated data that I can find.)
Secondly, those same pundits who forecast the demise of the salesperson are both right and wrong. They are right - if the sales professional questioning their existence does not make a huge mind set shift and follow that up with an equally huge methodology shift. So that opens up the door to the fact that they can be wrong, and the outcome is actually in the hands of the individual sales professional themselves.
My premise, along with a good friend and colleague, Hendre Coetzee, is that this massive amount of information that overloads people is actually a catalyst for the need for even better professionals in selling, helping clients understand good from bad data, make better decisions, and make them faster than ever before. Today’s very best sales pro is the master of understanding and simplification. Understanding how to help their clients make the world a better place, and simplifying the client decision-making process. While these both seem very holistic, they are actually very practical motivations and outcomes.
Preparation is the key to it all. No longer can the sales pro strap on their product selector guide and hit the street and do any real work. Now we must start with a serious focus on understanding each client, and the role of specific people in that client, and figuring out how to help them better view the myriad of product and solution options that are in front of them.
We need to understand, at a high level, the industry that they are in and many of the fundamental challenges that exist in that industry. It takes more preparation time than ever before to be able to help our clients make a real difference, because we must first determine what that will look like. When we get into this level of conversation the first push back we hear is that “we can’t be expected to know our client’s business better than they do”. While even that is arguable, the primary response to that is that we CAN be expected to know what impact our products and solutions will have on their business better than they can.
And to do this well we have to make a shift away from OUR view of the world and shift it into a view of THEIR world…then merge the two.
Hendre and I are writing a book in which we guide the mindset shift as well as explore some of the methodology and skillset shift that is required to remain relevant and successful in selling in today’s business climate. We are excited to show you how you can become a depended-upon resource for client specific solutions of any kind. Despite what many say, the sales professional indeed has an important and necessary role to play today. But it requires core shifts in mindset and skillset – stay tuned!
In the meantime, my good friend and colleague Dave Brock has just released the Sales Manager Survival Guide. The book has already reached number one in Amazon Kindle hot new books in sales and marketing.
The majority of sales training for the last several decades has been focused helping the sales person close the deal. There are techniques to Trial Close, to Pre-Close, to Soft Close, and even to Reverse Close. That one is where you actually tell the client that you can certainly see that they are not yet ready to take advantage of this great offer, so let’s just forget it for now – a bit of negative psychology that sadly worked. And sadly many complex B2B sales people in this world are still doggedly working on their Close.
For them, for all of us, I have just two words – STOP CLOSING!
Yeah, I just said that. Stop closing. You’re probably thinking, what do you mean, I should stop asking for the order? Nope, I did not say that. I’ll explain a bit later.
It’s time to make a mindset shift. Then we will shift our methodology. Shifting our thinking about The Close is critical. In the past The Close was seen as the grand finale. We all fell prey to that central theme. And while once The Close was the end, now it’s just another point on the way to this question: What’s next?
In past years, (for me decades), we have all been a part of or led sales training where a group of trainees is give a sales role playing situation to analyze, create a client pitch deck and then present a story to a panel of sales judges. The winners of the competition get the sales geek of the year award. Been there and done that a bunch!
As a trainer and a judge, I was always amazed by the groups of professional sales people that would do all that work and make brilliant customer pitches, and then neglect to ask for the order.
My experience has been that about half of the teams would not ask for the order. In my early years I saw this as a fatal flaw of the trainees. Teams that did not ask for the order were booted out fast. However, a role-playing simulation like this has a fundamental limitation: it cannot capture the scope of client engagement that needs to happen in the sales process. We were busy scripting a great pitch that ended with handing the client a pen to have them sign on the dotted line. The Close was also The End.
This is the real problem: we have assumed that the most important step in the selling process is the close. We see it as the end point of our client engagement –we “drive to the close” – when really, asking for the order is not the end at all.
Even in highly transactional selling like the Fuller Brush man or selling Girl Scout cookies door-to-door, the seeming end point of closing is really just the NEXT step in the never ending client engagement process. Right on the heels of getting the order, comes the Verification process where our aim is to clearly get a shared understanding of the value that has been created in the clients eyes by the work that you have done. From the verification process you escalate the discussion to other needs that that were identified through the journey in the first transaction. And the cycle of client engagement starts again.
There are 5 basic sections to the development and delivery of insight to a client and the drive to a closure is one of them. You’ve gotta ask for the order – it’s just not the end that it seems it would be. It is actually the springboard to the NEXT piece of business with the client. The door is never CLOSED!
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.