As we continue to consider the ramifications surrounding the future of professional selling, I really am witnessing considerable "ostrich-like" behaviour, but more about that soon.
In the meantime, please enjoy these words of wisdom from fellow Parisien, and highly valued colleague, Christian Maurer .....
Actually, I had decided not to follow the tradition of so many of my colleagues and making predictions of what the New Year is going to bring for Professional Selling. Though when Jonathan Farrington invited me to take a longer term outlook of where Professional Selling is heading to, I found this to be a challenge I could not resist. So I came up with these 3 megatrends.
1. Buyer's behavior continues to evolve
The increased power of buyers is not going to fade away; to the contrary. Buyers will become even savvier to buy things without the help of a salesperson.
They will only tolerate the intrusion of a sales person into their buying journey if this salesperson can add value to the journey by providing guidance that cannot possibly be provided automatically. Expect therefore a continuous rise of machine guided buying (when we buy over the internet) to the detriment of person guided buying (when we by with the help of a salesperson). For those cases where person guided buying continues to make sense in the eye of the buyer, we should expect that the number of occasions where this guidance is provided in a face to face contact is going to shrink drastically. Either the buyer will consider the phone as a sufficient vehicle or the use of more sophisticated means like web conferencing is expected to provide an acceptable customer experience. Only if all these means fail, traditional face to face interactions will take place.
What are the implications?
• Expect the percentage of people in sales roles in the labor statistics to drop considerably over the next few years.
• For those wanting to remain in sales, a massive upgrade of their skills is needed. Only people who can act as business advisors and consultants will be able to provide the value that is expected for justifying the presence of a salesperson in the buying journey
• The occasions to connect with buyers will shrink and the encounters will be shorter. Skills in non verbal communication will loose value but skills in using social media and sophisticated communications technologies rise in importance.
• The mindset, that professional selling should be approached from a perspective of service and contribution is no longer a nice to have; it is an absolute precondition for survival.
2. Sales Executives and Managers become the primary change targets
New buying behaviors make old loved rules of thumbs used to manage by more and more obsolete and experiences gained from previous assignments even in the recent past will fast loose value.
Even as the economic outlook brightens, reluctance to simply putting more feet on the street for reaching ever higher sales targets will persist. In many cases this might be a wise move considering the first megatrend. Shifts to support machine guided buying might thus be accelerated
Yet even in areas where person guided buying will remain the preferred method, productivity increases are to be reached without adding headcount, Yet traditional training programs will not produce this expected productivity increases.
Over the last decade, we have gathered sufficient evidence that costly training initiatives for sales people have, for the most part, not been effective. It would be foolish to just use the economic climate as an excuse for lack of measurable performance improvements. Fundamental errors were made in these initiatives and they would never have succeeded even in better economic conditions.
One major error committed was running trainings as events ignoring the need for change management. In cases where change management was applied, the error made was underestimating the implication of managers being both change targets and sustaining sponsors of an initiative. Furthermore emphasis was more on gaining their support as sponsors than fulfilling their needs as targets of the change initiative.
What are the implications?
• Top executives in a company will have to accept their obligation of providing an environment that managers need to successfully work on upgrading the productivity of their troops with other means than just hiring. They must learn to understand the difference of efficiency and effectiveness and use new metrics to recognize and track successful behavior towards expected business results. They also finally have to recognize that promoting top performers to managers does not create sales leaders. Candidates must be more carefully selected and need to be provided with more training than any other group of professionals transiting from an individual contributor role to a management position. One can also not expect that raising stars can use their managers as role models.
• Sales Managers must admit to themselves that they need to be sufficiently trained so they can evolve into leaders capable of leading these highly sophisticated salespeople left in the profession.
• Managers will have to go through massive change to first agree, what the new behavior of a successful sales person looks like before they can be enabled to coach such behavior.
• The number of sales leaders is obviously also going to shrink. Tenures however must become longer if the needed productivity improvements are to materialize.
3. The need for versatility will increase
For those cases where person assisted buying will persist, we have to expect that guiding a complex network of people through one journey will be the norm rather than the exception.
The point in the buying journey where buyers will seek guidance from salespeople will also vary. The level of knowledge about a solution and the buyer's trust into the salesperson will be major factors how and when the salesperson will be invited to the buying journey. Yet one should not assume that the buyers have taken all the right decisions to come up to that point in their journey and the salesperson has merely to guide them as fast as possible through the remaining part to be able to collect a commission check as early as possible.
Byers expect that the salesperson tunes in into the needs of every member of the buying network so they individually and collectively can have a positive customer experience. Buyers will even further increase their reluctance to listen to standard sales pitches.
What are the implications?
• Our understanding about the structure of sales processes and their applications must be revised. Insistence in following one sales process, in the form as we know them today, will become counterproductive. The capabilities, diagnosing where a buying network is in the buying journey, what guidance is needed by whom and then selecting the right process elements will need to be developed and upgraded.
• Salespeople need also to acquire or upgrade their facilitation skills in order to provide value to the buying networks in a non manipulative way to foster sustainable relationships.
A large number of people currently working in professional selling as individual contributors or managers will not make the transition, because they are no longer needed or they lack what it takes to get to the new level of sophistication. The first thing it takes to get to that new level is the right mind set. Only then will the effort of upgrading the skills be worthwhile.
We are looking at longer term trends here. Many people working in professional selling will survive 2011 without being affected by them. That does however not mean these trends are not happening. They happen though gradually and are only noticeable to those who are observant. For the others, the consequences will come as a surprise. Andy Groves saying that only the paranoid will survive is probably truer than ever. Yet this goes against the very nature of most salespeople who are rather optimists. Maybe this is though the first mind shift that has to happen to be able to still work in professional sales in 5 years from now.
For the last 11 years, Christian Maurer has helped B2B sales leaders improving the productivity of their organizations by helping them to focus on processes instead of outcomes. His services, addressing sales effectiveness deficits, span from organizational assessments via skill-building programs for managers and salespeople to the definition and implementation of processes like funnel, opportunity, account and sales-management.