Extinction is what happens once our shared history of what works takes us past the point where we need to adapt. Consider CEOs in sales companies (like mine): We're past the point of where we need to adapt, because the world of sales is no longer as it was.
Indeed, the era of selling in which we've long operated is dead. Significant shifts in the business-to-business (B2B) buying process have transformed selling as we know it, and hard work, charisma and a bloated database of personal contacts is no longer enough for a sales force to succeed.
If you want to thrive in life after the death of sales-as-we-know-it, you must equip your sales teams with the tools necessary for success in the new sales era now upon us. Your company’s ability to succeed will now be dictated, in part, by your ability to lead your organization through adaptation and change. One of your weightiest responsibilities as CEO will be not only planning for the future but also anticipating it. Here’s a small glimpse into some of the trends I believe will impact the world of selling over the next five years.
1. Decision-makers will be even more elusive.
If your sales team is having difficulty gaining access to decision-makers now, beware: Direct access to these key people will continue to diminish in the foreseeable future. Time constraints mean prospects, and clients are showing less interest in attending traditional face-to-face meetings with salespeople. In addition, the buying process at many organizations is being standardized to the point that an Excel spreadsheet often replaces the salesperson.
Buyers are also increasingly choosing to use technology to manage purchase-transactions rather than working with salespeople directly. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their purchasing transactions without talking to a human. Some buyers are even bypassing the traditional sales process altogether and going directly to providers and manufacturers, thereby diminishing the need for manufacturer reps, dealers and distributors.
All of these factors combined means you can expect traditional cold-calling methods to produce lower yields, to the point that having salespeople perform direct prospecting will become cost-prohibitive.
2. Consultative selling will give way to authority selling.
Most of us who have trained in sales since the 1970s were taught the principles of “consultative selling,” but a new era of selling is emerging. As the market in which companies compete becomes more complex, buyers are looking for insights that provide them a marketplace advantage. This means that your sales team can no longer compete on what makes you better according to your value systems of performance.
Instead, you now have to compete on how you can offer value outside of your quality, level of service and price. In other words, your sales team needs to become an industry authority, not just a company consultant.
A consultant asks, “What is your pain?” An expert says, “Here is your pain.” But an authority is able to determine, “This is the pain of your industry and how you can uniquely overcome it.” Industry authorities create unique courses of action that help companies gain market position. Authority selling is the approach that moves you further up the organizational ladder of buyers and gives you the advantage in a competitive comparison. If you want to get into the executive decision-maker’s office, your company has to offer insight as an authority, not a consultant.
3. Sales roles will become more specialized.
While salespeople will still exist, their future roles will look very different. This does not mean that there will be fewer jobs per se in the world of revenue generation, but those jobs will look different from what we now call “sales.” The role of salespeople will become more specialized, and will include, but not be limited to:
Traders -- Although not titled as such, this will be the role of many of the people with sales titles. Their real role will be to facilitate the quoting of commodities and near commodities in roles titled “account management,” “inside sales” or “customer service.”
Designers -- Solution architects will continue to be in high demand for opportunities in which the prospect has been qualified for a diagnostic session. Customization and tailoring of pre-packaged and modular solutions will be the choice for companies that want to limit the risk and cost of completely built-from-scratch approaches.
Project managers -- This function of collaborative coordination between customers and providers, including supply chain management, enterprise resource planning and logistics, will grow in importance for the larger contracts in the market.
Lead generators -- This area will continue to evolve as the technologies adapt to the filters and barriers that organizations put between buyers and your revenue generators. Social media, outsourced meeting makers, earned media and other mechanisms are entering and developing in the market for the single purpose of getting higher up the food chain in the buying organization as a way to bypass the structured purchase.
Life After the Death of Sales
The world of sales does not change in a vacuum. There are signs of this change all around us. Astute CEOs decipher these signs and adapt, instead of clinging to what worked in the past but will no longer be successful in the future. Remember, extinction is what happens when the shared history of what works takes us past the point where we need to adapt. Many companies will face extinction over the next five years, but those that adapt will thrive in this new era of selling.