Horay! – the age of customer contempt is now over, and we have just embarked upon an exciting new customer-led era where sales people can shake off the old stereotypes and become highly valued, and where the charlatans and blaggers of yesteryear will no longer survive!
Lets be completely honest with ourselves: B2B sales has never been a "profession" - and if it has, then it's been an embarrassing one. Whilst we can debate that comment until the cows come home, I'm personally delighted that we now get to move away from the self-centered interruptive push selling models, to a world where common sense and equilibrium has been restored.
....to a world where both buyer and seller are actually aligned…..where a win/win is actually possible. Frankly, no buyer has ever enjoyed being ‘pushed’ by a sales person, and thankfully all of that cringe-worthy non-sense of the past (that created general disdain for the sales person), is now behind us.
Yes, wisdom is easy with hindsight. But seriously, what were we all thinking? Lone wolf sales people operating in a defined territory, carrying the pressure of a quota, forced to maximize revenue at all costs, and motivated purely by commission….forced (in many cases) to utilize some crude tactics to control, persuade and manipulate the buyer into purchasing BEFORE they were actually ready. Those old models produced a dynamic where the buyer and seller were actually pitted against each other as virtual adversaries, where real trust can never exist due to vested interests, and where the extroverted ‘wolf of wall street’ types were focused solely on conquering the buyer…not helping them. Seriously, why would anyone EVER treat the most important stakeholder in every business with such contempt?
Of course, it now seems so obvious, and somewhat hypocritical of me to say all of that, especially since I have spent my entire career performing many of these cringe-worthy elements of the sales role. Looking back, I regret having constantly pushed my buyers, and I regret having worked inside certain vendor sales teams where certain individuals (senior management included) placed their own personal interests ahead of the buyers.....and their own employers in some cases. Like so many, I witnessed my fair share of unethical and immoral behavior as a result of these outdated models, and the reason that I’m still in sales today (which I still regard as the most important role in every business) is because from Day 1 of my sales career (Dec 5th, 1989) I chose to conduct myself with integrity at all times, even when some of what was happening around me was sadly lacking and just plain stupid.
What has caused this shift?
Vendors have always 'held the cards' (due to information asymmetry) and vendor sales people have been exploiting this position of power over the hapless buyers whom had no choice but to engage. Well, guess what, the pendulum has swung and now it's the buyers with the power…..and strange as this might sound, I LOVE IT. Why do I love it? Because, we can all approach every business engagement on an equal footing with our cherished buyers, and without the need for any pushy brinkmanship. Today's buyers will only engage with credible sales professionals whom actually possess specialist insights, and who understand that buyers want to be taken on a long term journey. Don't take my word for it...just ask a B2B buyer.
Thus, the customer-led era is now weeding out the blaggers and forcing the lone wolf quota crushers to rapidly change or find another career....online transparency, peer reviews and independent advocacy will ensure that the blaggers can no longer hide.
Old habits are hard to break (apparently).
Sadly, so much of the sales role is still lived in a fog of automatic and habitual behavior due largely to outdated leadership that has failed to recognize this new customer-led era that we now live in. Sales people from the past have spent so much time executing ABC (Always be Closing) that many of them can’t fathom this new ABH (Always be Helping) paradigm. Adapt or Perish.
The sales role of the future:
The successful sales people of the future will be digitally driven, socially connected, subject matter experts with deep domain knowledge that can offer their buyers unique perspectives and commercial insights. Like it or not, only the ‘specialist’ B2B sales person will survive in the future, meaning that generalist sales people that do NOT create value in the minds of today’s buyers are now rapidly being removed or replaced by self-service etc. The following roles are converging into what will become a hybrid set of competencies for the successful sales folks of the future.
- Educator/Teacher – buyers want to be educated on solutions to problems. Selling in the future is about being a great educator. Remember that you "sell more when you stop selling"….so start trying to adapt the demeanor of a teacher.
- Data Analyst – sales folks will need to be able to help buyers cut through all the ‘noise’ and find the exact piece of information/data that they need to solve their problem. Developing your skills around data synthesis and being proficient at how you disseminate that data will be critical in the future.
- Publisher – creating, cultivating and curating educational content will eventually become a prerequisite to sales success, and the A-Graders in many industries are already utilizing content to help establish credibility and drive that much needed "inbound".
- Detective - gathering evidence and facts to help solve complex problems is now also a critical skill-set. Interviewing key stakeholders, examining records and identifying potential value-adding partners is a critical skill-set as the sales role evolves.
Interestingly, the profile of a modern sales person is no longer an extrovert, but more likely to be an introverted problem solving analyst type. Have a think about your team composition...what's the mix?
It’s a new Golden Era, but Sales in 2017 is still a hard nut to crack.
We can now all breath a collective sigh of relief that we no longer have to butt heads with buyers. 'Information parity’ has changed everything, and it will be the sales person’s ability to leverage information that will decide the winners and losers in the future.
As Tony Hughes recently stated, "it’s never been easier for sales people find information about target buyers". Social media, big data, analytics and the myriad of tools and platforms that now exist have dramatically changed the sales role such that no sales person should ever make a cold call EVER again. However, the paradox is that despite all this information access, it’s never been harder for us to engage with increasingly educated and demanding buyers. Why? Because buyers now dictate the terms of engagement because they can now solve their own problems without some biased sales person pushing them.
A sales is just something that happens when you are immersed in helping your buyer.
So, if you are in a sales or BD role, then I strongly suggest that you acknowledge and embrace this new 'golden era', and start rapidly developing your knowledge so that you can become that specialist that your buyers will value. Once you do that, (and once we finally see the end of quotas/commissions – which is not far away) we sales people can all begin to truly enjoy a role where we are 100% aligned with our buyers, and one where we are highly valued…instead of being distrusted and despised.
To learn the important steps require to become a highly valued sales specialist, please grab a copy of my latest book – The Future of the Sales Profession.
By Graham Hawkins