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Sales careers

Personal development is now critical for sales people.

Sales people must URGENTLY take charge of their own self-development…..or find a new career.

When a severe storm is building off the coast, and wind direction is blowing said storm directly towards you, you have a choice: 1) urgently take pre-emptive measures to guard against and minimise the damage, or 2) sit outside in your favourite chair with a couple of beers and hope that the storm changes direction and slides on by.

When it comes to B2B selling there is a big difference between being optimistic and being realistic. In previous posts, I have espoused a view (backed by almost all of the leading analysts – globally) that the sales profession is right now undergoing some massive change. To use an old military term, we sales folks are right now in the middle of some serious VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity). No-one doubts that the global business environment is more volatile now than ever before and as we move from vendor-push to customer-pull business models, there is now wide-spread acknowledgement of more massive impending change. What astonishes me most is why so many sales people are NOT reacting to this change that is now underway. Why are so many sales people still conducting themselves the same way that they did 15 years ago?....stand by for the full force of that storm.

Seriously, if you work in sales and you have deliberately put your head in the sand hoping that the storm will pass, I can assure you that you are in for a very sobering reality in the next few years. Forrester is already forecasting that 22% of B2B sales jobs will be gone by 2020 and according to Gartner, 85% of transactions will be conducted without any human involvement by 2020. If you doubt any of this then simply take a look around your own industry and look for some ‘tell-tail signs’ of turbulence. This storm is going make its mark in a huge way and the bureau of meteorology has just raised the storm severity warning from ‘severe’ to ‘extreme’.

To continue the storm/nautical analogy, sales people really have 2 options as I see it: “shape up or ship out”. That is, re-train, re-skill, re-develop or find a new career path. Sounds flippant but it’s not meant to be. The facts are that the lower quartile of all B2B sales people are going to be fired in the next 3-5 years, and the survivors of this massive culling will be required to develop skills that allow them to make the move from “generalist” sales person to “specialist” sales person with deep domain knowledge and expertise. Another rhetorical question, but how can anyone ever become a trusted adviser if they have insufficient knowledge with which to advise? How can a sale person ever execute the 'Challenger' methodology if the customer knows more than they do?

The key message here is simple: if you wish to extend your tenure as a professional B2B sales person then you had better start taking control of your own self development. This will mean throwing out much of what you have previously learned, and developing new skills and knowledge that will help to keep you current with the new VUCA world that is upon us.

1) Read: There are a lot of great books being published right now that shine a light on this VUCA world that we live in. Start reading.

2) Engage with thought leaders on LinkedIn: There are lots of sales based groups where thought leadership is proliferating, and these groups are made up of vast numbers of individuals that can offer guidance, coaching and mentoring - approach them and ask for guidance.

3) Engage a coach or mentor: As above, speak with someone that has already been through some change cycles. Open your mind to the wisdom of others. 

4) Career change: If you are fortunate enough to be working with an organisation that actively drives programs around employee development then maybe it is time for a lateral career move to broaden your skill set and knowledge. 

5)  Enrol in a course: Above and beyond the myriad of post-grad study options, there are now some amazing short courses available spanning an array of topics that are perfect for augmenting a sales persons skills. A few years ago I chose to undertake an Executive MBA and it absolutely helped change the course of my career (see article: For me personally, the MBA program allowed me to “zoom out” (to step back from the blinkered grind of daily sales activity) and to actually research some of the driving forces of change that are now impacting the world of B2B sales. Importantly, the MBA also dramatically expanded my network and this can never be understated.....especially important now as VUCA takes hold. RMIT, like so many others, runs a great MBA program and it’s exactly this type of self-development that will help insulate sales people from the aforementioned storm that his coming at us all.

Yes, career changes are scary, and yes, education (especially an MBA) and books cost money. But what you have to ask yourself now is whether or not you are sufficiently prepared and protected against the storm that is coming. As Charles Darwin said, it’s not the strongest that survive but the most adaptable to change. It's no longer a question of whether you can afford any investment in your own personal development.....on the contrary, the question is now can you afford not to

Time to adapt, learn and grow.