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Sales and the Zombie Apocalypse

Author: David Brock

Recently, I was having a conversation with Robert Racine about the state of sales management. During the discussion, he mentioned, almost in passing, that too many Sales Managers are becoming Zombies–that is acting purely on autopilot, rather than thinking, evaluating, engaging. As I reflected on the conversation, I realized this trend isn’t limited to sales managers, but is extending to the entire organization.

It’s somewhat ironic, many salespeople love the job because of the freedom, the challenge of figuring things out, the creativity of engaging customers to help them recognize and solve their problems, and the rush of winning deals.

But something has changed in selling.

What Changed?

I don’t know if it’s the workloads, the sheer size of our quotas and expectations of performance. As I look at quotas and targets qualitatively, as I look at general sales production, I don’t see changes that are unexpected or abnormal. Yes, quotas go up, but we expect people to improve and become more productive. Plus we are investing in tools, programs, processes, and training to help them become more productive. At a macro level, selling expense hasn’t changed markedly many complex B2B segments.

It may be the systems, tools, processes we put in place. Things that are intended to help improve the productivity and impact of the sales person, freeing time to more effectively engage customers. Instead, they are being implemented in very prescriptive, a very prescriptive formulaic manner. Our words and interactions are scripted, we are measured on our compliance with these scripts. We focus on call volumes/duration and less on outcomes. We are so specialized that we execute our part of the process, for example, SDRs qualifying and setting meeting; then passing the customer down the sales assembly line to the next step in the process, perhaps the discovery call, then the demo, then the close……

The nature of how we work and engage has changed–perhaps not for the better. We are deluged with information and data, we are constantly distracted by messages, emails, and the constant vibration of our smartphones in our pockets.  Our interactions are moving from deep conversations with our customers and colleagues to text messages or 140 character tweets.  We move from focusing on quality of engagement to volume and velocity.  We become information concierges, but fail to create meaning or value in the interaction.

Robo Engagement vs. Real Engagement

Engagement numbers, across the board, are plummeting. Despite all the talk about culture and values, we are increasingly disengaged. Our managers don’t have time for us, we don’t have time for each other–but we still talk about the importance of collaboration.

Engagement with customers is plummeting. They are overwhelmed–not just with their own jobs, but with our messaging and content. In-boxes are filled with poorly constructed emails, customers are robo dialed endlessly, customers are inundated with “helpful” offers on every social media channel. The only way to survive the constant barrage and broadcasts is to turn them off–which promotes further escalation (after all, it’s near free, so why not crank up the numbers?)

In fact, we really don’t have to think about these things. Auto-reply, auto-dial, messaging applications, do all this “engagement” automatically, we don’t even have to participate. When we do, we are auto-scripted, so we don’t have to think.

It’s the same for our managers, they pay attention to the dashboards, responding to the numbers but not understanding what the numbers mean.  “Your call volumes are going down, you need to get them up!”  Instead, perhaps a better starting point is, “What’s causing your call volumes to decrease, how can I help you improve them?”  Increasingly, coaching is being supplemented by tools that analyze what is happening and point us to a video to improve our skills, but not really engaging us in understanding why.

As well intended as each of us may be, we fall victim to these things. We stop thinking, we stop engaging, we get on autopilot.

The rise in articles, workshops, tools on “Mindfulness” is an indicator of the problem. While physically being present, while going through the motions and interactions, we are increasingly not present-not engaged.

We are headed to the Zombie Apocalypse of selling.

Avoiding the Zombie Apocalypse

But it’s not difficult to break out of this.  It doesn’t take a lot of deep breathing and mindfulness exercises.

It starts with paying attention to what we do, how we work, why we do what we do, how can we improve. Asking “Why” of everything is a great starting point.

It starts with caring about ourselves, about our customers, about our colleagues. We seek to learn, to discover, to engage more deeply, and to truly collaborate.

It starts with not succumbing to the distractions, but focusing. Less is most often more.

It starts with being present in every interaction with our people, colleagues, and customers—and not permitting them not to be present, as well.

It starts with meaning–which too often, we’ve seemed to have lost. But it’s our jobs as leaders to create meaning for everyone in our organization.  It’s our responsibility as sales professionals to create meaning for our customers and through that to create value that no competitor can overcome.

It’s not that hard!

David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more.

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