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Future of Selling: Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Author: David Brock

When it comes to the Future of Selling, self-proclaimed experts seem to have two schools of thought.

An increasingly dominant one has a very negative view of selling (ironically, promoted by many who sell their products/services to the sales function). While I may be overstating it, their view is the majority of sales people are mediocre to outright bad. It seems to have the premise, “we can’t expect substantive improvement in sales people performance, so let’s focus on the tools and techniques those mediocre sales people can use to drive revenue.” In this world, the strategy is less on improving the capabilities of these people, but leverage tools, automation, content, and higher levels of specialization to drive or maintain levels of performance.

At a fundamental level, it appears to be driven by an internally oriented, operational efficiency point of view.  There is a rich array of metrics that enable these people to monitor each element of the process.

I’m betraying my bias, but the customer seems secondary in this world. The customer is the target of the efforts of this sales organization, but we engage with the customer in a way that is most efficient for us, but may not be efficient for the customer. Most often, as much as the process that can be automated is good. As much as we can drive content and support through the web and other self educating tools is good.

Largely, it’s a response driven focus, when the customer reaches out, we respond to them, but we have engineered our process to maximize efficiency of the process, moving the customer from one person to another to another.  Automation of as much as possible is critical in driving consistent performance in this world.

In fairness, those promoting this approach say each person involved in the process must be an expert at their stage, they must be knowledgeable of the customer, of their solutions. They must personalize the engagement process–that is to the individual. But even in this, much of the thinking seems to be dumbing things down for the sales people (of course I’m betraying my bias.)

Most of the applications of this approach seem to be focused on simpler to transactional oriented sales processes.

A Differing Point of View

The other camp, one in which I unashamedly position myself, has a different view of the future of sales. This camp tends to look at sales people differently. Perhaps we agree the majority of sales people may be mediocre. We would probably agree there are a large number of “sales people,” who probably should not be in sales.

However, we refuse to believe these sales people can’t be developed and their performance can’t be improved. This camp focuses on raising the bar of performance for sales people. We are equally impatient with the quality of sales execution, yet believe that sales people can and must improve their performance and ability to execute. Our basis for this belief is the example set by outstanding sales professionals.

We see data the performance of these great sales people consistently out-distances others. We would argue it is within the realm of possibility and the responsibility of sales leaders (as well as we pundits) to raise the level of performance and execution of middle of the pack. We are not naive, we know the majority of sales people will not achieve the levels of performance of the great sales people. But, we can begin to approach the levels of performance of the best.

We put sales management at the center of responsibility for driving performance–selecting the right people, setting clear performance expectations, providing the systems, processes, tools, programs, training, coaching to enable people to achieve higher levels of performance. I suppose our view of these is a complement and enhancement to great sales execution rather than a replacement to great sales execution.

We are eternally optimistic about the need for great sales people because we recognize the difficulties our customers face. We recognize that our customers need and want great sales people. These sales people recognize that customers struggle to buy, while they actively self educate, they may not know what they should be looking for or how to translate what they have learned into the specific application to their needs. As a result, these sales people become the differentiator.

The Early Bird Gets…

From a revenue generation point of view, we recognize there is more untapped opportunity available to be captured by proactively engaging the customer earlier in their buying process, even provoking them to buy–rather than waiting for the customer to choose to buy. If we are driven to maximize our own company growth, we must proactively create opportunities, incite customers to change and drive their buying process.

Inherently, this approach is mandatory in highly complex B2B buying processes. It is an outward in process, that its design point starts with the customer. Optimizing the customer experience and our ability to engage them. At the same time we recognized that a customer-in design is not incompatible with operational efficiency.

Perhaps somewhat grudgingly, I recognize there is a place for both points of view. But somehow, I feel we have a greater responsibility to our customers, our companies, our people. It seems unacceptable to think the way we improve results is to accept mediocrity in our organizations and people, designing around this to achieve the results we want. Perhaps naively, I believe the majority of people want to perform, they want to improve. It’s our jobs as managers and pundits to help them do so.

We are starting at the same place, but one’s point of view is important. Is the sales glass half empty or half full?

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

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