Reflect back on your career in sales. For some of you, it’s only a few years. For others the journey goes back a couple of decades. Regardless how long you have been involved in selling, things have changed in enormous ways.
Much of what we do has changed. We used to be the gateway to information about products and services. Customers met with us to learn about new products, capabilities and services. Now they self educate through the web. They no longer need us to educate them about our products.
Buying has changed. The customer is definitely in charge (I think they always have been), but it’s changed beyond this. Customers are much more time-constrained; they are so busy doing their jobs, they often don’t have time to learn about new methods and approaches. In complex B2B buying, it has become a consensus decision. Instead of a decision maker, there are 6.8 people involved. The majority of buying decisions end in no decision made, primarily because buyers struggle with their own internal processes. And decisions are getting inspected by higher levels of management to assure they are aligned with corporate priorities.
The tools we leverage and how we do our jobs has changed. More selling is done at a distance, over the phone, through video/conferencing. Face to face meetings, while still important, are less frequent. Reaching customers is much more difficult, part of it is because they are so busy, part of it is they need us less.
Sales and Customer Analytics, Research and More
We have tools that enable us to do things that, 10 years ago, were unimaginable. Analytics, research tools, social tools like LinkedIn enable us to be much more informed about the customer and individuals before our first contact. Social tools enable us to engage customers in very different ways, through multiple channels. Other tools help increase our efficiency, we can get more things done, faster (we can also create crap at the speed of light). We have mobile tools that help us when we are with the customer.
New methods, thinking, and approaches change how we sell. Whether at one end we look at high volume/high velocity approaches or at the other end, we look at Insight/Challenger selling. There are hundreds to thousands of articles to learn from, published daily, hundreds to thousands of books published every year. All with insights on how we can be more effective in engaging our customers.
Everything has changed in Buying and Selling!
Yet results show us getting worse. Quota performance is declining, job tenure is shortening, win rates are declining and sales cycles are increasing. Many are declaring the “death of sales” as AI and automation seek to shift much of the buying. (And some of our customers are cheering this fact.) We are now on a 7/24 clock, struggling to keep up. I’ll stop here, before you get depressed.
With all the things that have changed, the capabilities we have that were unthinkable even 10 years ago, one would expect to see tremendous improvements in results we produce.
What’s Wrong With this B2B Sales Picture?
The only thing that is left is us! Perhaps it’s us that cause the problems. Perhaps, in spite of everything that has changed in buying and selling, we haven’t.
We continue to sell with old mindsets.
- We focus on our goals, our commissions, and what we need to achieve rather than the customer.
- We focus on our products and solutions rather than what the customer is trying to achieve.
- The more “advanced” in our midst may be focused on helping the customer to buy, yet the customer is focused on solving a problem, not just buying.
- As much as we talk about value, we focus on price.
When we succeed, the customer got a good deal, but may not be realizing the value they expected.
As managers, we still drive activity, focusing on volumes and not outcomes and progress. In days past, it used to be, “How many doors did you knock on?” Today, it’s been replaced by “How many dials, how many emails, how many tweets, how many followers?”
We know growth and improvement come through learning (and coaching is a vital part of learning). Yet most of the money we invest in training is wasted because it isn’t reinforced and applied. Or we are training on the wrong things.
We know we need new skills to engage our customers differently, but how many are looking at skills like curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, project management? Instead, we continue to focus on the skills we looked at 10 or more years ago.
Trailing Indicators: Trusting Past Performance?
Many of us have the same business models we’ve always had, we have the same sales process–if we even have a sales process, we measure the same things–and they are all trailing indicators, we reward the behaviors made us successful in the past, but may not be the behaviors needed for success today and in the future.
Perhaps the problem is that we haven’t changed. All the things that have changed around us, all the new tools, methods, capabilities we have are useless until we change.
We need to focus on our mindset, fixed mindsets are always beset with limitations. We need to adapt (genuinely, not via lip service) growth oriented mindsets. We need to build organizations with growth oriented mindsets.
Until each of us starts to change, everything else is just wasted effort.
David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more. Read more of his blogs here.