Over the past 2-3 weeks I’ve been travelling around different parts of Europe, talking to dozens of different companies about sales. What’s becoming more and more clear to me, after the latest conversations, is that sales are at a crossroads and that we are just entering a phase where the future of sales is up for grabs.
This post starts a series of postings that look at pressures that are shaping the evolution of the sales function.
Sales is one of the least respected professions
Sales need to recognize that they have a perception problem with their customers; frequently they are barely tolerated. On the other hand sales people admire other sales people who are successful, and don’t ask too many questions about what their customers think. Instead they want to know the tricks and tips that the successful sales people have used.
That perception disconnect is only going to increase. The market is offering more and more choice, not just in the solutions that are being offered but also choices in the way that solutions can be bought. Customers can compare and buy solutions without involving a single sales person, transacting directly on the web. They can buy online, they can buy through third parties or, if they really want, they can buy direct from the company makes the technology. While the introduction of eCommerce brought in different buying options that customers had not even thought of e.g. buying books online versus at a bookstore, the current B2B market is very open to alternative buying options – in a desire to avoid dealing with elements of the traditional sales model.
Unless sales recognize the perception problem that they have, and the real threat that alternative buying options pose for them, then they are in trouble. The changes will happen with or without them…
Historical sales perceptions
Selling has always been the powerhouse of the technology world, in terms of its ability to drive the growth of a technology vendor. However, sales have also set the tone and culture of many IT companies – frequently in a pretty unpleasant way. It’s been a testosterone driven, macho culture with an aggressive undertone that has focused on “revenue extraction” rather than trying to deliver the most value to their customers. Customer satisfaction is something that someone else needs to care about after the deal has closed and there is vendor versus vendor competition to win the prize for being the “hardest” sales team.
The other image of sales has been of the irritating telesales person. They begin by disturbing your evening meal, then continue with a fake attempt to build rapport, before launching into a heavily scripted dialogue that fails to recognize the “I am not buying” signals that you are sending. When you eventually manage to convey that message the call is unceremoniously terminated, without so much as a “thank you”. The perception is that the sales person at the other end of the line is rude and not interested in delivering value to their potential customer.
Neither of these perceptions afflicts all sales organisations but it is heard often enough to make it a concern for all sales organisations.