The sales landscape is rapidly changing. The tech savvy, socially empowered buyers control the sales process. We are told to hustle, care, add value and a string of other buzz words that dominate the social airwaves. "Vendor confusion" and "lack of available resources" are driving the consolidation of vendors in the B2B landscape. Fundamentals such as the "relationship" sale, the "hunter" salesperson, "cold-calling" customers and "closing" deals are supposedly obsolete.
The new sales world is all about inbound marketing, social selling strategies and flattened sales organisations that collect orders and add value at the end of the sales process. Sounds good for the customer and company, but not so great for the salesperson.
Over the past month, I have attempted to make sense of the "noise" from an outbound salesperson's perspective, immersing myself in the work of Jill Rowley, Graham Hawkins, Tony J. Hughes, Mike Weinberg, Nikolaus Kimla, Derek Wysznyski, Dov Baron, Simon Sinek and Dan Negroni. In addition, I have spent time listening to podcasts, interviews and reading everything available to understand the millennial, the impact of AI, and how I would respond as a salesperson should the evangelists be correct.
Let's look into the future and assume the following two scenarios become a reality:
Expert prediction 1: The commission-based compensation model adopted by the sales industry is abandoned.
Expert Prediction 2: AI and computer learning replace your job within 3-5 years.
What do we know for sure?
The commission model isn't changing in the near term, and the 1m predicted mass redundancies are 3-5 years away.
Every career decision a salesperson makes should have this timeframe in mind. It should govern how hard they work, how they differentiate themselves and consider whether their job is likely to be replaced. Companies are very good at making short and long term plans, so, think strategically and do the same. One thing is certain; the big corporations will be the first to automate entry-level sales processes and retain the best producers for high-end deals.
Where does this leave the outbound salesperson working to maximise their earnings?
1. An opportunity to thrive will remain in agile, high growth products, early in the product adoption curve, where there are low barriers to entry for competitors. In these instances, speed to market is crucial, so the value of a salesperson's network and relationships is of increased importance. Companies won't have the luxury of letting the market adapt at its own pace, because low entry costs allow others to join the party quickly, so there is a great strategic advantage to reaching the customer first, continually demonstrating value to solidify the relationship, and retaining the business.
For example, take two software widgets that are similar, but not business critical, and consider launching them into a new market. No technology can launch a product faster than a well-placed salesperson, not just because of their relationships and network, but also the combination of speed and human interaction. We are already seeing companies choosing ease of integration over more complex offerings, as long as the former is adequate in functionality and less resource intensive. This trend will increase over time and be compounded by a salesperson's relationship, professional approach and ability to add value. Combine this with speed to market, and the result is a salesperson who doesn't worry about their next job. Good luck not paying these people commission!
2. Salespeople must continually build the assets that differentiate them from the crowd. This approach involves continuous learning, building a brand, and maintaining an impenetrable network. Be ready for when the opportunities present themselves, then move fast. The aim is simple: become bigger than the companies you approach. This is something top salespeople have done for years, but what has changed is this skill is now more transparent. Build relationships with clients in your industry that can't be breached and that everyone wants, even when you aren't selling to them.
"If you can pick the phone up to 10 C-Level execs and chew the fat, nobody is firing you and everyone wants to hire you." (Tweet)
You will never see a company change its policies faster than when you have something they want. Have it in mind to be that person.
3. Specialise and work now to lock-up a niche. Everyone tells you to take over the world, but the people preaching this message rarely tell you how to do it. So, here goes. Start with a niche. Salespeople must have a base upon which to expand. Specialise in a market sector, ideally one with high growth potential, promote yourself as an expert and expand. For example, AI is hot right now; previously, it was cloud technology. Pick one, learn everything about it and look for opportunities within. If you randomly jump from company to company, you reset the dial, and with the sheer volume of information out there, I believe this will be detrimental in the future economy. Building a base and expertise puts you at the forefront of opportunities as they present themselves.
The Rise of the Salespreneur
To thrive in the future economy, salespeople must alter their mindset and view companies as an investment of their assets. They must adopt a process of continuous personal development to build their asset base and become an industry expert. In answer to Expert Prediction 1, sales professionals will, as always, be paid for the value they bring. The experts have a habit of focusing on the company and the customer, assuming the sales professional, who delivers the message, has little say in the process. This is true if a salesperson has been marginalised, but the best salespeople will always be commissioned because without them, the customer doesn't get the product, and the company is open to competitive attack.
Adopting a Salespreneur mindset will help to recognise other obvious opportunities, for example, financially investing in companies with massive, flat sales teams that can be largely automated, and who can continue to hold or grow market position. When AI replaces the sales forces of these companies, their P&L will look amazing, along with their stock price. A few companies spring to mind. ;)
Here are my 3 predictions for the next 3-5 years:
1. The relationship will be the salesperson's primary asset, as clients crave human interaction.
2. I foresee salespeople turning to the dark-side, taking their expertise and helping companies consolidate vendors.
3. Commissions are going nowhere, and if they do, company loyalty and the best talent will disappear. The biggest entrepreneurs are driven by a cause, but the best salespeople are driven by money, and the more of it and faster it hits their bank account, the bigger the pull to join.
The digital economy isn't to be feared, but embraced as an opportunity for sales professionals to differentiate themselves. It could be a lot worse; I am still trying to process the opportunities for Sales Managers beyond 5 years. Whatever way I slice it, a top performing salesperson with a transferable, customer-centric network and quantifiable skill-set will be in far greater demand as the machines take over.
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