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Ian Helps

Reflection - the salesperson's antidote to obsolescence

Ian Helps / 18 December 2013

As a sales professional, are you changing fast enough to remain mission critical to your customers as their own world transforms? Most sales people we meet are in "survival mode", hoping that this quarter will be OK, that their critical few customers will remain loyal and that they can close their forecast key deals by the end of the period. The brutal truth is that things are going to continue to change faster. Sooner or later you will have to revolutionalise your personal development strategy or face obsolescence, to be replaced by a "newer model" of sales professional or an internet click.

The shifting sands arise from the internet. This has thrust us all into the "4th Information Age of Man" and ushered in a dramatic power shift in information, knowledge and in some cases power. Everywhere we look things are speeding up and innovating - I am sending this note via wifi from my tablet in Kerala, India, from a hotel that I chose after consulting data sources like Tripadvisor. Everyone around me has a smartphone to check on the cricket scores. This would have been impossible only a few years ago.

Our customers are undergoing their own revolution. They are researching you, me, as a seller and potential business partner by Google, linkedin, twitter, company website BEFORE they even contact us. They know why they are talking to you and they start from a position of knowing what they want. So, whilst you may be spending lots of time on CRM, deal qualification and forecasting, have you given enough time to your innovative point of view on your customers' challenges, your value add or how you will learn the skills to beat your competitors' sales people?

Our research shows that a number of companies are beginning to lose faith in their old sales models and by implication their ability to upskill their existing sales people quickly and deeply enough to meet these challenges.

They are looking for a new silver bullet for sales and the search is getting desperate.

Some companies are growing Inside Sales operations staffed by largely young, raw talent to increasingly compete with field sales and indeed become the key talent pool for field sales professionals. Some companies are skipping to the next generation of millenials. We know one company that is recruiting 1000 new sales graduates in a batch. Companies like these are betting that they can train the new intake in sales, to generate a salesforce that "gets it", whatever that means... These responses are understandable: something dramatic needs to be changed in sales. And yet these responses are partial and have their own risks: how long will it take a millenial to attain the gravitas needed for the C suite sale, for example?

There is a better way.

It means revisiting the compact between employer and the sales organisation. Sales people need to be equipped and supported to change faster and more effectively than the competition. This cannot be done by top-down management decree or standardised mandated training. Sales people need to transform their ability to learn. They need to be given access to new ideas, concepts and perspectives on how they can do their job better. More importantly, they need to be given time to reflect about the past, to "think on action", to consciously write down their learning experiences, to formulate new strategies, to apply the new learnings in their daily work and be nurtured by their managers to keep doing this as core to their routine. They need to be given encouragement to learn from and with their peers, to develop a body of expertise that will really increase the organisation's sales effectiveness.

Sales management itself undergoes transformation in this new world. It moves into the world of transformational leadership, of reflecting as a leader and setting out a vision for the future for your team; it defines "what great sales looks like around here". It is about coaching and development, to help sales professionals to discover ways to ratchet up their performance. Of course, managers still need to manage the numbers of sales performance; it's just that this is but one facet of the sales leader of the future.

This is not a fantasy; it is mission critical. We have worked with organisations that have increased their sales by a factor of up to 1000% over 2 years when they have followed this alternative formula. Why not try it?

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