The Change Report
When you look at the world in which we sell into now, what’s very clear is that, probably for the first time in the last 100 years, we aren’t on the brink of a significant change; we are smack bang in the middle of one. And it’s the most significant change that the industry has seen in terms of the buyer-seller relationship.
If you consider the last one hundred years, and the steps that have been made in the way that companies have been able to develop their organisational capabilities and their businesses, the changes are clearly marked.
At the turn of the 20th Century came the realisation that division of labour and division of tasks would lead to increased output. It was around the time of Henry Ford, the protagonist of mass-production, who realised that if tasks could be broken down and undertaken by different people, the result would be increased output.
But the change wasn’t restricted to manufacturing. Commerce and business also realised that the same was true for their people in non-manufacturing roles. American Insurance companies acknowledged that salespeople could only do so much. That they could only perform so many tasks in a given time. Whilst they could acquire new customers, once they had reached a certain number they couldn’t continue to service them. This led to the realisation that by splitting out the acquisition of new customers and the management of existing customers between two distinct sales teams, they could fuel growth within their organisation.
And so we saw the rise of what some still call the Hunter Farmer Model – or sales versus service orientation.
Fast forward a generation and this model still applied. However, what also became apparent was that the function of selling was in fact a process – a series of reproducible steps. And that by breaking it down into its discreet steps, the individuals and teams could be trained and developed to perform each of those steps to a high standard.
It became very clear that certain activities, such as asking questions and handling objections, were in fact skills which could be learnt and developed over time. Contrary to opinion, nobody was born with the innate ability to sell – it was the result of their formative knowledge and conditioning, and the skills that they had developed.
By breaking the process down into independent components, people could be developed and their performance improved through training. Sales training.
If you fast forward again to the next generation, the mid-1950s into the 1980s, again companies realised that by breaking down their business offering into their product or service’s constituent features and benefits, and packaging them up in such a way that many of them were called ‘solutions’, this would perhaps offer them a distinct advantage in the marketplace. In other words, the company that could demonstrate that their particular set of features and benefits was more closely aligned to their customers’ requirements, the better their competitive position would be in the marketplace.
If you look now, the economy that we currently sell into – which many call the connection economy, the information economy or maybe even the ideas economy – has overtaken all of the previous thinking about the drivers of sales performance.
The idea of just having different sales teams undertaking distinct roles, whilst still a viable organisational approach, is no longer sufficient to drive growth. The notion of simply breaking down the process into discreet steps and then trying to improve performance in each of those areas is, again, not sufficient. Elegantly bundling together features and benefits so that they align with a customers’ needs is no longer enough to make a difference in the market.
Why? Because everyone has done that already.
And so for the first time in history, when there is so little to choose from between most of the top products available on the market, we now see a time when the single most important factor, and the primary point of differentiation in whether or not a company achieves the growth that is required and consequent success within the marketplace, is the salesperson.
The salesperson is able to achieve that differentiation by affecting the way that the customer sees the purchase experience.
The salesperson now provides the critical link between the company and the customer base, and as a result they have the opportunity to provoke thought and discussion, and to change practice like no previous time in history.
But in order to do this effectively, they must change the way they go about their role and the promotion of their products and services in the field.
In many instances the change required hasn’t been acknowledged within sales organisations. Having spent the last two years working with over 350 salespeople, it’s clear that there are a number of common problems that arise within sales organisations that result in lost opportunities, lost customers, and lower than expected growth.
In the following pages, I’ll explore seven key areas that require change in order to succeed within in the new economy, and to capitalise on the unprecedented opportunity that presents itself. An opportunity that is only available to organisations and sales teams willing to make The Change.
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