There is a plethora of available data on emerging trends. From the global economy to technology, individuals and organizations are mindful of them. Surprisingly, there is very little written of emerging trends in the sales profession. We believe that selling is a profession, possibly an industry—nothing happens in any business without a sale!
During our twenty-seven-year experience with professional selling, a number of advancements have helped sales professionals. Professional sales training is now required, as is the need for useful technology that creates efficiency with customer relationships. However, the world’s challenges are changing the manner of selling. New issues await today’s professional. These trends require flexibility, tenacity, and the opportunity to educate ourselves in a variety of disciplines.
Global Clients – Selling professionals are experiencing a cultural shift in their respective account bases. For almost three decades I've seen the dramatic shift from domestic client bases to a multi-national client base. It is vital for all selling professionals to think globally and act locally.
The current economy is morphing faster than in the days of both immigration and the Industrial Revolution. We now do business with communities and nations that we had never heard of ten years ago. Selling representatives must be cautious about words, dress, linguistics, and even electronic communication. Anything said or written can be misinterpreted. The 500 most commonly used words in the English language have over 14,000 definitions.
Tomorrow’s selling professionals must begin the study of international cultures and languages. The acquired knowledge assists professionals to communicate articulately with global clients, which provides better relationships. Gaining a better understanding of business etiquette, linguistics, mannerisms, and culture enables selling professionals to diminish barriers and gain better insight into client issues. Moreover, the ability to engage cross-culturally enables selling professionals to competition-proof their capabilities.
Knowledge Management – Many years ago computers were bulky, and performed minimal functions. Then as now, computer operation required data. However, as computer software developed, spreadsheets enabled end users to take data and gain useful information such as buying patterns and favored products. Yet, with the emergence of smarter technology, usefulness of the Internet, and spontaneity of access, stored information morphs into knowledge. In today’s selling world content is king.
Selling professionals require a wealth of knowledge to remain competitive. Tomorrow’s selling professional requires better insight into the customer’s world. Professionals must study competitors, the industry, and the client to help determine future needs. Using knowledge to help the customer remain competitive and offer provocative insights provides value and partnership. Customers engage with those they trust.
DRM – Direct Relationship Management – For years customer relationship management was paramount to organizational success. Customer relationship management is an information industry term for software, and usually Internet capabilities, that selling professionals and their organizations use to manage customer relationships. Databases, Windows-based software, and Internet applications all assist with maintaining client contact. However, while development has created wealth for software applications, it has done little for client relationships. Selling is a relationship business. Individuals want to conduct business with those they trust. Picking up the phone is more meaningful than sending an email and the more direct contact the better—people are not that busy. In an increasingly competitive market, having direct contact will actually deflect competitive forces.
Strategic Methods – In a recent research survey of over 400 sales managers, 87 per cent admitted their professionals were too tactical. Selling professionals by nature are tactical. Yet, tactics are not the best use of time and resources. The new era requires that selling professionals become more strategic in their account management and account planning. The research professional of tomorrow requires a tenacious desire for research. Sellers will require comprehension of competitive forces, industry demographics, and changing political and economic areas as well as technological changes. Rather than simply selling vertical products and services, future account management requires applying the value proposition to the enterprise.
Driving Force – A prevalent component of any business is strategy. Many organizations do not implement strategy correctly; leaders either look too far into the future or they fail to into organizational culture. Strategy is needed for any business, from the smallest to the largest. However, important as strategy is, it cannot exist without driving force. Ultimately, this boils down to selecting products (or services) to offer and the markets in which to offer them. Tregoe and Zimmerman urge executives to base these decisions on a single "driving force" of the business. While Tregoe suggests nine sources, ultimately one alone drives the business.
Every selling organization will need to strategize and determine their driving force. Clients require new methods of service and support. Moreover, the need for proximity and speed of service will require representatives to be more responsive. More important, managing account in silos and placing numerous impediments that create intra-selling competition hurts client relationships and destroys margins.
Talent – The diminishing labor pool and the constant drive for profits disables organizations’ capability to acquire the best talent. The largest asset of any organization is talent, especially sales talent. Nothing happens in an organization without someone’s selling something. The desire to invest in assets is daunting. According to CSO Insights, in their 2009 Annual Sales Effectiveness Report:
· The percentage of salespeople failing to hit their sales quota rose from 38.8 per cent to 41.2%
· Overall revenue plan attainment dropped from 88.2 per cent to 85.9%
· 70 per cent of firms report that ramp-up time for new salespeople is seven months or greater
Simply put, talent management and sales effectiveness needs to be at the top of every manager’s list. “The report shows that many sales leaders think they can cut their way to sales effectiveness by spending less on sales training, getting by with fewer sales support staff, and avoiding investment in technologies to enable sales. But CSO Insight argues that these companies will see revenues and margins fall as well.”
With the need for selling in every business, there are fewer than a few dozen of the more than 4000 colleges and universities in the United States with an established a formal sales program. In the United States, there are only fourteen universities with professional selling programs. Of the 1.2 million sales positions available in US-based businesses, research illustrates that up to 92 per cent of sales employees have no formal selling education.
Future sales leaders will require education acquisition. Simply put, selling is a profession and must be treated as such. Future leaders must engage in the proper education to increase proficiency and effectiveness. However, training must not be event-based. The purpose for training is to decease ineffective tendencies and provide strengths. New habits manifest over months, not hours in a classroom.
Customer Service – Peter Drucker once stated that an organization exists for one reason: the customer. Unfortunately, the wrestlers of Wall Street persuade many firms to focus on irrelevant profits. Future organizations require more suitable strategic methods and driving force. Fortifying organizational strategy requires sagacious attention to customers. Similar to sales, customers are the lifeblood of every organization. Competitive differentiation stems from the perceived customer value. Customers desire to be with those they trust; this is the key differentiator in a marketplace cluttered with vendors. Appreciation from your greatest asset takes no time and little investment, and pays a huge return.
Customer service extends internally and externally and relies on people, processes, and physical evidence. Selling professionals and peers will need to employ a true customer orientation, from answering telephones to returning phone calls. Procrastination and avoidance will be grounds for termination as organizations attempt closeness with customers. Also, processes must be efficient and client-friendly. Lengthy forms and waiting times only add frustration. Tomorrow’s leaders will constantly walk the process to eliminate tardiness and frustration. Finally, customer service requires a clean act. Selling professionals will dress differently, act differently, and speak differently. Clients make decisions within the first twelve seconds. Ask what clients believe about the firm and its employees.
While change is good, it requires adjustment. The future of selling requires changes to keep pace with generational and cultural shifts that create behavioral changes in decisions. The selling representative of tomorrow must work efficiently and quickly to maintain the pace. Failure of change leads to competitive elimination. These trends require you to not sit on your past but to begin creating a new future.
About the Author:
Drew Stevens PhD, President of Stevens Consulting Group and renowned author, consultant and sales expert literally wrote the book on improving sales skills. Dr. Drew is the author of the best seller Split Second Selling and Ultimate Business Bible that have helped thousands of frustrated sales managers, selling professionals and entrepreneurs improve their skills and gain dramatic results.
Ó2009 All rights reserved. Drew J. Stevens Ph.D.