I just read a provocative post. Sales Talent Is A Problem, Is it Worth Solving, by the folks at CSO Insights. It’s an interesting view, in the spirit of “Yes, and...” I’d like to add to the discussion.
I suppose answers to the question depend on your mindset. A closed mindset would probably say, “No!” The article presents a few points of view that reinforce that.
People with closed mindsets would tend to address things from an internal orientation. How do we structure the sales organization to be most efficient? How do we reduce the variability in sales people and what they do, creating the lowest cost ability to acquire customers.
Many would also cite technologies that, supposedly, diminish the need for sales talent. After all, AI and ML will solve all the problems of the selling world. It will tell us who to call, when, what their problems are likely to be. It will scripting the perfect conversation making sure we limit our discovery questions to 4, and our discovery pitch to 9.1 minutes (some how the concept of a discovery pitch seems odd, how do you do discovery if you are pitching. But one AI vendor has the data supporting this. You just do one for 9.1 minutes and you win. If it stretches to 11.4, you lose.)
If we structure our engagement process to be more transactional, the assembly line process becomes very attractive. We specialize our various sales roles, moving customer widgets from sales specialist to sales specialist. SDR to BDR to Demo’er to AE to Closer to Customer Care — rinse, wash, recycle. This mechanized view of selling, means our view of talent is very different. We are looking for people that can execute their specialized roles very well, train them to do those without deviation. Ultimately, we can look at displacing many of these with Chatbots, and as buyers develop their capabilities, our Chatbots will engage with their Buying Chatbots.
People with closed mindsets will interpret the data, “Buyers are used to getting minimal sales involvement,” or other data that says “Buyers will leverage 3+ channels through their buying process,” (Gartner), coming to the conclusion that buyers have a preference to minimize sales involvement.
But dive into the research more deeply, what it really tells you is that buyers are agnostic on channels. They have no preference of digital, sales, or any other. What they want is great insight, timely, accurate and relevant to their specific needs.
If anything, one could interpret the data as sales having driven the customer to the alternative channels because of our inability to do the things they need. Which, at its root is a talent problem—do we have the right type of people, are we equipping the with the right skills/tools/processes to create value in every interaction with the customer? It seems the customers are voting by their actions and they are voting no.
A closed mindset will lead you to certain conclusions about sales talent, inevitably, it will lead to an answer , “Meh!”
A growth oriented mindset would approach the question slightly differently. First, people with a growth oriented mindset would start in a completely different place.
Rather than starting with an internal, efficiency oriented focus, they would start with an external focus. They would start with customers, They would ask the question, “What are our customers facing?” They would follow that with the question, “How can our sales people best help our customers deal with what they face?”
We would see two major trends emerging. Many “buying processes,” are, in fact very transactional. In looking at the transactional buying processes, much of what I’ve discussed will apply–ultimately, these should all be handled untouched by human hands–on both the buying/selling sides.
But the major issue we would see confronting our customers is massive turbulence. This turbulence is characterized by all sorts of terms, a few or which are: Transformation (digital and otherwise), complexity, disruption, information overload, overwhelm, confusion, distraction, massive change, confusion.
They would also see that no customer, no market, no function is immune to this turbulence. It impacts every organization, every individual.
Growth mindset people would see that helping our customers make sense of what they face, helping them navigate their way to solving these problems, is what great sales people and organizations do.
If anything, they would see a massive increase in the demand/need for help from their customers.
At the same time, they would recognize, it takes a different kind of sales person to be able to deal with these issues. Different skills, capabilities, experiences.
They would also come to the conclusion that the sales talent problem isn’t just worth solving, it becomes a key differentiator in capitalizing on the demand from customers looking to make sense of the turbulence they face.
The organizations/leaders that recognize this opportunity, that want to provide leadership in helping customers address “turbulence,” will capture huge share.
The organizations/leaders that recognize this opportunity will recognize that sales talent is THE problem worth solving!
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.