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Sales - it's adapt or die time...

There’s been some huge changes in the way buyers like to buy during the last decade.

  • They want to educate themselves rather than have sales people do it for them.

  • Many prefer buying on-line.

  • They like talking to their peer groups and ‘independents’ about potential purchases.

  • Buying decisions are increasingly made by committee.

  • Buyers prefer to deal with less vendors.

This has very effectively taken the transactional power away from the seller and given it to the buyer.

It has also led almost every sales department to review the way in which they sell.

Increasingly vendors need to shift the emphasis away from their own sales process and focus very clearly on their prospects buying journey.

Companies need to get inside their buyers minds to figure out the way in which they would like to purchase goods and services (it always starts with the problem your widget helps solve NEVER the widget itself). Once they’ve done this, they need to make the buying process as easy as possible. And that means getting rid of, or reducing to an absolute minimum, every friction point.

This creates a bit of an issue for us sales people.

For we are, all too often, found at the friction points within the buying process.

  • Unless we're great at social selling, we almost certainly ‘interrupted and pushed’ our message by way of introduction.

  • We want buyers to buy at our speed (because we have commission targets to hit) rather than their speed - and we pile on pressure to make this happen.

  • We are taught to hide the price until we have established value when buyers invariably, given a free choice, want to know the price far earlier than we’re willing to tell them.

  • Buyers want to speak to someone who understands their industry and can put their problems in the context of that industry. All too often we have geographic rather than vertical territories – so we’re about as much use as a chocolate tea pot when our buyer needs an industry specialist!

To a buyer these are all friction points – and the common theme – is that sales people seem to be at the heart of all of them.

So if buyers don’t want to be sold to, or at least, increasingly not by a sales person – that creates a bit more of an issue for us sales people.

If you thought that was bad it now appears companies are figuring out they don’t really need, or want, us sales people doing their selling for them either!

I’m afraid it’s a matter of simple economics, just ask taxi drivers going up against Uber or hoteliers against AirBnB...

The biggest line item in almost every company’s Cost of Customer Acquisition (CoAC) is the sales persons salary, shortly followed by their commission.

So buyers increasingly don’t want us selling to them and our own company’s are busily trying to find ways to cut us out of the process as well.

Sales people – it’s time to

Because, as I was discussing with John Smibert recently, we've reached the point where we’ve got to adapt or die – and we’ve got to make that decision rather quicker than many of us thought.

Within 3 years Forester say a million of us B2B sales people will be gone in the US alone.

So how are we supposed to adapt?

The most obvious way is to specialise.

Become an expert, not in your own product (that’s a given) but in the industry you are selling into. Be familiar with the problem, be able to put the problem into industry specific context, know the implications this has had for others in the industry and be able to spout off their names as if it’s second nature to you.

The second way is also to specialise.

This time, if you haven’t already, you’ve got to decide where your area of specialisation is going to be within sales. The days of being a consummate prospector, presenter, proposal writer, closer, on boarder and account manager are long dead (or at least they should be so long as you’re not a one man band). Thirty years ago we split into hunters (Business Development) and farmers (Account Management), and more recently Business Development has split again into openers (Sales Development Rep’s) and closers (Account Executive).

Now if you’re reading this as the type of sales person who sells a transactional product into a geographic territory as a mixture of both a hunter and farmer – I’d go and get my coat if I were you…

Particularly as you’re going to like this even less…

For the final, and arguably biggest, way I see everyone having to adjust in the next few years is over commission structures, or rather, lack of them.

Think about the behaviors that having a target, with a nice big carrot on the end of it, instill in you.

Do you ask your prospects to buy when they might not be ready? If you don’t: does your manager ever ask you to get some end-of-period sales in from those who haven’t already said yes? Do you ever find yourself, at your managers behest, discounting to chivy a prospect to make a decision in your time rather than theirs? Do you ever find yourself going above your contacts head to get a quick answer?

This is known as pressure. And buyers don’t like it… one little bit.

The simplest way to stop this happening? Stop paying commissions!

Now let’s look at what I said about your company and CoCA.

Your company are already playing ball with your buyers by giving them what they want – less time spent with sales people.

They put content on their websites that ensure buyers don’t have to rely on sales people for the information they need to make an informed decision about which widget to buy anymore. They also allow the same buyers to self service with e-commerce for transactional products.

Why is this an attractive option for your company?

Because your salary is the biggest line item in the Cost of Customer Acquisition and your commissions are number two. By taking both out of the CoCA equation, rather than going to you, the money goes straight to the bottom line instead.

So if it suits your company, and it suits your buyer, to cut you out of the equation – guess what’s going to happen?

If you run a company, or a team of sales people, and want to understand how the division of labour can increase your revenues while reducing your Cost of Customer Acquisition, give me a holler on +61 418381829, message me through Linked In or email on

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