It seems the pandemic has created a new future for selling. Apparently, it’s virtual. According to so many, we’ve discovered that we can accomplish so much more through Zoom, Teams, Skype or any number of video conferencing platforms. While there will be a need for face to face, it will be the smallest part of the customer engagement process.
While these virtual technologies are powerful and will get more powerful, I don’t know that we can define the future of selling as virtual–or that it’s reasonable to define the future of anything in terms of a technology.
It’s clear that sales and selling is changing, but I’m not sure we define it by a technology.
We have long known that our customers are changing the way they buy. The future of sales has to mirror the shifts in how customers buy, it has to help them be more effective in identifying and opportunities, problems, challenges to their ability to grow and achieve their goals.
We know customers struggle in their buying journey, the future of sales has to help customers dramatically simplify this.
We know customers educate themselves through multiple channels and sources–not just a web site, not just through sales people. Our engagement strategies have to be multi-channel. We have to learn how to create a consistent customer experience across each channel the customers want to be engaged.
We know complexity is overwhelming our customers and our own organizations. How we understand complexity, address and manage complexity requires new approaches to problem solving. It will be much more collaborative, there will be more experimentation, we need to be thinking in terms of systems/interrationships between disparate component parts. We know we will have to help the customers address their problems/challenges/opportunities more holistically.
We know that to create the greatest value with customers, we have to engage customers much earlier in their process–even inciting them to change. We know they often don’t recognize the opportunity or need to change, even when they must. We have to figure our how to engage customers in thinking about change when they don’t know they must and are not looking.
We have to learn how to “manage” larger more diverse buyer/selling groups. We’ve long known that buying is a consensus building activity and the buying groups are growing. At the same time, we see increased role and skill specialization on the selling side. The “complexity” being introduced into the buying/selling process creates huge challenges and adds to the cost/risk of buying/selling. Clearly, whatever the future of selling looks like has to simplify this process–both for us and the customer.
The pandemic has driven a sharper value focus on the parts of customers. They focus on that which is mission critical. They are investing in those areas only, caring about time to results, and risk management. To effectively engage customers, we have to align with this process–otherwise we are irrelevant and wasting their time. Whatever the future of selling looks like, we have to more effectively identify and engage those customers who have a high sense of urgency about solving the problems we solve. We have to become more effective at creating relevant value in that process (here I feel like a broken record, this has always been critical, yet we so consistently fail to address this.
We can expect transactional buying processes will become, and should become, more automated. The demand for sales resources in these buying processes will plummet.
All this requires profoundly new and different skills we need to deploy in the organization. With increased specialization in our own organization, roles and responsibilities will change. Along with that, metrics and goals may have to change:
Inevitably, there will be roles that are more coordination, orchestration and project management oriented. “Who manages the overall engagement strategy and how we execute it?”
Because much more collaboration will be involved, metrics and incentives are more likely to be oriented to team attainment than individual attainment.
Organizations will become much more fluid, with resources moving from “project to project,” more nimbly. We do have to be more attentive to what this means to the customer, “You keep changing the people I’m working with….”
Many of the resources critical to selling will be outside the traditional organizational structures that we know now. Closer alignment and coordination between those in the selling function, marketing, product management, customer experience, operations and finance will be needed. Again, this has profound impact on how we organize to sell and support our customers.
As the complexity of the selling function increases, strong culture and value systems become much more critical. Leaders will spend more time focusing on building the culture and value systems, making sure everyone is aligned, and less focused on transactional/day to day activities.
I don’t know what selling and sales organizations will look like in the future. But I believe, the pandemic and economic crisis has created the “perfect storm” that will force sales leaders to rethink what selling is, how we most effectively engage our customers, how we most effectively organize and execute to engage them.