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Throughout my sales career, I grew increasingly frustrated by the perspective that sales people were not like other professionals — accountants, engineers, designers, marketers – and that instead they were viewed as lone wolves, undisciplined rebels who functioned independently of the rest of the organization.

On the contrary, I believe that any of my own success in sales was rooted in behaviors that these other professionals also engaged in, namely, harnessing the collective genius of the communities in which I operated, developing and applying best practices and intelligently exploiting available technologies that were available to me. In other words, I succeeded because I harnessed the power of bringing people, process and technology together.

This is even more important in today’s post-downturn world, in which closing a sale is no longer a matter of just showing up at the sales call. Sales people today contend with an increasingly global marketplace, an ever-expanding range of products and services, new channels of customer engagement and an expanding list of competitors. The power has shifted from sellers to buyers, who are better informed and always connected to a world of opinion, advice and information, thanks to mobile and social technologies.  Now that the customer controls the conversation, we require a 21st century approach to the sales profession.

It’s no longer just about relationships when it comes to a successful sales organization; I passionately believe that a renaissance is required for sales to gain the professional recognition it deserves amongst its peers. The 21st century sales organization needs to rethink its selling process and align it to that of the buying process, and in order to do that, there must be a renewed focus on driving tighter alignment between people, process and available technologies.

What do I mean by this? Briefly:

• By “people,” I mean collaboration, enabling easy access to the right experts, content and assets to use in the sales cycle. This also means sharing the collective knowledge of the global community through professional organizations and universities that serve these communities.

• By “processes,”I mean identifying best practices and using those to design and follow innovative sales processes that are responsive to the customer’s needs. No longer can the sales process force-fit customers through a funnel, toward the sale; 21st century sales processes need to be in tune with wherever the customer is in the buying cycle and better inform sales people about the products and services they’re pitching.

• By “technology”, I mean leveraging and exploiting available technologies such as analytics
to digest huge volumes of information and deliver strategic insights to sales people on the move.  It also requires sales systems that are connected to  the rest of the organization’s systems (front and back office) and incorporates data from everywhere, including social channels – not a patchwork of disconnected islands of information.

I’m happy to see that others agree. People are starting to talk about  the need for top business schools to begin offering sales-related education programs, especially in light of the “$800 billion spent annually on the sales organization in the U.S. and its 20 million-strong” U.S. workforce.

And in a recent blog post, Dave Brock uncovered “the secret to sales success:” a sales process that is unique to the organization and aligned with the customers’ buying processes. I whole-heartedly agree. I believe the future of sales is clear: We need a disciplined approach to sales that puts the customer at the center and provides sales people with insights on who their customers are, where they are in the buying cycle and the business challenges they face.

What will it take to develop a 21st century sales warrior at your company? Please share your insights, opinions and tips with the community.

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