According to Selling Power magazine, June 2011, the Gartner Group predicts that by 2020, of the 18 million sales professionals in America, only 4 million will be left. They further predict that 85% of interactions between companies will be electronic. If you’re the leader of a business-to-business sales team, what does this trend mean for you?
One of the biggest implications of these trends is the tectonic shift in B2B selling that it represents. Up until now, we have taken for granted that the interaction sales professionals have with their prospects bring value. We are undergoing a shift in buying and selling that is challenging this assumption. Buyer sophistication, technology acceleration, globalization and rapid commoditization are converging to render human-to-human interaction unnecessary. Sales leaders who try to cope with this rising tide by pushing their sales teams to execute yesterday’s methodologies with more dogged determination find that they only exacerbate the problem. The result? Clients experience greater annoyance and failing sales professionals exit the profession even more quickly.
Here are 3 fundamental moves that you can make to ensure your human-to-human interactions create real value in our changing world:
- Move from demand capture to demand creation. Demand capture is all about differentiating yourself from your competitors in order to meet existing demand. The risk with a pure demand capture strategy is commoditization. Because the need is known and understood by the prospect, they define the terms and conditions with which suppliers must comply. Often, this results in similar competitors resorting to price reduction in order to win the business. If the game, ultimately, is determined by price, there is no need for a sales person to show up. Demand creation, on the other hand, is about helping prospects understand needs that they currently don’t know they have. This is the work of a true business advisor who sees the bigger picture and the emerging opportunities and threats. Helping the customer define their needs results in more strategic and profitable opportunities.
- Move from marketing taker to market maker. We are in the era of oversupply. Just as you are overwhelmed with the number of competitors pursuing the same business as you, so too are your customers. They are often forced to compete on price, which forces them to turn around and try to squeeze their suppliers. By better understanding their business and the fundamentals of how they create value and with whom they compete, you open up opportunities to help them pursue new markets. Those suppliers that understand how to create demand for themselves by creating demand for their customers will quickly separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
- Move from closed-door sales strategy to full transparency. Up until now, sales strategy has been something that occurs behind closed doors and is applied surreptitiously to an account. Increasingly, we are being asked by our customers to facilitate joint planning sessions with our customers and their customers. In these sessions, we review a joint scorecard where our customers and their customers can mutually agree on how each party is performing in the relationship and the value of the relationship to each party. Based on a joint scorecard, a mutual action plan is developed. The fact that you are in business to make money is not a secret so why hide it? As long as you are creating real value for your customers, they will be happy to share some of that value with you.
Many sales professionals and sales leaders will leave the sales profession out of frustration. Technology will easily replace them. Human-to-human selling, however, will always have value for those who understand that human beings are complex with complex needs and goals. Understanding these needs and goals will always give rise to opportunities to create value.
Although Gartner Group’s prediction is bleak, the good news is those sales professionals and leaders who figure out how to navigate their way to success in the future will be handsomely rewarded.