"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein
As we move toward 2015 and futurism rules the day, predictions abound including my own on how we can reimagine the salesforce in the digital age. Human beings will be replaced by smart AI robots that run our campaigns, parse our emails and deliver us warm leads. Wow, maybe they can even close the deals for us. I hope not! A few lucky managers will work the largest select opportunities from inside. So is it time to hang up your suit?
I think there's a great deal of forward thinking among the sales intelligentsia. I am not convinced access to vast data, social insight and mobility has fostered deeper engagement or connected our world in a better way. This is why I truly enjoy thought leaders that promote the channel as a means to deeply build awareness, meaningful engagement; that stop and read. I see a preponderance of endless self-promotion, clicks, feed clogging and meaningless curation where quantity is winning a silent victory over quality.
The hardest part of this new paradigm is just to slow down. You can search a Twitter feed and find dozens of amazing articles to read but where is the time left in the day to produce? Shouldn't we still be spending most of our time communicating powerfully with our dream clients?
I would call for a return to the basics before going after all the cutting edge technology advancements in 2015. Excellence in sales requires excellence in sales process so you need a good one. I am a proponent of SPIN, TAS, eFox, Solution, Strategic and Challenger Selling. I even built a meta-framework of my own called RSVP. I feel it's valuable to learn many frameworks and methodologies, to then simplify them into something that you can always remember no matter how much pressure in your sales situation. You can make your own process and embrace your natural personality while selling.
One can take any system and make it simpler. Einstein's quote rings true. If you're going to leverage Twitter, why not know who every follower is? Why not pair it down to just an essential list of contacts that's manageable. If that seems impossible as you've already built out your strategy in an older era of Web 2.0, then at least build hyper focused lists by genre to segment your thought leaders so you can truly listen to them and engage in context.
As managers, let's ride along with our team members this year, joining our account executives on-site in the field. Let's challenge them to build a concise agenda. We should meet with them beforehand to talk strategy and afterwards for a debrief. What are the politics in the account? Who is in the power-base? Which competitors are in the deal placing it at risk, the biggest of which is usually "do nothing?" What is the strategy we will engineer to win the deal?
Each sales person should be paired up with a mentor and that mentor could be you. In the old world, apprenticeship was how sales was passed down. Great sellers taught the next generation how to read people, how to weave a strong story line, how to digest an annual report and how to diagnose problems, prescribing solutions.
Get on site with existing clients in 2015, hold quarterly business reviews, bring your insights on a giant poster-board and leave it behind to show you truly care. White board out the lifecycle with customers, let the customer show you in their own words and pictures, their own short-hand. Record it, reflect on it, get to know the accounts inside-out to foster explosive pipeline growth.
Could 2015 be the year of retention or will massive sales organizations hire 10 lemmings to send 6 off the cliff? I'm talking about retention of our sales talent and retention of our best customers in tandem here.
Why not take each complicated system we use in the enterprise sales force and simplify it. You will want to read Cracking the Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan and build a new dashboard in Salesforce that reflects the sales activities that you can actually influence, this could be connected calls, WebEx's and GoTo's held with Challenger demos, opportunities qualified or proposals sent out. Start to take a look at the Pareto Principle also called the 80/20 rule, the power law of distribution that governs your day in order to prioritize your opportunities. Step back with your manager and analyze the cause and effect relationship with your actions to outcomes.
Time management will be everything in 2015 with the onslaught of notifications buzzing in your pocket, updates from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+, [insert the next buzzy social craze network] in a dissonant cacophony of chaos, keeping you from those five inbound leads you need to call back or taking twenty precious minutes to read the updates from the CIO you're about to call on who just spoke at the tech conference. We rob Peter to pay Paul when we rush through our day, when we click too fast, when we act before thinking.
Take all your tools and give them a New Year's pruning; simplify them to their essence. White board out what your CRM needs to show, the key insight your marketing campaigns must convey, the one key metric by which you're measuring progress, the key clients you seek to grow and visit with. How can you move from value proposition to continuous value creation? Try to hold every meeting as a video conference to see your people face-to-face, rather than a voice on the phone.
Start to write LinkedIn Publisher posts once per week as a summary of the key insights you're learning from visiting with companies in the industry verticals you serve. Practice thought leadership and share your subject matter expertise. Pause for 10 minutes when you arrive to work each day to simply think and map the day, to organize your time. Build agendas prior to every meeting on your calendar. Be open to sharing those agendas with prospects and clients to get buy in. Send them snippets from something they wrote on Twitter or a mention before the meeting to show them you are listening. Send them a white-paper directly pertinent to their greatest objectives the night before. Mastering the details takes just a bit more time so create it.
There's a simplicity to what motivates people. They tend to move toward pleasure or away from pain. Most people don't change from the status quo until there's no other choice, the organization is literally burning down, hemorrhaging revenue. Look at what is happening with cloud computing eroding the hardware based on-premise enterprise tradition. "Software truly is eating the world", as Marc Anddreessen said best.
The vast majority of marketing messages are focused on revenue growth, ROI and all the benefits customers can realize. But this makes all marketing messages sound the same. If you can move your campaign toward risk mitigation and away from pain, it's a very powerful differentiated message. It's a simple message. Executives are walking around with a major problem they need to solve. If they're seasoned, they've prioritized their biggest pain-point. They're obsessing on how to fix it. They've got a 10X moonshot in their head too. When you understand them and speak to these burning issues, you are instantly sent up the food chain. She will re-arrange her schedule to talk with you now.
So that's my advice. Climb out of the endless meetings with management and colleagues and focus the majority of time looking actual customers in the eye over Skype or if highly qualified, hop on a plane, train or ride your bike over there for coffee. Get off social media as a crutch, leverage it supplementally to make your real world interaction more meaningful. Fix your overcomplicated CRM, reducing the amount of stages to reflect a dead simple sales process. Collaborate with your team members in the field, in the arena. Get out from behind the desk, the flat screens, a manager's spreadsheet jockey comfort zone. Let's move from reactive to proactive management in sales and prioritize every action and system at our disposal.
Einstein also profoundly said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Let's iterate, test and fine tune our approach before we reinvent the wheel. When we do reinvent the wheel let's make sure to temper that discovery with a healthy dose of respect and understanding for what still rolls down the road as history tends to repeat itself and it's critical to factor in time tested wisdom and road-tested knowledge into the equation. Humanity remains a communications grid network so logarithmic technology tectonic shifts every ten years tend to have little effect on trend lines measured by tens of thousands. Are we clay or obsidian rock?
Infinite new sales inventions may come out but building trust and leading with new insight could remain the E = mc2, the constant or fundamental part which any future complex selling system can be distilled down into. Virtual reality, AI, wearables, holography, smart contacts, flying cars, interstellar sales, the singularity is near? The more technology, the greater the need for humanization. When you span your imagination out 1,000 years, it becomes evident that building trusted advisor relationships will still be the silver lining guaranteeing your success in any new medium. I predict Charles H. Green's books will be even more relevant in the year 3,000.
Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.
Main image photo by Flickr: Bill David Brooks
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