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A sales opportunity for the ages

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Cyclicality makes for many opportunities, many have made millions studying cycles, taking deliberate action to capitalize on turning points, be they peaks and troughs, or the birth of a new way of doing entirely new things.

Canadians who were owners of Blackberry’s till the iPhone came along, and “phone” is just a moniker for a pocket computer that also makes and takes calls. Not at all the way we did things 15 years ago. Each of these cycles individually offers many possibilities to become the next Blockbuster or Netflix, or many other B2B examples. But today we are, as we are now, at the cusp of a number of cycles converging, a “Perfect Storm” scenario that will have a transformative impact on how we sell and generate revenue. An opportunity to grab your board and ride the wave or be crushed by the same wave.

What follows is not an exhaustive list of a number of events that will, and others that may present themselves, which will test how people sell. Just think back to 2008, as everything was grinding to a halt, salespeople were stuck in unfamiliar territory, clinging to old ideas, ridiculing new ways, remember the initial reaction to The Challenger Sale, go back to what people were saying then, not their hype now (I love the internet, nothing goes away). It took sales a long time to recover, I had a front-row seat to the drama, but other than a fresh coat of paint and some new titles, little changed, and soon things were back to a familiar reality.

One way to look at it, is before Lehman Brothers if you asked a VP of Sales how he/she would address a revenue challenge, they would want to throw a body at the problem; today, they want to throw an app at the problem. They still haven’t addressed the problem, they are still throwing – just something new. Feels good, feels right, really fashionable. That was one economic cycle, a historical one no doubt, but not unpredictable.

The economy

As teased above, I think we are on the verge of many cycles converging that will reward the willing and flush out the also-rans. Let’s start with the above example, the economy. By every measure, we are in the most extended bull market in history, and the current expansion is asking for a breather. I am not a fortune teller, nor do I have to be to believe that we will experience some pullback in the next 18 months or so, even the R word. Add to that the realities unfolding to the south of us, it is not foolish to begin to think about switching modes.

The booming x’s

Contrary to popular myth, those who did best during and after the Great Recession, were those same sellers who were consistently achieving or exceeding quota. Based on the groups I am training, there are less and less of us, we reflect the population. Many of the managers I work with are great people, enthusiastic, and have learned to throw apps and bodies with the best of them. But they have not lived through a down cycle when doors are shuttered and getting in is a whole new ball game. Bob who would always take your call has ‘ghosted’ you. Selling, and more so, leading a sales team through that winter is an experience-based skill that many of today’s managers have had the chance to learn. The current flock and methods of selling have not been stress tested at all. If we examine the new “Disintermediated Sales Approach” used by most SaaS companies, mostly because it came from the mothership SaaS machine, while slick, has not yielded great results based on available public stats, certainly no better than in the days of Smith Barney. While revenues could, in fact, be greater, productivity on an individual rep level is different, especially when measured in practical ways such as conversion and closed MRR (not looking at retention here). Apps are making the hamsters lazy; it takes more hamsters to run the wheel. Coming out of the Great Recession, the pundits and sages were predicting our tribe would be reduced by more than half. An article on Selling Power asked “How Many Salespeople Will Be Left by 2020?“, now a dead link, gee, I wonder why. (I love the internet, you can try and pretend you didn’t say that).

It seems the tribe can’t reproduce fast enough. Every sales and even marketing related LinkedIn profile starts with “I’m hiring.” It seems people are getting good at throwing money at the problem. I saw one Sales Development Rep (SDR) with eight months experience, jump to the same role, different title, a 35% increase in base, base! Oh, new title, Supervisor, he’s going to groom others. To do what, jump ship?

Not taking away anything from any individual organization or seller, but how will this cohort whether one cyclical storm? What if two hit at once. If the tribal knowledge has moved on, what will help us weather the storm? To be clear, I am focusing on this not because there is no hope, we’re not doomed. But now is the time to deal with this. Yes, we all know we have to get ahead of it, not when it hits… and it will.

New expectations

As we continue to move into the GIG and Service Economy, salespeople will only have two levers to pull on, both require a change in the relationship they have with their own company if they are going to improve relations with their clients measurably. In the Service Economy sellers will have to focus on outcomes and experience, and I mean customer outcomes and experience. As the product disappears, reps have to sell the experience to buyers, both direct and economic beneficiaries. SaaS reps should be doing it now, but the volume is there. When the wack a mole days pass, it will be too late to transition to being a subject matter expert whose customers rely on because of the experience they perceive, and the outcomes you help them achieve. Product specs and pain points will be secondary to what you did for them in their market, how they measure it, and how they feel about it.

Many of your buyers are already experiencing this digital experience in their consumer life, as well as in their B2B interactions with other outward facing groups, customer service/experience as one. But is your sales organization digital inwardly, in their view of their customers, the customer’s market challenges/opportunities; are your reps aware of how they can help your customers give their customers a better outcome and experience using your service?

I could argue that there are a number of other real headwinds facing us in the next 18 – 24 months, these were but a couple. As sales leaders we are indeed at the most inviting times possible. Turbulence is coming, probably a storm, you have an opportunity many will not have, to truly transform your selling, top down, bottom up, but you need to act now, not when everyone is hip. The best buying is done when the market is down, the best time to introduce change is when you can afford to make mistakes, not when you are paralyzed by fear and zero budget.

Tibor Shanto works with leading B2B companies including Bell Mobility, Imperial Oil, and Pitney Bowes, helping them improve their sales execution and results. Called a brilliant sales tactician, Tibor works with clients to translate sales strategy to reality. Find out more by visiting www.TiborShanto.com.

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