The future of Sales is to Stop Selling

Posted on July 30, 2013

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Buy One, Not Two, Half Price

I am currently working with a business that goes to great lengths to help their customers buy less of their product. That’s right, their sales reps will spend time getting to know you, understand your business, demonstrate how they can help and then do what they can to shrink the order size. Less is less.

They have big ambitions and visionary leadership as their sector, the water industry, deregulates. What is most interesting to me though are the lengths that the sales team will go to, to help their customers save water. Of course, they are also selling products and services to achieve this but it is clear that the conversations, the processes, the products are utterly driven by customer and environmental savings.

Do the Right Thing

The other thing that makes this business remarkable is the level of employee engagement. According to the latest Gallup survey seventy percent of American workers are disengaged. Not so with this business. Talk to the team for more than a minute and their enthusiasm is inescapable. They believe in their leadership, their business and most of all their customers. A common phrase in all my conversations with them was ‘doing the right thing’. One young and ambitious seller ended our discussion with the observation that she had moved jobs three times in the last five years but she wanted to stay here ‘forever’. They are on a mission and she is along for the duration.

Serving Not Selling

I also spend a great deal of time in the financial services sector. This industry is, quite rightly, going through profound change not least of which around legislation and compliance. Those that sell in this business can effectively no longer be incentivised through commissions. Instead, they are managed around their behaviours. The sector is being forced to find new ways to track and report that they are doing the ‘right thing’ for their customers. There’s that phrase again.

Speak to their sellers (though none of them will have sales in their job title) and they will  tell you that they are glad of it. It would seem that they wanted to do the right thing by their customers all along and old systems of commissions and targets got in the way. In fact that might be a bit of an understatement.

Of course, sellers that do not really sell is nothing new. The pharmaceutical sector has  been run in this way for years. Sellers create awareness and educate in a role that is part marketing and part sales. To many quota carrying professional sellers this probably looks like an easy ride. No one is promising a set of steak knives as first prize and unemployment as second. In reality though, their days are long, they have customers to serve and they are being asked to do more with less like the rest of the business world. Easy is what someone else’s job looks like until you have to do it.

Selling, Just Stop

Whilst  commissions and compensation plans based solely on shifting product are illegal in some sectors,  I don’t see this changing everywhere anytime soon. Nevertheless, legislation is sometimes where we see new social norms emerge. In an age of information parity and increasingly connected buyers, we are seeing smart sellers putting their customers agenda at the centre of their business even if it means selling less. Increasingly we are seeing the sales agenda (and yes Challengers too) focus entirely on ‘doing the right thing’. 

Novelist William Gibson is quoted as saying that “the future is here, it is just unevenly distributed”It looks like the future of sales could be about helping customers buy and to stop selling.

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