The future of Sales is to Stop Selling

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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Social: The Fifth Age of Selling

Professor Derek A. Newton of the Darden School at the University of  Virginia is credited with suggesting that there are four ages of selling. The ages start with music man and move through animated catalogue, magic formula and finally problem-solver.

The music man (or woman) was most successful before the first world war but you will still bump into them from time to time. For them it’s all about personality and charm. Like them and you will like the product or service they are selling. Whatever it is, it will cure what ails ‘ya without knowing the first thing about ‘ya or your ailment.

As industrialisation made complex products available and affordable to the masses the music was drowned out by the monotone of the animated catalogue. There was nothing this walking brochure didn’t know about the features and functions of their vacuum cleaner and why it was better than the competitors. Knowing so much about their product left little room for understanding their buyers. After all, everyone needs one right? and there’s has more functions and features than anyone else’s.

Times though kept changing for the our sellers. Families changed as did business buyers. Consumer buying decisions no longer fell exclusively to Dad and the corporation was growing in complexity too. Sellers reacted with process, a magic formula. A seller need only walk all the people involved in the purchasing decision into a funnel and then through a series of steps before they would inevitably drop out the other end with their wallet open.

The dominant form of selling today, at least where there is any complexity requires Problem solvers. These are more like consultants delivering value well beyond their predecessors. This is epitomised in selling approaches like SPIN, a research based selling approach from Huthwaite.

Focus

What is surprising about this evolution is how long it took to focus on the buyer, the customer. It was all about seller for the music man, all about the product from the walking catalogue and all about the process for the magic formula. In fact it wasn’t really until we saw the rise of problem solvers that we even noticed the buyer. We finally noticed that there was a customer in the room at all. Even then it was, on occasions, a narrow focus. It was about their relationship with the seller or a limited  set of needs based entirely on the sellers products and services.

The Fifth Age: Social Selling

Today, buyers are better informed than they have ever been before. According to Forrester buyers will consume three pieces of   content that they found themselves for each piece they get from a vendor. They are better connected too. Social tools connect them with those that have similar problems and with those that have already tried to successfully or unsuccessfully solve them. And they trust each other more than than they trust sellers. In fact research from the Corporate Executive Board in partnership with Google suggests that buyers are nearly two thirds of the way through their buying process before they even contact a seller. 

The final age of selling is upon us and it has put the buyer in the drivers seat. The buyer has wrested back control of their decisions. Social Selling is really Social Buying.

Living the vida nube

Ricky+Martin+r10A career in consultancy and services leadership has not really helped me develop a sense of rythm, a party spirit or noteworthy alcohol tolerance. It is fair to say that Ricky Martin’s crazy life passed me by. Mostly.

That being said, I am  living the vida nuba. There are less sequins certainly, but it has made me more efficient, more connected and more adaptable to the myriad ways in which a working day can pan out. Life in the cloud is really working for me.

The basic step of making  personal and professional docs available in the cloud had the immediate benefit of making everything accessible from my home and/or office. However, the consequential benefits  have been unexpectedly pleasing too;

Unchained 

I am with Kivi Leroux Miller on this. In her blog she describes, how for many of us, work has become a state of mind, not a place.  It’s true. I cannot express enough how much freedom cloud gives me during a working week. I can write or work on trains, in coffee bars and, as I do from time to time, in the 7th floor bar of the Tate Modern. The views are an inspiration.

Sure wifi isn’t everywhere but it is mostlywhere and there really haven’t been enough exceptions to care. I have forgotten thumb drives more often.

Zen Computing

Once I started using cloud applications I quickly realised that I actually did not need all the features in ‘other’ bloated desktop tools. Last year, I wrote a book, a full twelve chapters plus bibliography, fore and after words without ever dropping into an unwieldy desktop word processor except for a few frustrating minutes before sending it to the publisher. Hey the future is here, it is just unevenly distributed.

All that space on my hard (SSD) drive and my head is replaced with tools and apps that make other parts of my life more productive. Just finding space for Evernote in my world has been a blessing and occasional lifesaver.

Everyware

When I made the  move to Mac a few years ago, there was no need to scour my C drive for old mail, spreadsheets and documents. They were all good to go. I have forgotten what Hot Syncing was (really, what was that all about?) and instead I have become device independent. Whichever bit of kit (phone, phablet, tablet or laptop) fits the task in hand is the one that gets picked up and used.

Moore is More

Sure, things go wrong from time to time and a broadband outage can make me disproportionately edgy. I am, overwhelmingly though, enjoying a law of increasing returns and keep finding new things that delight me. I  no longer have those panicky moments where I don’t know if it is on ‘this’ computer. It is. All of them. If someone makes a convincing book recommendation at a conference, I don’t make a note of it – I buy it. If a battery runs out on one device, I move to another. You get the picture.

The list goes on. Whilst it doesn’t give me swivel hips or a desire to go dancing in the rain, it does give me a heady sense of freedom, flexibility and control.

Essential Tools for the Social Leader

This continues to crop up in conversation with my colleagues and customers. What are the essential tools for leading in a networked and social era. Here are my top 5.

  1. Evernote. Strictly speaking, not really a social tool. However, those that are living in the cloud (living the vida nuba) need a note taker that is versatile and available on any device that they have to hand. Evernote does this and much more. If you are not using it you are missing out. Check out Evernote Hello too.
  2. Buffer. If you have something you want to say to a community that spans the globe and that have busy twitter streams themselves then you might need to say it late at night or early in the morning. You might even need to say it twice. This needs a tool that manages your posting to a timetable so that your sharing can be sometimes scheduled and sometimes impromptu.
  3. Klout. Err, I’m sorry. I care about my social influence. Not obsessively you understand. I just want to understand if what I am sharing is working. One way of knowing if you are contributing something positive to the global conversation is to check what others are doing with your Tweets, Updates and Posts. That’s what Klout does … and there are Klout Perks too.
  4. Unfollow. If you follow me and we share interests, I follow you back. Unless you spam me, we will spend a long time sharing. I expect the same in return. Nothing anyone has to say is that important that they can’t listen from time to time. Unfollow will highlight all those one way conversationalists so that I can unfollow them. You are not Brian Solis, after all. Unless you are.
  5. Linked In and Twitter Apps. Yes, I know that this is two really but what I mean is native apps. Whilst I use aggregators  the native apps keep getting better so I use them frequently for new insights into how they can be used to  nourish my network.

That’s my list. My essentials. There are more of course including pocket (you really need this!), bitly, feedly and flipboard but I really could not function without these any more. If you are part of the connected generation you will have a similar list too and no doubt we some in common.

Gamification and Gamified Business Intelligence

Gamified

I have become somewhat preoccupied with gamification of late. After the usual reading and research concluded with some structured study with the Wharton School through the excellent Coursera program, it became apparent that it was less of a diversion than I first thought. Indeed, there is considerable overlap between the aims of gamification and the aims of Business Intelligence.

To understand why, let’s start with the  definition of gamification from Professor Kevin Webach, the course lecturer and also the author of ‘For the Win‘ which is;

“The Use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts”.

It’s an excellent, insightful and crisp definition. However it really only explains the ‘what’ but no the ‘why’. For this, I would refer you to Brian Blau and Brian Burke of Gartner who extend the definition as;

“The use of game mechanics to drive engagement in non-game business scenarios and to change behaviors in a target audience to achieve business outcomes”

Level 1

Both definitions are about using game elements in a non-game context but  Webach is being more inclusive whilst Gartner very specific. For Gartner is’s about business whilst Wharton include  external gamification and gamification for behavioural and social change. The former is gamification as a marketing device such as Foursquare. The latter is a rich and interesting area that would include Runkeeper and Zamzee encouraging us to be become a little fittter and OPower which, by comparing our energy usage to our peer group, helps us be more aware of our consumption.

The third Wharton category, internal gamification has the greatest overlap with Analytics, Business Intelligence and Performance Management. A definition of which can be derived from some minor modifications to the Gartner definition of gamification;

“The use of  analytics, business planning and key performance indicators to drive engagement  and to change behaviors in a target audience to achieve business outcomes”

Analytic applications are systems, sets of mechanics, to align, engage and improve the performance of the business. They, like a gamified system, are an abstraction. They are a derivation of business activities not the activities themselves. The numbers, charts and indicators become a new reality distinct from the business activity from which they are derived. They are, in a sense, gamified systems but with only a small subset of the rich set of (game) mechanics that might be made available. In fact I have argued for some time that this subset of mechanics is as woefully inadequate as the user experience/user interace design effort in most corporate analytic applications. We still think that a dashboard is a pretty cool interface.

Achievements

Business intelligence can, more often than it should, be driven by whatever data is available. Equally common is to deliver a system that is a marginal improvement in the information system it replaced but in a new tool or technology. The design will pay scant regard to how the information will really be used and are open to being ignored or even ‘gamed’. Measure a sales team on orders and there may be an increase in cancelled orders. Measure baggage handlers on the time it takes the first bag to arrive on a carousel and the second and subsequent bags might wait for the first bag on the next flight.

Internal gamification is designed around a deep understanding of the players (staff, workforce) and their motivations. It draws inspiration from an extensive palette of behavioural (game) mechanics.

Level Up

Business Intelligence then, could reasonably be defined as an early attempt to gamify the workplace. Sophisticated BI  intended to engage the workforce and align organisational behaviours through carefully designed elements of which analytics and key performance indicators were just a small subset, would be a game that many businesses would find worth playing.

What Has CRM Ever Done for Us?

Actually the Romans come out rather well when Reg asks the questions of a bunch of masked activists in Matthias’s house in ‘The Life of Brian’. The aqueduct was just the beginning. Would CRM fare so well in a contemporary and probably unfunny update of the classic scene?

What has it done for us? Don’t misunderstand me. I use salesforce, my chosen flavour of CRM, every day. I wouldn’t be without it. Everything I do is captured in those seemingly simple customer, contact and opportunity tabs. However, what has it ever done for me … as a customer?

I have just finished Doc Searl’s latest book, the Intention Economy. It is a jarring book which turns CRM on it’s head, instead describing a world where software helps customers manage their suppliers rather than the other way round. It manages to be visionary by illustrating with situations which are utterly everyday. As customers, like frogs on slow-boil, we have come to accept the unacceptable. We tolerate what should be intolerable.

For example, Doc makes the point that when he travels by air (not unlike me) he has no special dietary requirements, places few demands on cabin crew, is likely to offer up his seat to accommodate a family or couple travelling together and is willing to pay (a little rather than take out a mortgage) extra to reduce the stress of travelling because the novelty has long since worn off. What his frequent flyer programme knows about him (and mine about me) is the total miles we have travelled and our address. Hmmm.

Yesterday,  I received a ‘personal’ note from a high street chain that I used to visit often but haven’t been able to recently.  Let’s say it’s a shop for the body. I shop here because I admired their deeply principled founder and her stand on ethical, environmental and social issues. I also like smelling like a satsuma. Mostly though, I shop there because there is convenient outlet on Waterloo concourse my gateway into and out of London. Rather, there was an outlet. It closed down during the station refurbishments and has yet to reappear. The CRM system that delivered the ‘personal’ note to me notes that they hadn’t seen me in a long time and offered me a generous discount to return. So far, so good. However, the featured products were wild rose hand cream, lip butter and a free makeover. I am a modern man and I freely admit that I prefer the smell of citrus fruit to masculine musk but it didn’t seem like a particularly compelling selection even for me.

And, this is a business I respect. At least their CRM had  spotted that it had been an unusually long time between the last transaction.

Another on-line retailer that I have been ‘loyal’ to for years has been through a recent CRM upgrade. I now only receive the section of their clothing catalogue for men. They finally understand my gender and no longer assume that my wife and I automatically like the same brand because we pick out curtains together. They worked out that I am a male and that I have different shopping habits to my wife. Big whoop.

This is the reality of CRM and Big Data today. Companies at the top of their game, with the most sophisticated CRM have worked out households, genders and not much more. And B2B is generally not even close. Many direct mail (interruptions) that I receive in my office inbox don’t even get my name correct and few, if any, are relevant to my job title or role.

It is true that sophisticated relevance marketing exists. These are the types of systems that can tell when you have started and finished the Atkins diet but they require a level of exclusivity associated with a church service and a gold band rather than the somewhat lighter associations most of us have with our grocers, coffee shops or satsuma scented shower gel supplier.

The Romans did actually give us irrigation, underfloor heating and straight roads but what has CRM ever done for us? We need more than a wallet full of loyalty cards, an iphone full of apps, licensing terms that we accept without reading and  discount vouchers with a redemption date just expired at the time we want to use them. It has a long way to go before it makes good use of all of that data, all those cookies and screens of social analytics. Mostly CRM needs to respect that unless it is going to make good and positive use of all of that data, that customers might tire of waiting, take it all back and start building VRM. The clock is ticking.

Sales Cycles Suck

Sales cycles are a preoccupation for sales professionals? Where is the deal in relation to the cycle? Is the prospect progressing through the cycle as forecast? Organisations invest thousands of man hours in training and countless more in implementing them. There are more than two hundred and fifty titles on Amazon alone that cover the subject. They can be strategic, complex, intuitive even scientific. Take a detailed look at the range of books on offer and you would be forgiven for thinking that most sales cycles are broken. The majority of materials are all about simplifying, mastering, rethinking, shortening and taking control of them. In other words, sellers feel that theirs are too difficult, too long or out of control.

The problem, however, is more fundamental. They suck. They generalise behaviours on the assumption that if you put prospective buyers in a wide funnel at one end and take them through a series of qualifying and processing steps that they will pop out the other end and the cash register will ring. Sounds logical enough but they assume that it’s all about the seller. The buyer is reduced to a target, an object, a mark. If you are not offended by that you should be.

I for one, don’t want to be in their sales cycle. If I am in any cycle, I am in my buying cycle.

A rep from an alarm company once called me after I chose his competitors product.  As far as he was concerned, he had the better product, a competitive price, had answered all my questions and managed all my objections. He had run the perfect ‘sales cycle’ and yet I hadn’t behaved in the way that he predicted. He had probably forecast me at 100% to his manager. His frustration was palpable. I went with a slightly more expensive option even though the products were broadly comparable. It made no sense to him and he told me so. The trouble was his competitor had been recommended to me by a trusted friend. It aced anything he could say or do and it wasn’t on his sales cycle. However, it was on my buying cycle.

Professional sellers often argue that they don’t mind being in someone else’s sales process at all. In fact many claim they actually like it. However, probe further and it becomes clear that this is out of a respect for their own craft. It’s rather like a musician being asked up from the audience to guest with the band. They like being sold to because they get the rules, understand the techniques and can take an informed and objective view of someone else’s performance.

Most of us though find them awkward, unsatisfactory and disagreeable. They are are built from the sellers perspective. They are all about closing and commissions. The buyer is someone with a business problem that needs a solutions but this is incidental to the fact that they are a budget holder and can make a purchasing decision. Not that a sales process is a bad thing. Not at all. It is only sensible to make sure that expensive resources requires to implement sophisticated solutions are allocated to the right buyers at the right time. However, any sales approach that doesn’t have the buyer at it’s centre is fundamentally flawed. Unless the sales cycle is unambiguously built around the needs of the purchaser to the extent that at it’s core, it is indiscernable from the buying cycle. It a sales cycle that sucks.