During my involvement with Sales teams for over 30 years, the evolution has been fascinating to watch! Today, I propose the birth of the next sales level: Digitalized Sales. Digital Sales exists today as a job title selling digital products and services. Digitalized Sales is an end-to-end digital sales ecosystem. Here’s a brief look at the sales evolutionary:
Product Sales were the common practice through the mid-20th Century. Products were generally sold based on quality, availability and price based on quantity discounts. During this time, Japan gained a huge competitive advantage over the rest of the world by focusing on quality alone. After being shunned in the United States, W. Edward Deming took his quality sampling techniques to Japan in the 1950s. These techniques fueled Japan’s post-war quality renaissance that, in part, drove them to be the second-largest economy in the world.
Intangible Sales evolved next as a technique driven by intangible benefits when using a product/service. Screws were no longer “screws” – they became “fasteners”. For the insurance world, “You want your spouse to be comfortable after you die…don’t you?” Warranties and leasing lessened many product quality concerns.
Then came Consultative Sales and a plethora of sales training systems such as Xerox Sales Training, the McKay 66 and S.P.I.N. Selling. Xerox Sales Training dates back to the 1960s with a focus on Strategic Account Management (S.A.M.) where the User, Manager, Buyer and Decision Maker had different needs. A sales pitch was not one-size-fits-all. “Flip books” gave way to a more consultative approach such as the MacKay 66 detailed in the 1989 book “Swimming with the Sharks without being Eaten Alive” by Harvey MacKay. Each salesperson is tasked with gathering 66 pieces of personal information about their contact over time. And, 1988’s “S.P.I.N. Selling” by Neil Rackham used to identify the prospect’s Situation, Problem, Implications and Needs Payoff. The salesperson became a consultant.
Today, Sales has evolved into a highly sophisticated digitalized process. Think of today’s salesperson as a modern soldier armed with near real-time performance analytics, location tracking of self, traffic-related ETAs, appointment reminders, emails/texts/proprietary apps/voice, monitored driver behavior and many other tools.
How to Operate in a Digitalized World
The lines between business and technology are blurring. Are the most effective salespeople today millennials or more recent generations that have never known a day in their life without the cellphone/laptops/tablet, WiFi, social media or the internet? Or, more seasoned professionals that have learned how to utilize these tools? Is the prospect’s decision maker a CXO, manager, buyer or end-user? Is your prospect’s decision making centralized, local or by franchisees? Have you implemented database marketing? Do you operate globally in every time zone with salespeople speaking multiple languages? Does your product/service come under different regulatory requirements based on the end-user’s location? How do you communicate with your sales team? Can your customer view the location of their salesperson/delivery/service vehicle and the ETA? These are questions that should be studied. The sole determinant of success is no longer solely driven by continuous improvement of the product/service – sales digitization is taking a larger role in determining the bottom line and remaining competitive. The modern logistics supply chain increased profit by 7% for many companies. What is your sales staff’s supply chain?
How long was it before you installed your first fax machine, got laptops for your sales team, got cellphones, got smart phones, started using Microsoft Office365 or added a Customer Records Management (CRM) system? Do you use Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or blog? Do you have a website? Are you an “Early Adopter” of new technology or do you wait for the new digital tools to mature before “Crossing the Chasm” as described in Geoffrey Moore’s 1991 book titled by the same name? Can your salespeople self-manage their success or do they obtain the results in monthly/quarterly/annual reports?
There is no “right” answer to these questions – the answers simply create a baseline for your preparedness to remain competitive in the digitalized sales revolution. The reality is that companies are perfectly organized to deliver the results they achieve. If you are not satisfied with your results, something needs to change. The path to improvement might lie more in your sales tools than your leadership, sales staff, product/service or market.
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