Reading the sales headlines lately is enough to make any sales professional anxious. Robots taking their jobs, buyers not needing them, millennials not wanting them. I am not surprised some of the professionals I talk to wonder when their career will end.
Anyone who is proud to be a true sales professional seems to be living in the midst of a tense psychological drama. But just as with those movies, we know how it ends and we are deeply familiar with the story line.
The new trends affecting sales require change - but then again, what doesn’t. They require, more than anything, a deeper awareness and practice of what we have all been doing since sales was invented - connecting with people. They require companies to find and recruite elite sales professionals - not just 'A Players', but those that are consciously competent and focused on mastery of their profession.
The days of simply being the most charming person in the room are no longer enough. Floating through prospecting, sales processes and contract negotiations will no longer ensure you get the deal. (I would argue this has been the case for nearly a decade, but we still seem to be talking about it.) The changes in the market require the A Players to be ‘Consciously Competent’ - to practice their craft with purpose and precision.
The Millennial Element
Let’s start with the realities of the Millennial generation. Unlike many, I do not believe Millennials are all that different from previous generations. Their context is, but they are not.
When we grew up we did so in a physical environment - jumping dirt bikes off old refrigerator doors (without helmets I might add), asking for dates face to face (and dealing with the rejection and success with a group of friends in the backyard or basement), playing sports where contact was encouraged and winning was the only goal. Our context was messy, physical and boundary driven.
Millennials did many of the same things - but through a Gorilla glass screen that insulated them. Our context was more tactile. Theirs was more digital. Our scars were in the skin. Theirs in a social profile. We were told only our effort and results differentiated us from others. They were told they were unique and special just for being them..
So what? In the end, none of us were given a handbook on how to connect with people. We learned a different way than they did. Our parents learned a different way than us. But the desire for connection, the desire to find people to trust hasn’t changed from generation to generation and will not in the near future.
Sales professionals need to understand the different contexts. They need to understand their new buyers are better informed. They need to continually be educating themselves and sharpening their skills. They need to keep in mind the foundation on which their careers are built. And most importantly, the need to focus on behaviors that build trust.
In sales, the goal is creating the purposeful human interaction where together, you and your prospect or customer uncover and agree on a plan to solve challenges and address the related problems in a way that everyone wins (except the competition).
EQ and SI and AI….Oh My!
Combine the Millennial challenge with our deepening understanding of neuroscience and desire to create artificial intelligence and what do you end up with? Nothing particularly surprising.
There is little doubt we are learning more every day, discovering the underpinnings of things we assumed and now can prove. We can quantify today what we could not before. We can score and rate individuals on all types of axis and spectrums. We are able to name things. To categorize them. To focus on them. And if we want to remain relevant, adapt to them.
But this isn’t new. Electricity replaced candles. Steam and gas powered engines replaced horses. Automated factories replaced production lines. Renewable energy is replacing fossil fuels. Each delivered impacts to economies, companies and people across the board. Each required people, especially sales professionals, to adapt and change. To get better. To become more elite.
The latest trends are no different. The bar is constantly raised and whining about it will not stop it. Can sales professionals be more effective if they understand emotional and social intelligence? No. Knowing is not doing.
Sales professionals can be more effective if they consciously put this information into practice and have a proven framework that will support it. Just knowing something does not make anyone better. The actions they take as a result, the purposeful response to that knowledge, can.
Will Artificial Intelligence remove the need for sales professionals? No. The types of sales we do may change, but there will always be a need for human connection. Remember, trust is the name of the game.
I trust Alexa to set a timer, dim the lights, maybe even order a pizza - but I will never trust her with a decision that could affect my career. I don’t care how smart she becomes or how many stats or models she can run. She will never have the same fear I have of not providing for my family. She will never celebrate the same level of success when that unexpected moment happens. She may replicate joy, but she will never feel it.
Human beings make logical decisions for emotional reasons. We’re a long way from being able to create a truly sentient, feeling intelligence. And when we do, I doubt the validity of the sales profession will be a top concern.
The Answer: Don’t Forget the Foundation
The world has become more digital - more saturated with information, content, trends, buzzwords, and discoveries. The pace of business has increased. The buyers have become more informed. Context always changes and it is easy to get lost in it all - to be reactive rather than proactive.
Yet as long as people are involved, the fundamentals will not change. We may understand why people behave the way they do or the way the brain responds to certain situations. We may develop artificial intelligence to handle tasks and change our workload. We may even one day get that handbook on how to effectively connect with other people and get that date with the person we’re attracted to.
But no matter what new information is discovered or provided, as long as we continue to build on a framework that shows us ‘how’ to do things instead of ‘what’ to do - sales professionals will play a critical role in making business happen.