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Are We Getting Better As Sales Professionals?

by David Brock on December 14th, 2015
BMW parking

Some of you know that one of my biggest vices is high performance vehicles.  My garages, at various times, have been filled with cool motorcycles, old American muscle cars, and occasionally an exotic vehicle.  Recently, I indulged in buying a new car.  It has some awesome technologies, all oriented to making my driving experience better and easier.

The car is fantastic, it almost parks itself (actually in Europe it would).  It has cameras and sensors that guide me into the parking spot and forces me to stop just shy of the curb.  When I drive, it keeps me from drifting outside my lane.  If my attention lapses and the car drifts, the steering wheel vibrates, if there is a car next to me, the car actively steers me back to the center of my lane.

I could go on and on. It’s just loaded with features that make it easier for me to drive, help alert me, and help make me a better safer driver.

But that’s the challenge.  I’m not sure it is making me a better driver.  It’s taking things over for me, as a result I find my self just slightly less attentive.  As an example, I don’t check my side view mirrors as much, because I know the car will keep me from changing lanes if there is a care right next to me.  As a result, I’ve turned  a lot of those features off, forcing me to be very attentive to what’s happening when I drive (though I still love the parking features).

I see much of the same thing happening in sales.  Prescription has become the big buzzword.  In prescription, we spell out the things sales people need to do to maximize their success.  A sales process is prescriptive.

But increasingly, I’m seeing attempts to be overly prescriptive, trying t to consider every possible thing a sales person should do and every situation they might encounter.  One of the simplest ways to think about this is scripting.

There are some positives to this, it improves consistency of execution across the sales team.  If the script is based on what makes us most successful, then it should improve results.

But all of us have encountered or have been the struggling sales person when the customer seems to have a script that doesn’t match ours.

If gets more complex than this.  There are hundreds of tools trying to help us be better sales people.  They do our research of us, presenting talking points, they do analysis suggesting customers we should target, they help us refine and identify next steps and actions we should be taking.  We can launch prospecting campaigns, blindly, with the touch of a few buttons.

So all these things done under the labels of sales enablement, training, and tools are focused on helping us be better sales people.  These tools can provide tremendous help in improving our efficiency, sometimes even improving our effectiveness.

Sometime, however, I wonder if these are making us better sales people, or if they enable us to stop paying attention.

We blindly execute our scripts, not really listening, not quite engaging.  We stop thinking, evaluating and responding.

We rely on the tools to help us, but focus more on volume and quantity, rather than thoughtful and impactful communication.

Too often, we go unconscious, going on autopilot.

All these things that are focused on making us better–and can if we apply them thoughtfully, can seduce us into not paying attention.  Rather than making us better, we become sloppy, lazy, we stop thinking and analyzing.

I would never suggest we turn off these things, they do enable us—not make us—to be better and more impactful.  But we have to be attentive, we have to recognize the intent is to help us focus, to improve the quality of how we engage our customers, to be more thoughtful and mindful in each interaction with every customer.

The future of driving is interesting.  Within a few years, my car won’t need me as a driver.

If we stop paying attention, perhaps the future is the same for sales?

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  1. Tim Ohai permalink

    Dave, this is another excellent post. To me, you are illuminating the design point for what sales is (and is becoming). Professional selling is not about transactions, sharing information, or even basic relationships. The Internet and cloud-based tools can manage all of that. But what technology cannot do is solve problems. At this point in history, sales people who can solve problems (and navigate the obstacles in the way of achieving our customers’ goals) are the most valuable, most relevant resources that our customers have. It would make sense then that if our technology does not actually help us be professional problem solvers, it is not really helping us as sales professionals. In other words, if we put ourselves into autopilot as just transaction/information/relationship pros, we have really no need to be in the sales profession. What do you think?

    • Tim, you are 100% on target. We help our customers discover problems and opportunities, we help them figure out what they really want to achieve, we help them figure out what to buy, and we help them implement. The more we focus on delivering those capabilities to our customers the more we make ourselves indispensable and truly valued partners.

      If we stop doing that, if we start putting ourselves on autopilot, we aren’t as engaged and we start showing our customers they don’t need us. My car will soon be able to drive itself–that will free me up to do something else while I’m in the car (though I soooooo enjoy driving). If our prescriptive scripts and tools end up doing the job of selling for us, then we won’t be needed. Thanks for the great comment!

  2. There’s a lot in your post I can relate to. But if I may, I’d like to give another take on it as well. I think the sales tools you mention become a crutch for the average and bad sales people since they may believe that sales is just a question of matching A to B and saying the right words. But the good and excellent sales people know that the right tools help us with the science of sales but not with the art of sales. And the art of it, listening and connecting with your prospect, understanding what makes them tick, etc. is what gets us the yes. Just my 2c.

    • Ludovic: I don’t disagree. I think too many times the tools become a crutch, instead of leveraging critical thinking skills, listening, connecting, and others, the tools become a crutch. I think this is more of a leadership issue than anything else. The tools can offer great power in amplifying the capabilities of great sales people. But if management doesn’t provide the right leadership, the tools become a crutch, not enhancing sales but reducing capability.

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