Is The Profession Of Sales At An Inflection Point?
“An Inflection Point is a point on a curve at which the sign of the curvature changes.”
“Think of it [and inflection point] as a turning point….This profound change could be positive or negative.”
In sales, particularly B2B sales, I think we are at an inflection point. In the past 100 years, I believe there have only been two other inflection points in sales. But this one is different than the other two. For those that recognize it and embrace it, the opportunity can be extraordinary. For some, missing it will mean failure.
Let’s step back a moment. I believe there have only been two other inflection points in sales in the past 100 years. The first, probably was driven by the works of Dale Carnegie who started formalizing the role of the sales professional, developing methods, principles, and approaches which, when consistently implemented drove the effectiveness of people who sold.
The second, was driven by the works of Neil Rackham and Mack Hanan in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Their works shifted the focus of B2B sales people to be more customer focused, value oriented, and consultative in their approaches. They introduced stronger processes, methodologies, and disciplines associated with this customer focused and consultative approach. They were the real drivers in putting the customer at the center of sales. A great number of other thought leaders, like Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman, helped accelerate sales adoption of this change through their works. Since then, there has been a huge amount of good work. A lot of great research in the academic world, many important books that have had a great impact on me and millions of other professionals. But all this work has been primarily derivative of Neil’s and Mack’s works or extensions of it.
These two inflection points have something in common, they were driven from within the profession. They were fundamentally changes initiated by insightful sales professionals and executives, and have been sustained within the profession.
We are at a new inflection point, something which presents great opportunity. But this inflection point is different from the previous two. This is the first inflection point that is not being driven by sales, but rather by customers! Kind of scary isn’t it? The most profound change to our profession is being driven from outside our profession. The rules are changing and we aren’t making them (as if we ever really did).
We’re still trying to understand what this means, we’re struggling to discover new processes, methods, disciplines, skills, roles, and responsibilities. We have many opinions about what they are, many of those are converging.
Since this inflection point is different, we have the opportunity to address it differently. Where in the past, the changes were driven within the profession, perhaps this is the opportunity for us to change the way we drive the changes. Perhaps this is the opportunity not to do it by ourselves, but to embrace the customer in helping us to define the new methods, processes, skills needed to take advantage of this inflection point.
I’m interested in your views on this. I’ll be writing much more on this. One of the things I believe is happening simultaneously, is that marketing is at an inflection point. Couple these together and opportunities abound.
One thing is certain, there could not be a more exciting time to be in sales!
This coming Monday, April 4, at 2:00 PM EDT, Dave Stein, Charlie Green, and I will be starting a conversation about this at a Focus.com Roundtable: Professional Sales, Are We At An Inflection Point? Join us, it should be a great discussion.
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