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Our Plunging Sales Discourse

by David Brock on July 6th, 2019

Preface: Sometimes holiday weekends give me the chance to sit back, reflect, looking at things a little more broadly or philosophically than normally. I’m, also, prone to wandering a little, so forgive me. Perhaps this is more for me than you, but I hope you get value, as well.

I suppose it’s naive to think the level and quality of discourse on selling be any different than that we see in society in general.

Regardless, where one lives in the world, what political or social affiliations/beliefs one has, thoughtful discourse is virtually non-existent. Instead of listening, learning (even if to reaffirm our own beliefs), our tribalism is hardening and separating us.

We live in a world of increasing complexity, volatility, stress, and risk. The challenges we face are non-trivial (if there ever was an understatement). We cannot begin to address these from hardened tribal positions where the quality of communication seems to be judged by the volume and intensity, and less by the ideas and what we might learn.

We no longer seem interested in improving, getting better, and advancing as individuals and societies, but rather isolating ourselves to our tribes. Our tribal mindset is closed to anything outside that group. And society seems to be dominated by tribal mob behaviors.

While in sales, we don’t deal with profound societal and other issuesissues (for the most part); we do have important missions: We serve our customers, helping them grow, improve, and achieve. We serve our companies and colleagues, helping them grow, improve, and achieve.

The results of our work are actually pretty profound. Customers making bad decisions (whether because of us or in spite of us) lose their jobs, sometimes companies might fail (that’s a little dramatic). The same thing happens within our own companies; we fail to do our jobs, others lose theirs and our companies may fail.

We are confronted with research report after research report providing us “report cards” on our performance. And we seem to consistently reach for new lows. Our customers are voting with their time, current Gartner data shows total engagement with sales (all vendors), is 17%. I suspect in updated versions of the research will show further declines.

Yet, our social conversations and discourse on sales seem to ignore this. It’s all pretty self/tribal centered, less focused on how we help our customers and our companies. Instead, we see the same hardened tribal mentalities, each tribe suggesting they have THE answer to success, that they are right, everyone else is wrong, that they have the truth.

Those that think they are shifting people’s positions, probably are only building fervor within their group and resistance from others. Those that claim to teach, may be reaching only those who have already drunk their particular brand of Kool Aid.

Sadly, I suppose like much of society, our social platforms, our digital presence seem to harden our positions and create greater tribalism, rather than improve our abilities to learn, grow, achieve, do our jobs and serve our constituencies. Stated more directly, we live in digital wastelands in which little learning and growth takes place.

We seem to have lost the ability to say, “Yes and…,” instead responding, “NO, BUT…” We resort to disparagement, not just of ideas, but of people. Disparagement of individuals is the lowest form of discourse and competition. It eliminates any chance of learning and stops growth.

Lest one think I’m being overly pessimistic, there is a huge bright spot and great reason for optimism–for those that pay attention and want to seize the opportunity.

Our sales tribalism is meaningless to our customers. It is irrelevant and they don’t care, they may be preoccupied by their own tribes.

When I talk to our clients, generally CEOs and VPs of Sales/Marketing, they don’t care about our sales tribes. They care about producing results. They know high performance selling is not just doing one thing or even adopting one approach, technique, or methodology. They know there is no one truth or right answer. They skillfully weave together the pieces that have the greatest impact for them.

They do this, because whatever they sell, they know their customers don’t care about their methodology, tools, techniques, systems or processes. Their customers care about their own problems and producing results.

They struggle, though, they are trying to figure it out. They are overwhelmed by complexity, both that within their own organizations, and that within their customers.

It’s conversations with the executives, managers, and sales people who live in the real world and just want to excel in their jobs that give me great joy and keep me coming back to play, and learn and grow with them.

Now it’s reasonable to think, “Dave, why are you putting this out into the ‘social/digital desert.’ Aren’t you just wasting your time, it won’t change behaviors, the tribes will become more tribal?”

Perhaps it’s my idealism (even naivete). I believe we can and must be better in our sales practice and discourse. We must improve our performance for the sake of our customers and our companies. We must change and improve our discourse in our social and digital channels.

Selling is not easy, buying is not easy. We live in worlds of increasing complexity/turbulence. Anyone who has spent anytime trying to understand complexity recognize there is no right answer. There is no best practice. It is always situational and contextual. And it’s the job of leaders (those with leadership titles, those who profess to be thought leaders/influencers, and those individuals who seek lead) to thoughtfully figure this out.

Hardening of positions and tribes don’t create meaning or learning. We are both right and we are wrong — each of us. While we purport to have the answers, we don’t. But we can help each other figure out what’s right for them, their situation, their context—knowing that it will be some combination of many approaches and practices.

We are better than those tribal conversations that dominate our social/digital platforms. We must be better for our companies and our customers.

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One Comment
  1. Joel Lyles permalink

    Hi Dave!

    Over the past year, I’ve been introduced to a lot of brilliant sales leaders of diverse backgrounds thanks to this blog and LinkedIn. Now while I try to keep in mind that your world is not the world of 95% of sales organizations, I’m still surprised at how much leaks through the cracks. For example, I talked to a friend who just took a job as an SDR, never had sales experience before, and she was immediately able to pinpoint how BANT and the traditional process of qualification was self-oriented, especially for SDRs. The way she wants to do her job, it sounds like she wants to try something more in the level of Anthony Iannarino’s Level 4 selling, even though I know she’s never heard of him or his Eat Their Lunch. That is, instead of following the ‘training’ she wants to engage prospects at a level of learning about their KPIs, their strategic objectives, and their industry. She’s never been in sales, her previous experience was a lab tech.

    I also talked over the phone to a former colleague right before the holiday weekend started who is killing it at his job, but also expressed a lot of dissatisfaction about how he feels that the traditional sales process is too self-oriented. He hates, in his own words, begging for a meeting and wasting peoples’ times with brochures and presentations and wondered if that’s all there is to sales. I pointed him towards Jim Keenan and your blog and he was all ‘oh man! So many wasted years, lol’. I don’t know if he’ll stay at his job, but even if he doesn’t, I think he’ll like his career a lot more when he knows that there’s a lot more to this job.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: please don’t give up. The worm is in fact turning.

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