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How Many Times Are We Going To Have This Discussion?

by David Brock on November 20th, 2017

Sales is an interesting function, we seem to be caught in a perpetual “deja vu” or one of those scenes in the movie “Ground Hog Day.”

Having been involved in professional selling for most of my career, I’m at the point where I hear the same conversations all over again, and again, and again.

You know the conversations I’m talking about:

  • We have to stop pitching, start listening…..
  • We have to be customer focused……
  • We have to be account focused…..
  • We have to create value and provide insight……
  • We have to focus on our customers’ problems and provide insights….
  • We have to segment and target our messages and sales efforts….
  • We have to use our sales process……
  • We need to get people to use the tools…..
  • We have to plan and prepare for our sales calls….
  • We have to prospect……
  • We have to manage our time more effectively…..
  • We have to coach and develop our people……

I could go on and on, but you get the point.  It seems we go in always repeating the same conversations and cycles.  Each time, we seem to invent a new vocabulary or overlay it with a new technology.  We’ve gone from consultative, to solution, to customer centric, to customer focused, to solution (again), to challenger, to insight, to account based.  We’ve gone from door to door, to direct mail, to telephone, to email, to messaging, to mobile, to digital/web enabled, to AI, to…

Innovation seems, primarily, to be based on applying a new vocabulary and technology to the same old concepts and problems.

Ironically, we don’t seem to improve or change things.

Customers are saying the same things about why they don’t like sales people.  Performance actually isn’t getting better, it seems to get worse.

At some point, one begins to think this is madness.

Recently, I was speaking to a few colleagues, like me, they’ve been around the block a few times.  We reflected on other functions or professions, including engineering, development, manufacturing, research, engineering, finance, etc.  While they tend to face the same type of problems they always have–how to innovate, how to reduce product design cycles, how to improve quality, how to improve manufacturing process, how to reduce cost, the nature of these problems is very different than they were in the past.  Somehow, it seems the state of their professions has advanced far more than sales.

For example, engineering and development have moved far beyond drafting boards and slide rules.  Lean/agile is standard practice in manufacturing.

It seems the state of their practice has progressed much further than the state of practice in sales.  The conversations are different, yes they have problems, but they aren’t talking about the same problems and same stale solutions they applied 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago.

What is it about selling that is different?  Why are we talking about the same things we have been talking about for decades, yet making no progress?  Why are we reliving the exact same issues year after year, decade after decade?  What keeps us from making substantive progress in our profession?

Without a doubt, our jobs have changed, but more driven by changes in our customers and how they buy, less so in changes and innovations driven by sales.  Technology has enabled new things, new ways of buying and enables us to create value in new and different ways–but we struggle to leverage these effectively.

I’m really interested in a conversation on this.  What is it, that causes sales to be trapped in the same conundrum, are we destined to live the same cycle year after year, or can we change?

What are your thoughts?



  1. Dave, like you I have a tough time understanding why salespeople and organizations, in the face of broad agreement on the right way to do things, and evidence that doing things right is financially rewarding, continue to do things wrong. One hypothesis I’ve adopted is that intermittent reinforcement – you can do it wrong and still close some deals – contributes to an attitude that keeps salespeople and managers from “doing the work” required to do it right. What do you think?

    • Great to see you here again Andy. I think that “close enough” works to some degree in sales, that keeps us from fully committing to doing things right. And sometimes despite how badly we do, customers still buy (terrific products). But I don’t think that’s the complete picture. Somehow there’s something more/different, but I can’t put my finger on it. Regards, Dave

  2. One of the difficulties is that there is no corresponding formal science to the practice of sales.

    The other disciplines you cite make progress precisely because they have a formal side which drag people along.

    • I tend to agree that it’s a challenge. While we can’t get the level of precision the other areas have, shouldn’t we be able to sustain improvement, advancing the profession?

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