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It’s Prediction Season Again

by David Brock on December 1st, 2021

It’s that time of year where it’s fashionable to make predictions about the big issues for sales, marketing, and customer experience. Various experts and “gurus” discuss their view of the “big issues,” we face and changes for the coming year.

Many are very good, some are intended to stir up controversy, some are promoting the offerings of the guru.

I have mixed feelings when people ask me for my predictions. Most of the time I feel like Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day. It seems every year we go through the same thing–perhaps updated with new buzzwords or with a veneer of new technology, but at it’s core, the predictions are the same year after year.

This has been happening for almost 40 years. Yes, the technologies have changed, but the predictions have always included some version of technology that “changes” the world. We’ve gone through things like voicemail, PCs, email, mobile phones, the web, CRM, search, social, … up do AI/ML. All have been important, but none have changed the fundamental principles that drive effectiveness and performance.

Some of the other things have focused on the latest, greatest methodologies, inevitably a lot include finding and acquiring new customers.

They are all the same, but with new words and emphasis, year after year.

For a couple of months, these generate lots of discussion, but we continue doing what we have always done, focusing on our goals, pitching our products and making the number.

One would also expect, with the predictions, we would improve, we would get better. But we don’t seem to be. Quota performance continues to decline, customers are finding alternatives to working with sales people and even leveraging our content. Employee engagement and tenure are plummeting. In fact, for the past 5 years, one of the most popular predictions of “gurus” is the “death of sales.”

It’s difficult not be become cynical about all of this.

As a result, I’ve given up on predictions–they are meaningless.

Instead, I have three wishes. I hope to see changes–despite my pessimism in this post, I’m actually very optimistic.

Wish #1: Do the work! We seem to continually look for the “Easy Button.” So many of the predictions provide escapes from accountability and for actually doing the work. What we do in sales, marketing, customer experience is tough work! We are agents of change and people fear/resist change. There are no magic formulas or cures. While technologies and methodologies can help us connect and engage with greater impact, we still have to do the work. Somehow, we have a mindset that we want the job, we want the rewards associated with the job, but we don’t want to do the work. We want to just collect POs.

Wish #2: Listen to the customer! Our customers have, for decades, told us what they need from us and what they expect. They struggle with change, they struggle with buying, they need help in making sense of what they face and moving forward to achieve their goals. Customers tell us, every day, what we need to do to earn their business, we only need to listen and engage in ways that are meaningful to them. But instead, we focus on our goals and what we need to achieve, failing to recognize that until we help the customer achieve their goals, it’s impossible for us to achieve ours. (And managers must recognize their people are their customers.)

Wish #3: Care–care deeply! Care about what you do as individuals and collectively. Care about your customers and their success. Care about your peers and your people. Sales, marketing, customer experience—business has always been about people, yet we seem to have done as much as we can to remove the humanity from our interactions. Customers become widgets in our engagement processes. Our people are scripted replaceable widgets in our organizations. Yet it is the human connection that, ultimately, makes the difference. It drives engagement, change, confidence and our shared success.

I’ll stop with these three wishes. They’ve always been foundational principles to everything we do, yet we seem to forget them. However, if we focused on these things, we will create tremendous results–with our customers, our people and for ourselves.

As pessimistic as I may seem in my comments, I’m tremendously hopeful.

I’m privileged to work with organizations doing these things. They tend to be the consistent leaders in their industries and markets. They create organizations that create meaning and value with their customers. They create organizations that create meaning and value for their people, shareholders, and communities. These organizations serve as models to others that these three wishes are foundations to success.

I’m hopeful, also, because we see some forcing functions that force us to look at these foundational issues and change. Customers are (and always have been) in control. They are changing how they buy, forcing us to respond. They want help and they reward those that are, in fact, helpful.

The “Great Resignation,” is forcing us to re-examine our workplaces and how we create organizations and work that have meaning. It forces us to create organizations where people are valued, respected, challenged and can grow.

I’m no longer interested in predictions, we know what we need to do, we know what drives shared success and engagement. It’s time we paid attention and did those things.

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