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Sales Professional 3.0

by David Brock on March 17th, 2011

Okay, okay, I know the title of this post will shock many of my regular followers.  You know that I have long railed against the terminology Sales 2.0, ERP 2.o, CRM X.0, and so forth.  I’ve succumbed—at least for the purposes of this post.

Over the past week, I’ve been involved in a number of discussions about the future of selling (surprise).  Last week, for example, I attended the Sales 2.o conference.  I heard the prediction that the number of sales jobs in the US would go from 18M to 3M in 2020.  I continue to read about the “death of selling,” (perhaps wishful thinking).

I have to say I agree–and disagree.  I think all this speaks to the tremendous transformation our profession is going through–at least B2B sales.  The role of the sales professional is changing profoundly, driven by tremendous shifts in the way customers buy.  The traditional roles of the sales person are fast changing.  Even the role of the sales person as a consultative, solutions oriented, trusted advisor is no longer sufficient to meet the changing demands of customers or our own organizations.  Even the role of the sales person as the “organization’s face to the customer,” no longer appropriately describes what is critical to support revenue generation and business growth in the future.

Those skills will still be needed, but the role of the sales professional is fast changing to that of a general manager–whether a general manager for a major account or that of a geographic territory.  Sales Professional 3.0 has to have a much richer set of skills.  They have to create a vision and execute a strategy to maximize the revenue penetration and growth within their assigned customer set.  They have to orchestrate getting the right resources in front of the right customers at the right time.  Whether it’s the right marketing campaigns to nurture and develop the customer, whether it’s getting the right customer service resources in to solve a problem.  It may be engaging a customer in discovering a new opportunity to grow their business or in thinking about differently about how they run their business.  It might be connecting great current customers with prospects, it might be monitoring and leveraging discussions in the “social” world.

Yes, the sales person will still have many meetings with customers and prospects, they will still have a sales process–but the process will be much richer—focusing on customer experience management and facilitating customer buying cycles.  We’ll still be doing proposals and making presentations—or directing resources to help us do those.  We will still manage pipelines, opportunities and projects, making sure the business for which we are general managers is meeting its business performance objectives and we are satisfying both the needs and demands of our customers, partners (internal/external) and stakeholders.

The skills of Sales Professional 3.0 will be much broader and richer.  They will have to start by being outstanding consultative/solutions focused sales people—but that’ just table stakes.  They will have to have rich business/financial management skills, deep project management skills, great leadership/team building skills.  They will have to become masters of collaboration (both internal, with partners, and customers) and facilitation.  They will have to have rich change management skills.

Analytic skills, being able to assess data, develop and executing strategies that are data and fact driven, making business decisions about resource allocation and risk management will be key to the success of Sales Professional 3.0.  Relationship management, leadership, trust remain critical–both in managing customer relationships, internal and partner relationships.

Navigating the organization, enlisting resources across the organization and outside the organization will be critical skills.  Being able to leverage resources that don’t report to the Sales Professional 3.0, motivating them to support the execution of the business plan are important.

Sales Professional 3.0 will have to make investment decisions–they will have to choose where in their territories they will have to invest–resources, time, people.  They will have to determine how to get the greatest return not only on their time and that of the people and resources they leverage into the territory.

While the number of “traditional sales jobs” may  decline dramatically over the next 10 years, there will always be a need for people responsible for managing revenue generation, customer relationships, and territory growth.  Increasingly they won’t look like traditional sales people.  But whatever title we call them, they will need the skills and capabilities of Sales Professional 3.0.

Do you agree with this shift in the sales role?  What do you think Sales Professional 3.0 will look like?


  1. Mike permalink


    Nice work on the future of the sales role. It seems to me that the challenge is getting top management to understand what you have written and support the effort. Too many times top executives look backwards and think sales is just going to a ball game with the customer and asking for an order. The problem is related to an earlier article you posted about “who owns the customer”. Unless policy decisions support the Sales 3.0 then you are left with high expectations and less than adequate support. To that extent, top management owns the customer by providing the support to the 3.0 sales team. The listening part never changes.


    • Mike, it’s great to hear from you! Good to have you join the discussion. You raise some great points. Management, at all levels, need to understand the profound changes in how customers buy, then look at all aspects of the customer buying experience. Once they start understanding the issues invovled, then they will start to grasp the changes required. Thanks for contributing Mike!

  2. Kevin Burns permalink

    Excellent post David – I’d just say that there’s one other thing that needs to be added, without which the other stuff isn’t as effective. Care about the customer. Overtly, and consistently, care about your customer – beyond their potential as a prospect.

    I know its simple, but too few do it fully – those that do care every time, and back that care up with their actions will win at a rate far higher than their competitors. Those that don’t will be in that group coking for a new line of work by 2020.

    Great post – keep the good stuff coming!

    • Great catch and comment Kevin! Thanks for adding it to the discussion. You are absolutely right, it is so easily said, but so rarely practiced. Look forward to seeing you join more discussions.

  3. David: Great to hear from you. I agree that the role of the sales person will continue to change. It has been evolving over the years and will continue to do so just as the decisionnmakers and buying roles evolve as the nature of doing business in general changes with the global economy. Some things will never change,finding the needs,getting to the right person,engaging in business conversations of substance,client retention and growth etc. Sales People will be forced to become better business managers,be more astute to the financial picture of a company. Today i dare say most sales people would have serious problems reading and understanding an annual report or a financial statement.

    • Norman, thanks for the great comment. I couldn’t agree with you more. While we are going through a major inflection point, there are some things that will always persist–as core skills or foundations. The absence of those will further disadvantage many–they may be some of the 15 million lost. The high performers will have the strong foundation and will step up in developing new skills.

  4. Dave,
    I sold my IT equipment solutions company in 2005 because in 2004 I realized the customer was bypassing our Sales team (very capable, enterprise level professionals) and using the internet to formulate plans. No matter how much you want to be a “trusted adviser” to your customer, the truth is their browser is at their fingertips 24/7. I hated to see the sand shift beneath our feet, but it also meant their were new opportunities emerging. I got out and never looked back.

    I know you are referring to Sales x.0 with a bit of tongue in cheek humor but maybe, just maybe you have something there. I made a dramatic change, embraced the shift to buyer empowerment and started a new company that exploits the new self-service environment.

    Internet marketing has pushed inside sales very far down the sales cycle. Inside sales has pushed direct sales group even further. Selling is $500,000 deals over the phone is now commonplace.

    Either ride the wave or get crushed by it….

    Dale – EchoQuote

    • Dale, thansk for joining the conversation, it’s great to hear from you! You point out vivid examples of the shift, but also the continued need for selling, albeit transformed. Too many don’t even see the wave……..

      Thanks for joining the discussion, hope to see you here in the future. Regards, Dave

  5. John R. Carroll permalink


    I think Mack would agree.


    • John, thanks for the comment. I think he would — I have another one coming up in a week that he’d be really proud of. I’ll let you know when I publish it. It’s great to hear from you.

  6. Hi Dave

    I absolutley strongly agree with all your points of view as described in your article. As a fellow Sales Performance Coach I experience this sales evolution on a daily basis with all my clients. Tragically there are those ,mostly individuals, that “will not see” and they are fast becoming victims of change. I use JFK’s quote almost as a credo ” Change is the law of life & those that look to the present or to the past are destined to miss the future”! I, also like you, do not believe that we will “lose” that many salespeople – especially in complex BTB…as you say they might go under a different name – but selling is part of their broader job description. And infact these “new salespeople” are actually extremely valuable to clients as they solve client complex problems and thus more valuble to the employe than ever beforer. These Sales 3.0 salespeople are far from being a commodity transactions facilitator.For sure in the not too distant future – these will be virtually the ONLY salespeople left! I have two large Business Management Consultancies as clients and they need to address all of what you’ve described so eloquently. Their main challenges are to firstly realise that their strong Brand will not create the incremental growth they are targeting nor “close any business” for them and that thus they have to get out there and fulfill the role of a salesperson; especially firstly creating demand and then in developing a differentiated business value proposition that is strongly aligned to the “buying center” and for them then to close the sales opportunity in the shortest posssible time period. Increased Sales productivity aswell as efficiency being pivitally important in todays sales world – and thus moving the sales performance bell curve to the right hand side. Bringing about this realisation then with these organisations that they indeed need to firstly focus on formalising the sales function in order to move the sales curve is not difficult – getting them to then apply all the principles you’ve highlighted and others is the next challenge …its a difficult journey as many of these senior Consultants have “old economy” sales behaviors entrenched in their DNA…but hey …thats the reason I am able to make a living; helping these organisations and individuals navigate the road ahead 🙂 !

    Sorry for the long reply to your excellant article.


    • Bruno, it’s great to hear from you. Thanks for joining the discussion. I love the examples you cite—it’s remarkable that consultants are blind to this in their own practice. One has to wonder how they are helping their clients.

  7. Jim permalink


    I certainly agree with this perspective of “sale” as the “general manager”. However, I do not believe this is the future. I believe this is the present for most B2B sales and has been for a while now. In many cases, the difficulty is in upper management truely understanding the role of sales as the general manager described here. Effective B2B sales is about the overall experience provided to the customer, not just the sales “hand holding” and presentations but also the service, support, logistics, etc. that make that customer more successful than they would otherwise be.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Jim, it’s great to hear from you and to have you join the conversation. You are actually right—I took the easy way out calling it a future requirement. The future is here! The best sales professionals are already performing in that role–and winning more business.

      I really appreciate you pointing this out. It’s great to see you joining the conversation and I hope to see you here, commenting, again.

  8. First time resopnder.
    I work in an industry that saw the loss of sales people to the ways of the Internet. In the Stock Photography business what once was a laborious sequence of events to get a photo to an ad agency or publisher, etc, now is reduced to opening a browser and downloading what you need. There is a small part left to management of photos which are Rights Managed, but 90% of the business is now at YOUR fingertips. You don’t even have to pay at the time you purchase as you purchase credits before and then use these credits to aquire the rights to use the photo.

    The Internet and all its folly reduces the sale to a mere transaction.
    i agree that sales jobs will be reduntant in 10 years. I am nearing retirement, so I am OK, but for those just getting into sales and wanting to become someone and make a great income you need to get the courses and learn the business side of life.

    • Andrew, welcome and thanks for joining the discussion! You make some great observations, throughout history, whether it’s technology or something else, industries are constantly being restructured. Take the shift of manufacturing from developed countries to the developing economies, or the rise of outsourcing. Likewise the internet is restructuring how people buy. In many industries, sales jobs will disappear, in some many new sales jobs will be created. In some sales jobs will be shifte to other locations.

      One of the most interesting things I am seeing is that many companies that have traditionally been in “commoditized” or “transactional” selling processes—where the future of the sales person is threatened, forward thinking companies are redefining the customer experience and relationship. Through a redefined customer experience, they are de-commoditizing what sales people are doing, not only protecting jobs, but profoundly changing the customer relationship.

      This shift has mandated their sales people change what they do. They are no longer glorified order takers, but are value business partners.

      I believe the future for sales people is very bright, but only when the role is redefined in the context of the new buying.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, hope to see you commenting on an ongoing basis!

  9. Hi David,

    I didn’t get to the Sales 2.0 conference, but I watched Gerhard’s interview right after his keynote ( where he repeated his prediction. I’m not buying it.

    On the negative side, if you strip out all the direct seller/MLM businesses and the B2C/retail jobs, there are only about 4.4 million B2B salespeople in the country (

    On the positive side, while the skills required will change (and always have) the need for a personal relationship for B2B salespeople will not. Buyers are definitely doing more research before sending RFPs and taking meetings. But this does not mean that personal contact and an ongoing relationship isn’t required to close the deal.

    I think Gerhard is trying to say “Over the next ten years, your job will change. Your title will change. The skills required to be successful will change.” The need for revenue will not change. And at least for B2B buyers, the most effective path to get it, via a personal, trusted relationship, is going to be around for a long time.

    • Matthew, thanks for joining the discussion. I tend to agree, I think the key issue is that the job will change dramatically. Regards, Dave

  10. Steve Bent permalink

    Very interesting discussion you’ve started Dave!

    Great post, took me a little while to get my head round it tbh.

    I totally agree about the person’s role will need to be broader and they will need to do more, but to what degree?

    All of your excellent points require time to execute, and yet this salesperson needs to be hitting numbers to actually be performing his role.

    Perhaps some tyrant will become the Henry Ford of selling and find a way to compartmentalise each step in the sales process even more, perhaps through more use of technology for certain parts of the process – who knows what the future holds!

    Just as a manager needs to lead, and coach, and comply to ever increasing rules be they HR or H&S, he also needs to up his game in the sales area, he needs to generate leads from nothing, and not just sell to them but demonstrate the value in taking even morel: He needs to make it happen. So yes the blinkered view of what is required from a salesperson will change (isn’t it already changing?)

    I think for me, what your post has helped me understand about myself, is that rather than sales being a role (a person) I seem to view it as skill.

    So I’m agreeing. The roles WILL change, there will be more skills needed, it will be wider reaching, but for those worried about the shift; take some comfort in the fact that the skills will always be required, and if you’ve got sales skills then I feel there will be a place where you can bring home the bacon, even in 2020!

    I always say that it doesn’t matter if you currently work at Cisco selling high end, high priced solutions to large business, or you walked round the US in the 1930’s selling encyclopedia’s door to door, the principles of selling are still required. It’s a bit old, it’s a bit basic, it’s a bit generic, but Q P A will always exist. It certainly isn’t groundbreaking news:

    Q: Find out about the customer (Question!)
    P: Match the Product
    A; Ask for the business

    So whilst it will need to be tailored for individual, situation, industry and customer:

    Q: “So what’s your situation Paul?”

    P: “That’s really interesting Paul. What excites me about this apparent dilemma is that….”

    A: “How about we get this up and running for you today?”

    The great thing is that if it is skill dependent, not role dependent then there will always be a need for those skills, so if you have them there will always be a need for you.

    …or is this just wishful thinking, as I need another 20 years out of this sales coaching & training lark! 😉

    How long until “What can I get you for dessert?” is asked by a robot or screen instead of a revenue maximising smiling face…..??!!

    • Steve, it’s great to hear from you! Hope all is well. Thanks for the great comments—particularly the last line—-wonder when a robot will be asking me, “Are you the decisionmaker and what’s your budget?”

  11. Good Day David,
    Great insights, bulls eye. I agree with you.Yes the role of the sales professional is becoming more dynamic, Apart form product knowledge, selling skills, relationship management, resource management ,the focus has to be on regular analysis and behaviour pattern, market trend. The challenge is to accept the change, adapt smart ways to tap the exisiting and explore new markets to suit your business plan and profitability.
    Sajid A R
    RewardPort / TravelPort

    • Sajid, thanks for the comment. You are highlighting the importance of sales people becoming more business managers. I think this is critical. Appreciate you joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  12. I usually don’t have the time to read all of the comments, but I believe in summary that everyone agrees with you David. You make some very good points regarding the continuous shift from the work sales does. I believe that one of the reasons is that marketing and sales are working as a team much more effectively then in the past. (and if your not…your late!) I was involved ini a major shift when all IT companies just could not afford the headcount they were providing in large accounts. We wanted to reduce the headcount and get the same results. Customers wanted the same level of service and not pay any more then the cheapest channel. It eventually fell in line, many organizations used channels much more effectively, and inside sales helped the coverage while reducing sales costs. It was kind of painful though.

    Let’s say this is all true, we all agree on changes, even though we may not know how, when, and what changes to the sales rep behavior. What I want to know, is what does all this change mean to the sales manager? Now, more then ever, industry knowledge or good sales skills are not what our first line managers need to have. Can they coach and develop their team on determining what is important to a client and that includes the way they acquire products and services.

    Even if we set the goal that we want to deliver our solutions to the client in ZERO seconds, at ZERO price and with ZERO defects, we will fall short. What is important to the client? They know that goal is not important, but a sales team with that goal is going to work with me to determine what is best.

    So, with these changes, we need sales managers that can think outside the box! We need managers that can listen and coach to today’s needs, not yesterdays, and that means we need managers who can help our sales people with creative solutions. If they can coach and develop people in that capacity, some of them may have different roles, but the TEAM can get the job done.

    • Jim, thanks for the comment. Just as we are raising the bar on sales people, these shifts raise the bar on sales managers. Coaching is a critical skill, but the number of dimensions and depth at which they coach is going to change. I think this puts a great challenge on today’s sales managers because so few of them have been trained to coach well and execute that well, so the personal growth they will have to go through will, perhaps, be tougher than with sales people.

      But there’s more than that—we tend to focus on managers’ roles as coaches—partly because such a poor job is done in this area. But we can’t forget the job of the manager and leader is not just coaching. We believe there are five pillars fundamental to the sales leader’s job: Leadership, Strategy, Operations (Business Management), Coaching, People. Without going into these deeply (I’ve written a lot about these in other posts and areas), the manager has to work across all these dimensions. Coaching by itself is insufficient to establish and sustain the highest levels of performance.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment and joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  13. Hi David,

    I really like the way you framed the relationship between raw data and customer insight. So much so that we decided to expand this sales intelligence topic on our blog: . We will do a series covering specific internal and externa data sources available to reps for research, and then highlight examples of what it means to surface real insights and meaning from all that raw data…connecting the dots.

    We look forward to taking this discussion to the next level and expanding with some real sales examples.


    • Andrew, thanks for joining the discussion. I think sales intelligence and analytics offer tremendous power to sales professionals–we are only scratching the surface of it’s power. Look forward to your series. Regards, Dave

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