A number of years ago, I was working with a team of executives implementing some major changes to the organization and they way they worked. Previously, the team had attempted this change a couple of times and failed. Through the period of time, there had been constant reviews and discussions at all levels about what was happening and why things weren’t working.
This time around, I asked the team, “How will you know you’ve succeeded this time?” We had a number of metrics in place, but we were looking for other indicators that people were buying in. After a bit of a pause, one of the team members said, with a little frustration, “We know we’ve succeeded when we stop talking about it and it’s just what we do!”
Whether said out of frustration or thoughtful reasoning, that sentence has stuck with me ever since.
Think about the experience in your organizations. Look at any change initiative. Preceding the initiative and at the outset, there’s always a lot of “talk.” There all sorts of planning meetings, presentations, training sessions, and so forth. Executives make pronouncements, managers are constantly talking it up. It makes sense, it’s part of the communications process, it’s part of getting everyone aligned and on board.
Then something happens, people stop talking about it–but you see them doing it. Increasingly, it becomes just a natural part of doing business, ultimately it becomes part of the fabric of the business. People aren’t talking, they know longer pay attention to it, because it has become the natural way of doing things.
We see this across functions and industries. Years ago, I was involved in developing and selling engineering design and development systems (CAD/CAM/CAE). Pick up any journal, go to any conference, talk to thought leaders and all the discussions were about changing the way people designed products, leveraging technology and tools both to improve productivity and to provide capability never before imagined. Top executives in design, development, engineering spent lots of time talking about these issues. Today, no one would think of designing any kind or product without these tools. There’s not a lot of talk about these tools, it’s just what engineers, designers, and developers do. These approaches to design and development are used by everyone–in school, students use these tools. The smallest companies through giants. all have adopted the tools and the underlying design philosophies as the norm.
We see the same thing across all sorts of disciplines–manufacturing, finance, HR and so forth.
We see similar things in industries, as well. I started selling to banks after one of the first “electronic revolutions” in retail banking–the introduction of Automated Teller Machines (ATM’s). Previously, the entire customer experience model had been built around a consumer walking into the branch office. The ATM changed that, people could do much of their banking without setting foot in a branch. I used to go to conferences, read the American Banker, listen to the “experts,” everything was about the change to banking. Today, no one talks about it. Electronic banking, home banking are all just what banks do in servicing customers. Mobile banking is following quickly. It’s just the way banking is done.
Which brings me to sales and marketing.
When I first started selling in the early 80’s, one of “THE HOT TOPICS” in selling was “solutions selling, consultative selling, customer focused selling.” Everyone was talking about focusing on customer needs, or bringing customers new insight about how to rune their business. It filled magazines, books, and was at featured in conferences. Experts like Neil Rackham, Mack Hanan, Miller and Heiman, and others talked about this as the next step in B2B selling.
Likewise, in the early 90’s CRM was a hot topic. Everyone was rushing to implement CRM systems as the cornerstone to sales productivity.
Through the 80’s and 90’s, all the “talk” in the profession was about customer centricity–putting the customer at the center of how we sell, changing the engagement model, stopping pitching, doing more listening.
Likewise, many conversations were about value. Book after book, training class after training class focused on the importance of differentiated value propositions.
Fast forward to today, so much has changed, yet so much is still the same. What are we talking about? Pretty much the same thing—we change the words we use–we call Solutions or Customer Focused Selling, Challenger, Insight, Provocative Selling. Different words, but the underlying concepts are the same.
We’re talking about, “How to achieve success with CRM.” We’re talking about how important it is to create strong Value Propositions.
Again, the words have changed, the underlying issues and concepts are the same. Sometimes it’s disguised because we might have overlaid a thin veneer of technology, but at it’s core, it’s the same.
Which leads me to wonder, “When are we going to stop talking about it……..?”
Clearly, if one looks at the sheer number of books, blog articles, speeches (Yes, I contribute more than my fair share), these are still HOT. As a profession, we continue to struggle making these part of the fabric of business. We struggle with, “It’s just how things are done.”
What is it that keeps the profession from moving on, from changing the discussion? Why are these concepts–most of which have been around in some form, since I started selling, so difficult to sustain and become the norm?
To be fair, many organizations are moving forward. Many of these concepts are becoming more the norm for those companies. But we still have a long way to go as a profession, and as we look at massive adaptation across the profession.
I don’t have any answers, I wish I did.
What do you think prevents us–and the profession of sales–from moving forward? Why are we continuing to talk about the same thing?
The thing that I really wonder about, what’s the next big conversation when all of this does become just the way selling is done?