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?
David Olson says
Great post David!
My theory is that classic extroverts tend to end up in sales roles. Many just aren’t all that interested in other people’s issues or problems. Throughout their lives to this point they have succeeded by leveraging their natural tendency to talk, talk, talk. It is now a habit that that still often works and I suspect that changing would “feel” quite burdensome and difficult for them.
Our culture often continues to reward these “sellers” with great income and spifs.
When talk, talk, talk doesn’t work it can be supplemented with price, price, price. And so it goes on.
I had to return a gift to a store the other day. They no longer carry the type item I received as a gift. Not one single question was asked of me as we tried to find something else for me to buy. I was willing to add money and told the seller. Yet she insisted on troting out items and reciting FABs for things I had no interest in owning. I have a credit at the store but wonder if I will ever even bother to use it.
Please, please, please keep talking about this …
David Brock says
I’ve told you before, David, I love your humor — particularly the irony about “Please keep talking about this….” Thanks for making me chuckle!
Actually, the continued talking stops us from “doing.” It keeps us from moving forward in whatever it is we are talking about—the value of a particular deal and the results a customer gets, an new sales strategy, whatever.
Sales is not about talking it’s about producing results, for our customers and our own organizations.
Thanks for continuing to be such an active contributor to the blog!
Mark Selleck says
David, great post as always! The reason we keep talking about it, and the reason the sales profession hasn’t moved on, is because the spotlight is on the wrong actor. Sales reps are not the problem – it’s the way they are managed. As Drucker said, “How well managers manage and are managed determines whether business goals will be reached. The worker’s effectiveness is determined largely by the way he is managed.”
Expectations drive performance (for better or worse) and the lack of progress is largely attributable to what sales managers expect – and don’t expect. Unfortunately, sales management is largely a sink-or-swim job, and “default” or typical expectations set reps up to fail – or at best mediocrity. It’s complicated by a pervasive belief that sales and sales management are largely innate abilities rather than professions that can be mastered. It’s further complicated by a relative lack of substantive content on precisely how sales managers go about building high performing teams.
This is barely skimming the surface, but rather than elaborate, here’s a proof point that you’ve probably seen many times as well. You can take a poorly performing team of sales reps, replace the managers with great managers, and within a relatively short period of time those same reps will go from the worst performing team to the best performing team.
My two cents!
David Brock says
Mark–very astute reading! I absolutely agree. At it’s core, it’s a leadership problem, both sales and corporate management. It takes vision, courage, consistent leadership, and coaching to sustain changes over time. Too often, the short term “what have you done for me lately,” mentality flies in the face of this.
Also, developing sales managers is one of the most “underinvested” areas in the organization. We spend billions in training and technology for sales people, and next to nothing training managers in how to coach, develop and reinforce what we are trying to achieve.
Thanks for the great insight. Regards, Dave
Megan Norton says
You spoke about “solutions selling and customer focused selling” as the ‘The Hot Topics’ in the 80’s and continuing into today’s way of thinking. But what I think is interesting is that they should already be the norm. We shouldn’t still be ‘talking’ about them as if they’re a new idea. Those practices should be the core of selling, a normal, the given, by now. And, I guess in a way they are, but you’re absolutely right, that we shouldn’t still be talking about those tactics as if they are a brand new way of thought.
I’m in marketing and the same ‘talk’ happens with us as well. There is always talk about ‘what is our differentiator’ ‘what sets us apart from our competition’ and the answer is the same as everyone else’s answer – added value, trusted adviser, outside perspective. Those terms are great and they are important, but lets stop trying to coin new terms and start talking about HOW you’re going to prove it.
Same with Sales. It’s time to stop talking about, what should be the obvious right now, and start putting it into practice and perfecting it. It’s the How, not the Why, that we should be focusing on.
David Brock says
Great comment Megan–all this stuff has been around for a long time. We apply a lot of new labels, but at the root, it’s the same. The key issue is, What keeps us from implementing, executing and sustaining these practices? Sales and marketing are the only functions that seem to be trapped in the past. When you look at other parts of organizations–engineering, development, manufacturing, finance, they continue to advance and move forward.
Thanks for the great comment. Regards, Dave
Megan Norton says
Hi Dave, I have a thought as to why Sales & Marketing stay behind the rest. Engineering, Development, Manufacturing, and Finance seem to have a tangible object that enables their progress and they don’t work directly with the client. Sales & Marketing is all about the Client – clients are human – and humans are unpredictable. Sales & Marketing is more psychology and that’s not an exact science. But you’re right, that shouldn’t stop us from taking the next step and executing. And if it doesn’t work, come back and change the way you execute. But just do it, don’t talk about it.
David Brock says
Megan: Great point. While sales and marketing may not be defined with the same precision as some of the other functions–the principles and execution can be well defined, measured and managed. While it’s a little off topic, you may be interested in my posts on Lean Sales and Marketing. We are seeing profound performance improvements in applying these principles (common in other functions).
Thanks for the great in put! Regards, Dave