I had hoped we were beyond the, “How do we cope with this economy” questions. However, I recently had the question, “What are the biggest challenges vice presidents of sales and marketing face in this economy?” Implicit in the question is the challenges have changed because of the economy.
It’s clear, sales and marketing executives face a lot of challenges, but I don’t think the challenges are different than those that existed before the downturn. What the economy has done is brought many of them into sharper focus or raised their importance to executives.
Sales and marketing executives have always had the responsibility to make their organizations as effective, efficient and productive as possible in executing their organizations’ business strategies. They’ve had the responsibility of growing the processes, capabilities, and capacity of the organization to execute the sales strategies. Sales and marketing executives have always had the responsibility of determining how to connect with customers, grow relationships and business. These executives have always had the responsibility of managing the performance of their teams, coaching, training and developing each individual, managing performance issues. They’ve also had the responsibility of being the “voice of the customer” within their own organizations.
These responsibilities haven’t changed, but bad performance or lack of attention to these issues have become more visible as a result of the economy. In the robust period that preceded this economy, many organizations were producing revenues almost in spite of themselves (I’m being a little harsh, but you get my point). In a seller’s market, it’s easy to hide a lot of inefficiency, bad processes, or bad practice. A down period gives us no room to hide, provides no opportunity for wishful thinking.
To be honest, it’s wrong to lay all this at the feet of sales and marketing organizations. Robust economies, growing revenues, rising stock prices distract people in all functions from many of the fundamentals of great business practice. It’s easy to get distracted or to take short cuts when things are going well. It takes tremendous discipline, focus, and courage for executives to say “things are going well, but we can always to better.”
Having said all this, I do worry that we have been distracted from major changes that were occurring even when the economy was robust. In virtually every market we have been involved with, there are major shifts in the way people and organizations are buying. The web, new tools, social business and media are driving a revolution in how people buy.** The processes, skills, and expectations of customers–buyers are changing profoundly. The way customers are engaging suppliers is changing–forever. This started before the downturn, has persisted through the downturn and will continue beyond the recovery.
The critical issues facing sales and marketing professionals are not a result of the economy, but a result in this shift in the way people buy. The choice sales and marketing professionals have is whether they are going to embrace and help drive these new changes with new ways of engaging and working with customers, or are they going to become victims.
To be leaders, whether we sit on the selling or buying side, we need to be asking ourselves, What Is The Future Of Buying?
What do you think?
** This change is not a social media/Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 or whatever 2.o initiative you want to identify. These are components of the change and help enable the change. But simply trying to address this as a social media issue, in my opinion, is missing the mark.