Good Companies Don’t Sell Goods They Sell Themselves

Change. Progress. Evolution. These are generally positive words – but they can be scary to businesses that foresee a future of unfamiliar shifts. Those three concepts separate the strong from the weak, and the agile from the outdated. And often times you won’t know which category your sales team falls into until it’s too late.

There is perhaps no greater sea change happening in the B2B world than in the sales field. Buyers are more tech savvy. They know where to find the best prices. And in our digital, autonomous world, buyers are more self-sufficient and empowered.

What that means for your sales team: the technology that once helped your team do their job more efficiently and accurately is now, ironically, one of the biggest threats to their continued existence. According to Andy Hoar of Forrester Research, of the 4.5 million B2B sales positions that exist today, around 1 million of those will be net displaced by 2020.

That’s right. 34 percent of current sales positions are projected to vanish within five years. I’ll give you a moment to digest that.

So who should worry? Surprisingly, it’s the companies doing the best that are the most at risk. The ones with consistently executed sales plans and a talented sales force who live by the mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s hard to see the swelling tides of change when you are riding high atop the waves – and successful sales teams can ride high indeed.

So how can you ensure your team pivots instead of sinking? The answer: differentiate your offerings. Consider the following ideas.

Avoid the race to the bottom.

Understand this now; you can’t compete on price alone. Just like the old west gun-slinging adage that there’s always a faster draw, there will always be a cheaper offering. You must compete on experience.

What value can you add for your buyer? What special contribution can your team make that can’t be found elsewhere? Don’t be quick to discount intangibles; the idea is to add something singular to you that can’t be cloned or undercut. Remember, you’re not trying to appeal to everyone. You’re trying to appeal to a specific segment who will appreciate your offering.

Don’t focus on simple transactions.

Instead, aim for ongoing transactions. Keep the selling dialogue open. Yes, they want this particular thing right now. You can deliver that. But if you leave it there, you may deliver yourself right out of future business.

Instead, look at trends in other buyer and competitors. Listen closely to the buyer and see if they really understand what they need. Sometimes you’ll see the opportunity for a deal that benefits both parties. Bring that strategy and insight to the table, and you’ll demonstrate an understanding of their business as well as an interest in their success beyond this initial transaction. It’ll strike them as refreshingly honest and will position you as part of their future.

Accept that the future of sales IS marketing.

According to David Hutchison, SAP’s Head of Marketing, studies have shown that today’s buyers have done more than two-thirds of their decision-making research before they engage with a vendor. 75 percent start the process with an online search and 76 percent leverage their personal and professional networks for guidance and advice.

What we can conclude from that: the traditional sales funnel isn’t completely irrelevant, but today’s buying process is a three-dimensional one – and taking that into account when positioning your team is nearly as important as the actual goods and services you provide.

As we move into an increasingly technology-dependent future, there’s no doubt that many of yesterday’s sales plays are going extinct. Some sales pros will probably exit the field as well. But we also know the magic of person-to-person selling can never be replaced; technology can’t fully grasp the human element of the buying process the way a great sales team can. Show that you grasp the buyer’s complex needs and you’ll navigate the future of sales just fine.