A sales revolution is coming! The next decade will witness a sea change in the way large and medium-size businesses manage their sales functions. Companies that fail to adapt to the new realities and adopt the new practices risk falling behind their competitors who do.
Author: Jenny Dearborn
Data Driven: How Performance Analytics Delivers Extraordinary Sales Results
With that very appropriate quote, I hereby proclaim the dawn of the Age of Sales!
Why is this happening only now, and how have we arrived here?
Then: Age of Marketing
If we go back a number of years to the 1980s, perhaps even as far back as the 1970s, it was the Age of Marketing.
At that time companies were competing in the area of visual appearance—not only of their products, but of the corporate identities. It was all about design, corporate branding, that all-important logo (for which some companies paid millions). Marketing departments swelled, and marketing consultants made fortunes. Huge amounts of time and money were invested in corporate mission and vision statements.
Today marketing is still a vital function of a company. But its function has dramatically changed—instead of enormous quantities of time and effort invested in something like a logo design, the primary function of marketing had become to craft messaging that exactly communicates value to the customer.
Media messaging has also gone through a radical shift: Where messaging at one time would have appeared in print ads, today the majority is in video, and another lion’s share is in social media channels.
Another goal in the Age of Marketing was brand loyalty. And for a long time it worked—a friend of mine recently told me about his grandfather who, throughout his entire adult life, would never drive any other car than an Oldsmobile. Today such brand loyalty is all but gone—buyers are seeking what will truly fulfill their needs and wants, whatever the brand. A fantastic example is the Apple watch—an article appeared recently stating that because of technical issues with the Apple watch, some consumers were just moving over to another brand. They just want the product–whoever is creating a reliable version.
Then: The Age of PR
In the late 80s and early 90s, we emerged into the Age of PR. It became all about getting press—third-party reviews, maximum coverage of product releases and new versions, and coverage about company changes or advances.
As witness to this Age, go back and look at the sheer volume of industry-specific publications and their importance at the time. Companies clamored to be featured in them, and seemed to live and die by their coverage. As an example, a somewhat remote sector of the business world—users of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) computers—had no less than three publications, one of them very slick, that were consumed religiously.
There are still industries that rely on print publications for PR, but these are few and far between. Because people today demand truth and transparency from companies and products, they’re primarily turning to social media for their data. Forward-thinking companies are meeting those customers on the social media channels they frequent.
The Constant: Product Innovation
Throughout this entire time arc there has been one constant — outstanding product innovation and improvement.
A very visible example is automobiles. When I was growing up in the 1960s, many cars didn’t have seatbelts (they were optional equipment) let alone airbags. There were tinny-sounding radios, not the sound systems that today rival or even beat home audio systems. You didn’t find air conditioning except in high-end luxury models. Overall, cars tended to be rather uncomfortable; I recall going off on ski trips with my friends, and nearly freezing to death in the car, bundled up as if we were out on the slopes.
Today even reasonably priced cars are equipped with shoulder harnesses, airbags, air conditioning, stereo or surround-sound systems, and navigation systems. They have every feature we only dreamed about when I was a kid—and then some. The only thing they don’t do is fly, but even that is in the forecast now.
Products and services have reached awesome potentials, which is both good and bad — Good for consumers and buyers, but rather tough on the companies marketing their products against numerous others of very comparable quality and price.
When we arrive at a place of such competition, marketing and PR by themselves will only go so far, and today that isn’t very far at all.
Welcome to the Age of Sales
When a consumer is shopping for a particular product, or a buyer is seeking to make a purchase for a company, they’re attempting to solve certain issues with that purchase. Marketing and PR can only address the issues in very general terms; there’s no possible way to hit them all. The only way a buyer is going to know for sure if a product or service is right for them is from a sales rep providing honest, expert guidance.
Today we’re seeing a number of B2C companies automating their sales, at least for lower-ticket items. But even so, this automation has to function much as a salesperson would—utilizing deep knowledge of buyer behavior, cross-selling, upselling, and referencing.
Where a salesperson is involved—which is very much the case in much of the B2C and of course the B2B world—the sales rep must be talking to the customer in a profound, professional way, exactly addressing that buyer’s pain points and specific needs and wants. Buyers respond to this personal touch—and in fact today that’s about all they respond to.
Today it’s all about relationships.
No matter what department you work in, today everything is about honesty, transparency, and authentic nurturing.
Or put another way…welcome to the Age of Sales!