Breaking through the constant noise to get your company some attention, developing a social media sales strategy and embracing the challenge of collaboration are just some of the challenges that companies will always need to confront.
1. Noise reduction
Twenty years ago information was doubling every five years; five years ago it was every 18 months; now it is every nine minutes. Business leaders and sales people are reporting information overload. Some are shutting it out while others are distracted trying to keep on top of it.
Selecting what to take on board and what to leave behind will be critical for sales and business in 2010. The key will be finding reputable online sites, references and publications that provide access to information that is backed by evidence, research and is free from sensationalism. 2010 will be about filtering information through your core vision, intention and strategy. Be prepared to question assumptions. This will help you make decisions about what to take on board and what to leave behind. Remember, too much information and indecision will paralyse.
2. Everybody lives by selling something
Everybody in the company needs to be an ambassador for the business, the message and the brand. There needs to be recognition that they are in one of two roles: 1) actively involved in selling or 2) supporting someone who is.
In 2010, this will place you front and centre in the minds and wallets of customers. Enlightened sales people and leaders already recognise that ‘product’ is only part of the sales process and that selling is actually a ‘value exchange’, underpinned by real relationships. Those companies that support and train all their people in a culture of proactive client engagement and transparent selling practices, aligned with their strategy, will gain a significant competitive advantage in 2010.
3. Cultural fit
What do ‘we’ stand for? What difference will ‘we’ make? What value do ‘we’ create? What is ‘our’ core message? How will ‘I’ benefit from working here? What do ‘I’ value? These are the questions that will knock on your door in 2010. More and more managers and sales people are making choices based around values and work practices, rather than just roles. There will be recognition that a clear message to market is critical for companies, and only employees can bring this to life. Savvy companies will not just ‘talk the talk’; they will ‘walk the talk’.
Making values, team charter and steps for action crystal clear will be key when recruiting, training, managing and leading in 2010. Being transparent, honest and engaging in real conversations will need to be top of mind. In the words of one senior leader: “Don’t ask me what I value and stand for; ask the people who work for me. They’ll tell you what I really stand for and then you’ll know if I am true to my word.”
4. Social sales
Arguably, social media is contributing to the democratisation of information and, armed with this information, customers will demand different things from sales in 2010. Customers will turn to online communities, blogs, forums and social networks to gather information and make buying decisions.
In 2010 sales teams will need to invest time, resources and money to learn how to interact in these emerging social spaces. Why? Because the traditional channels to the customer such as email marketing, trade shows and face-to-face meetings will be less effective. In some cases you may not even be interacting with the customer directly but with their ‘recommendation network’. The real challenge for sales will be to identify and engage with these new networks. Social sales involve different skills, leadership and a culture that values a collaborative model of free knowledge exchange.
5. Weathering the storm
Prior to the GFC, many fortunate sales people found making sales straightforward and easy, however these tougher, contracting markets left many wanting in the sales stakes. The current breed of sales people had never experienced business under these conditions. 2009 put emotional resilience to the test and in 2010 we will need to support and heal the emotional scars left from the storm.
Despite our standard of living in the developed world, emotional resilience is at a low point with a sharp increase in people not coping with increased pressure and GFC fallout. Emotional resilience doesn’t come easily to everyone; however we can all learn to enhance it in healthy, harm-free ways.
Putting emotional resilience high on the agenda of sales in 2010 will not only benefit individuals, it will also mean they in turn can help the achieve company success. Maintaining a proactive, realistic and positive outlook in tougher markets will require business leaders and their people to watch who they let near their minds.
6. Through the looking glass
Tired of being told you need to sell like someone else to be successful? Unsure which behaviours you should model? Want to be you and be the best you can be? Unsure why you are afraid of doing certain tasks? Well, you are not alone. In 2010, enlightened companies will focus on understanding people; what motivates and drives people; how people think and make decisions; how you play to people’s strengths to achieve goals and fulfil ambitions; how people can communicate more effectively; how people can manage behaviours and attitudes.
Gaining insight into self and others is much more than just naval-gazing. With proper resources and support, insight can be a life changing experience for people and greatly enhance company success. While for a number of years we have been realising the importance of people, 2010 will be about supporting people in gaining insight, so they can best apply sales processes and knowledge. 2010 will be about working from the inside out.
7. Sustainable selling
With the green agenda comes sustainable selling. 2010 will be about sales, people and the planet. And how we can best manage this relationship now for future generations? In 2010 we will value trust, transparency, substance and ethical sales practices which discourage excessive consumption and greed.
The focus will be on forging legitimate business relationships which serve the environment, people, business and communities. If we are to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the future, we need to engage in sustainable selling. Sustainable selling is an evolving process in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are balanced with future, as well as present needs. 2010 will be about putting eco into sales.
8. The new competition
2010 will see collaboration become the new competition. Markets around the world are crying out for collaboration as innovation and differentiation become scarce in a sea of commoditised products and processes. Sales people who see themselves as collaborators, both internally (colleagues, departments) and externally (customers, competitors), will prosper more than ever during 2010. Collaboration calls for a team effort. Sales teams where everyone is pitted against each other to achieve ‘top dog’ status will be replaced by a ‘lead team’ approach. Companies that want to bring in new business and grow and develop existing customers will rely on the united hands of many, rather than one. Successful sales people of 2010 will leverage the power of collaboration over competition because they understand that relationships never work if they are forced and manipulated.
9. A sales community
The professionalisation of sales is here. While sales has been poorly regarded and understood, in recent years there has been a growing body shining light on sales as a complex and skilful profession. Highly effective and successful sales people who act as trusted advisors can breathe a sigh of relief as you have known this all along. Now, in 2010 you will be joined by a community.
Recently, this movement towards creating a sales community was evidenced by the inaugural Optimising the Sales Force Australia 2009 conference. Sales leaders from a diverse range of industries came together to learn and share wisdom. We recommend putting the OSF conference on your 2010 agenda and get behind the profession of sales. Keep your eyes out for other forums popping up off and online. There is also a rising tide wanting to see ‘sales’ on the curriculum of Australian universities. We have some catching up to do when you consider that at last count there were 42 universities in the US with graduate and undergraduate sales courses on their curriculum. Watch this space in 2010.
10. Hot bath turns cold
The days of one-off training sessions or the hyped motivational speaker to lift sales are numbered. Despite these ‘hot bath’ techniques providing content and entertainment value, they do not deliver consistent results over time – like a hot bath, they soon get cold. In 2010, companies will want more.
Well founded research shows that continuous learning, a little bit every day, is the way to go. Smart, savvy, successful sales people need to train like athletes. This doesn’t mean spending a lot of money on fancy training – it means creating a culture of continuous learning where practice, reflection, self-learning and coaching occur daily. Leading companies will link this to a clearly communicated and committed sales capability plan and make it a conscious part of everything: every sales meeting, every sales call, every coaching encounter. 2010 will be about sales fitness.
11. Lead the way
Sales needs to be led from the top. In 2010, that will mean from the CEO down with sales on the agenda of the ‘C’ suite, ie. the CEO, CFO, COO, and even if they never have contact with an external customer they need to know how to sell and support the sales effort. Moving down the corporate ladder, companies will make the most significant difference to sales through their sales managers. Sales managers will be the key to sales success in 2010. Those companies that invest in properly training, educating and supporting their sales managers will see significant lifts in 2010 and beyond. The verdict is back: sales manager training delivers the best returns, with the highest positive correlation found between training and results. Time and time again sales teams achieved higher performance and results when their sales managers were frequently and effectively trained and coached. Lead the way to making 2010 the year of the sales manager.
12. Back to basics
One of the real challenges of 2010 will be keeping sales momentum while understanding how changes in customers, competitors, markets, innovations, media, technology and all manner of things will impact on businesses and people. Getting our heads around all this to find the right ingredients for our plans and strategies will be demanding. In 2010, wise sales people will embrace the ‘new’ but not forget the basics. This will be made easier by having a clear sales plan in place with direction, targets and activities.
By knowing who and how to target customers and being well skilled in sales planning, prospecting, and communication you will keep sales happening. Repeat the mantra ‘hasten slowly’ and keep doing the old basics while considering, evaluating and integrating the new. With change comes opportunity and challenges. In 2010 the focus will be on selective incorporation, based on customers, community, company and self, while still remembering the basics.