The Times They Are a ’Changin’6 Feb, 2013 By: Troy Harrison, Salesforce Solutions imageSource
Recently, I was in Orlando speaking at a trade show. At the conclusion of my program on Prospecting, I opened the floor for questions and discussion. A businessman in the middle of the room raised his hand to say, “I think you missed a very important part of prospecting. You didn’t speak at all about making friends with executive secretaries who often allow you to get to their boss. Why didn’t you cover that?” I answered, “Because, honestly, I believe that it’s an obsolete skill set. Few business owners today, presidents, and the even fewer middle managers, have dedicated assistants now.”
He looked at me for a moment, then smiled and said, “I just asked you a 1983 question, and you gave me a 2013 answer!” This question – and a few others that I received – started my thinking about how much the science and mechanics of selling have changed over the past 10-15 years; and how much of the sales training and sales knowledge has changed to adapt to it. If you don’t adapt, you’re going to be left behind. So let’s discuss some of these changes:
What many companies learned as things got lean in the 90s, and into the 2000s, was that they had more people than they had actual work to do. This resulted in what many called “Right-Sizing,” and what others called “Downsizing.” I call it “reality.” Executive assistants were terminated in droves. Middle managers, whose duties were often redundant, duplicative, or unnecessary, were encouraged to find employment elsewhere. For many salespeople, these middle managers were our good contacts, and these executive assistants were our pathways to decision makers (hence the question leading off this article). If those people aren’t there anymore, what do you do?
Some salespeople have found new ways to get to decision makers; others have simply failed as their skills have become obsolete.
There’s a second impact to this, as well. In the 80s, Miller and Heiman became big forces in the sales training world with a system built around the “complex sale” that happened when you had large numbers of middle managers and committees involved in major purchases. For most companies, those committees and middle managers have been cut drastically – and what’s left is a streamlined purchasing process that is very time-sensitive, and requires salespeople to give and get high value from the time we’re allotted. The complex sale has been simplified and intensified – can you handle it?
Customers Don’t Need Us.
This is something I’ve been talking about for a few years. Virtually everything you sell can be purchased over the Internet, without the intervention of a salesperson (and if your industry isn’t there yet, give it time). That means that you now have to earn your place in the sales process, rather than have it gifted to you. Again, this means that you have a duty to give and get high value during your interactions with customers. The day of the “donut call” is over.
Good salespeople now must have an agenda, and a win for the customer, in every sales call – or they will lose opportunities to make sales calls. Much of the time, it’s more convenient for a customer to tap a few keys and get what they need, so if your sales call doesn’t make them better, you won’t be invited in.
Straight Commission is Dying.
One of the most controversial claims that I make is this one. In Orlando, a business owner took me on, telling me that he has a very stable and successful sales force that does great without salaries. His people, he says, are motivated by the lure of uncapped earnings, and moreover, he feels that the best salespeople are motivated this way. During the session, we agreed that he was probably the exception to the rule. He told me that his sales force was mature and long-tenured, and I advised him that he’s likely to see a generational shift when he gets ready to hire again (I’m seeing this with every company I consult with that does straight commission). Post-session, he approached me and admitted privately that he has, in fact, had to pay a salary to his three most recent hires. So why the battle? My guess is that he’s still stuck on the idea that straight commission = guts = best sellers.
Here’s a truth. The sales hiring market has changed. You can’t simply toss out your shingle and expect to hire winners and pay them nothing. Nowadays, the truth is that there are fewer quality salespeople than there are jobs for them; this means that it’s a competitive market. Salespeople who have options (i.e. are proven performers) are going to be fought for, and one of your main weapons is an attractive salary plus commission package. This is simple psychology – one of our basic human needs is the need for security. You might like it or you might not like it, but