"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." So said the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who was born in 1856, lived to be 94, and left his mark on history. In the sales business, we’re not necessarily trying to create change—these days, it’s just happening all around us. Skewed just a bit, Shaw’s words apply: Adapting to change leads to progress.
Our Jobs They Are A-Changin’
In more ways than one lately, sales reps have had to retrofit themselves to ever-changing job parameters. The internet is probably the biggest revolutionary factor in terms of how we do business today, and this advance in technology has had a huge impact on the buying mindset of the customer. With the web, suddenly everyone’s a researcher. But there’s a lot of noise in the Tower of Babble that’s the internet. As salespeople, we need to be experts at helping customers cut through the din and misinformation to get to the relevant, applicable data they need. As a trusted advisor, you have to be willing and able to fill the role of sifter.
Sales reps also have to manage customer data differently. Who knows what the future will bring, but for now, having a good CRM is the best tool for keeping you in the survival-of-the-fittest game when it comes to technological adaptation. A CRM can track sales cycles and manage customer accounts in easy and time-efficient ways. You just have to let it.
You also have to work harder to be noticed by prospects in this day and age. Getting your foot in the door is a lot more tricky when the door is virtual. Even lead generation has changed; it’s now data- and behavior-driven.
Act Now! Don’t Delay!
The ways in which we find leads has gotten easier, but there’s a more intense time crunch when it comes to following up on them. If a lead sits growing mold for 24 hours, it becomes much harder to actually ever get to speak to someone on the phone. Here in the Instantaneous Age, your best bet is to call within minutes of getting the lead. Just know that even as you act fast, you’ll have to possess a lot of patience and tenacity, because over the past few years there’s been a steady uptick in the average number of calls it takes to get a live lead on the line.
The Crockpot Approach
If you want fast food, you’re in the wrong business. Sales has always been more of a slow-cooker thing. This is truer than ever. Budgets are tight, buying is less emotional, and customers spend money differently when they’re more price conscious. You can blame the still-stinging 2008 recession for fear-based spending and belt tightening. Super-size the situation with increased competition and a more-informed buying culture, and you’ve got an unhappy meal of challenges for sales professionals trying to order into the clown’s mouth, as it were. Again, adaptation is the key word here. Be OK with going a little hungry—the meal you eventually enjoy will be worth the wait.
Don’t Forget the Old Dogs!
Many veteran sales reps who started in the profession when flipping the Rolodex made you seem fancy schmancy have adapted to new technologies and social media, using them to their advantage. Old-schoolers who’ve dismissed these realities of the changing times are either scratching their heads wondering why their revenue’s gone down, or they’re doing something else for a living now. To them, “tweet” will always be what birds do.
One thing we often hear from our customers is that they’re interested in sales training for their new hires. They’re not necessarily focused on realigning the thinking of their old-pro sales folks. But it’s crucial that they do. A cell phone the size of a banana with no data plan just isn’t going to cut it. Yet it’s not so much the device we’re talking about here, it’s the mindset. Clinging irrationally to a rickety raft in the sea change of progress, the best-intentioned sales vets will disadvantage themselves by being mentally unwilling to adapt to today’s more streamlined ways of doing things. They’ll need a culture shift; they’ll have to be trained to be open to newer, more efficient, more relevant ways of doing business, building upon the selling skills they already possesses, just via new tools.
The point is, times change pretty rapidly in this sales day and age and it’s important to be willing and able to change your thinking in parallel to the new realities. If not, when it comes to making a measurable difference in this biz, you could end up being the human sales equivalent of a fax machine. Do you want to be a fax machine? Who would? That technology hasn’t moved in years; it’s a wonder it’s still around. Yes, the latest and greatest versions of today’s invaluable devices are tomorrow’s “what the heck’s that doohicky?!” What really needs to keep being versioned is our willingness to try new things.