"4 sales trends impacting our need to change in order to sell more effectively" - Discussion with John Smibert.
How is the world of sales changing? What are the trends that we need to be aware of? How should be preparing ourselves for change in order to survive and succeed?
Customer behaviour guru, Cian McLoughlin, is at the forefront of buyer thinking and I thought he would be able to share some insight that will help us adapt to change and be more successful.
In this interview I asked Cian for his predictions of change is the sales and buying worlds and how we need to adapt to survive and succeed.
He outlined four trends that are impacting our world:
- Automation: We need to recognise the tasks that we're doing now that maybe aren't adding a huge amount of value and are open to automation and step away from them now. We need to replace them with other skills - we need to proactively develop new skills.
- Specialisation: Customers want salespeople to bring specific insights, to understand their industry, to be able to talk to them about adjacent industries where maybe they could learn some things. So becoming a consultant or adviser - certainly a specialist, as distinct from the generalist of old, is vital for success in the future.
- Personalisation: Buyers want want deep and personalised engagement, they want insights about personal things which relate to them, things that they care about and that will help them to do their job better, We need to front-ending the value, by being teachers in some respect and treating people like customers before they ever become customers.
- Commoditization: Our sales activity and methods are being commoditized - not just our products. Our sales activities of old, that used to be high-value, are becoming less and less relevant to customers. So as they become commoditised we need to find ways to develop new methods and skillsets and new ways to engage.
The bottom line message from Cian is that we need to transform how we sell and reskill ourselves for the new world sales order.
.You can view or read the full interview with Cian below.
Cian McLoughlin is a guru in win/loss analysis, he's a speaker, an author, and a leading adviser to the sales fraternity.
See more of the 'TALKING SALES' series here
John: Welcome back! I'm delighted again to have Cian McLoughlin with us.
Cian: Hi, John - nice to be here!
John: Good day, Cian! If you remember, Cian is the guru on win/loss analysis in sales, and he's the man that probably knows more about why customers and how customers make decisions - great to have you back!
Cian: Likewise - it's great to be here, John!
John: Cian, I wanted to start, since it's the beginning of 2017, by asking you for your predictions for the year, because if you share that with our audience, I think they'll get some insight that maybe will help them be successful.
Cian: Look, I don't think it's going to fundamentally change, the world of B2B sales, but I am starting to see certain trends emerging or maybe gathering steam this year. Firstly, we all know a lot about 'automation' and the fact that more and more of the tasks that have been traditionally done by salespeople are starting to be automated in some capacity or other.
John: And a lot of artificial intelligence starting to come to the table.
Cian: It is. In fact, there's someone I know quite well, a chap called Matt Michalewicz, who has a business called Complexica, and that is very much focused on either replacing some of the lower-end tasks that salespeople are doing, or supporting them and giving them access to more data and more insights in order to be able to do their job better. It's a double-edged sword; automation can be a very powerful asset, an ally for us as salespeople, but it can also start to eat away at some of the tasks that we traditionally associate with being sales professionals.
John: That can be good though, can't it?
Cian: It could be, absolutely. But I think the critical thing is if it is going to happen and it's going to happen to the degree that we expect it to, then as sales professionals we need to get on the front foot. We need to recognise the tasks that we're doing that maybe aren't adding a huge amount of value or are open to automation and step away from them now, but we need to replace them with other skills and we really need to start proactively driving new skills.
John: Well, over the next few interviews maybe we'll cover the sorts of things some of the salespeople need to do to actually ensure that they have value they bring to the table so that automation is not going to cut them off at the knees.
Cian: Exactly. That leads perfectly into the next area, which is I'm seeing very much a move from generalist to specialist, so we can call that 'specialisation', where customers are almost demanding from their sales reps "I don't want you to come and be a walking-talking brochure anymore. I want you to be able to bring me specific insights to understand my industry, to be able to talk to me about adjacent industries where maybe I could learn some things," so really becoming almost a consultant or advisor but certainly a specialist, as distinct from the generalist of old.
John: I use the word "domain expert". The fact is if a salesperson hasn't got some level of expertise and insight in the customer's domain, then why would the customer talk to them?
Cian: That's exactly right. We're all so time-poor these days that it's just not going to give you the access that you need in order to have an impact, and then that leads quite nicely into the next one which is more around 'personalisation'. We've seen a lot of this broad, shallow communication, we've obviously all received those spam emails into our inboxes or into our LinkedIn folders saying, "Let me talk to you about this and that," and it's clearly spam, but really what's happening now is this move to personalisation. I don't want broad and shallow, I want deep and personalised, and if you can give me insights about personal things which relate to me, which I care about and which will help me to do my job better, then you got my attention. Otherwise...
John: You don't mean personalised as in "be my friend", you mean personalised as in creating value for that person and understanding that person and being able to help them with what they want to achieve.
Cian: Exactly. It's interesting, you definitely aren't saying "be my friend", but at some point there will become a personal connection there as well but we've got to earn the right to have that, and we earn the right to do that by front-ending the value, by being almost teachers in some respect and treating people like customers before they ever become customers.
John: I think that's a great point. And the other one you mentioned to me earlier is 'commoditization'.
Cian: Commoditization is really interesting, because what's happening is what used to be those high-value sales activities that we did are becoming less and less relevant to customers, so as they become commoditised we need to find ways, as I mentioned, to develop new skillsets and new ways to engage. But also, no one wants to be the Kodak, no one wants have their own job be so disrupted that it disappears, so we've actually got to cannibalise our own skills before someone else does it for us.
John: [laughs] I think that's a very good point. So it's not just products being commoditised, it's salespeople and the sales activities we've done are very commoditised these days. Unless we think about it and we learn how to change and create more value for the customer, to be, as you say, more personal and more specialised, and work with automation, not against it, to really bring value to the customer.
Cian: If we can be automated, we will be automated, so we've absolutely got to get proactive and ensuring that we're not.
John: I like those four points; automation, specialisation, commoditization and personalisation.
John: Okay. They're the four points that Cian thinks all of us need to think about this year. It's going to be a challenging year for a lot of people in sales, and unless we adapt and change with those four things in mind, maybe we'll be cut off at the knees. The selling profession has a lot to offer; make sure you're one of those people offering value and not being commoditised - thanks very much, Cian!
Cian: Thanks, John!
More interviews with Cian McLoughlin:
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