In the second of this series of three blog posts I want to review how changes in our world have led to the inevitable demise of the sales force focused on delivering those artful, imaginative and skilful sales pitches. This is the second reason why selling nowadays is inappropriate, is ineffective and is inefficient – our world has changed and this demands changes in our behaviours.
The second reason stems from the nature of the roles people play in the modern world of work. Previously, sales people sold and those not in sales roles didn’t. That was the conventional wisdom that led to companies investing large amounts of their resources in developing professional sales forces trained in all sorts of different sales methodologies, techniques and motivational mechanisms. A huge proportion of corporate training spend went on sales training. Graduates and those at the very top of the tree also enjoyed focus on them and were allocated precious funds. That was pretty much it – sales, senior management and graduates were developed through training; the rest got very meagre pickings.
Daniel H. Pink, in his excellent book ‘To sell is human – the surprising truth about persuading, convincing, and influencing others’, points out that one out of every nine workers in the USA works in sales (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). In the EU, approximately 13% of the workforce is in sales, according to Eurostat. In Japan, the number is 1 in 8. In these large and developed economies, around 1 in 8 people are in sales. Pink develops his argument thus; his point is that the other 7 out of 8 are engaged in ‘non-sales selling’. This is the art of moving opinions, advancing arguments and persuading others to your point of view.
The conventional view of economic activity is that the two most important activities are producing and consuming. Pink argues that nowadays we spend very large amounts of resource on a third economic activity – moving. That is we spend a huge amount of our time moving people in order that they part with resources (tangible assets such as money, and intangible assets such as time and attention) so that both parties get what they want. This activity isn’t easily classified and quantified. People do have titles such as ‘Sales Manager’ which the statisticians can capture; we don’t have ‘Moving Managers’.
Pink commissioned a survey of over 9,000 respondents titled ‘what do you do at work?’ Two major findings emerged:-
- People now spend about 40% of the time at work in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing and convincing people in ways that don’t involve anybody making a purchase.
- People consider this aspect of their work crucial to their professional success – even in excess of the considerable amount of time they spend doing it.
The skills needed for moving, Pink argues, are not those traditionally associated with sales. The traditional view is that successful sales people are generally extroverts and that introverted people are less likely to be successful in sales. Pink argues that the movers today need to be ambiverts. He references research showing, on a 1-7 scale of introvert to extrovert (when 1 is very introverted and 7 is very extroverted), the highest performing sales people actually score 4 – right at the mid-point and the place where ambiverts are found. Peak revenue per head occurred in those scoring between 4.0 and 4.5, and tailed off over 4.5.These most successful sales people were neither highly extroverted nor very introverted.
Our contemporary world requires us to have different skills that enable us to be effective at moving people rather than selling to them. Teaching the sales force various techniques and processes and trying to improve their performance through motivation, inspiration and positive mental attitudes is no longer a sound investment. Different soft skills, such as understanding and improving emotional intelligence, are what is required and this soft-skills focus is the way to go both now and in the future.
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