We are at it again -- and why not? It's the start of another year, and people are doing predictable things like having kickoffs of all sorts of things. I just launched a new website and several new initiatives in research and thought leadership, so I am no exception.
I am drinking the Kool-Aid and eating my own dog food. Many companies I speak with on a regular basis are briefing me on new product launches and engaging in a sacred rite of a new year: the sales kickoff. Both of these things make me think a lot.
The messaging I hear in briefings is all about sales productivity, whether it comes from a sales professional or from a software vendor. Sales productivity is definitely a hot-button issue -- and why not? More productivity means getting more done per unit of investment whether you're talking about time or the money invested in making more money, and often the two are the same.
Same Old Song
However, the thing that puzzles me is that, for as long as I can remember - and I am not a young sales guy anymore - the drill has been the same. We start the year looking for ways to enhance sales productivity in the hope of getting that incremental deal or deals that will turn an average performer into a superstar.
I won't be foolish enough to ask why, after all this time, we are still chasing this goal. The answer is simple: We chase the goal because it's a human endeavor and the goal remains elusive. Situations change, people change and positions change, but one thing remains the same in sales. On Jan. 1 of every year, your boss asks a perennial question: What have you done for me lately?
However, the purpose of this piece is to prod some new thinking. Too often, in my experience, anything that promises to enhance sales productivity, increase shots on goal or reduce sales rep involvement in record-keeping becomes a shiny new object that many must have.
There is value here, but I sometimes wonder if these things are solutions chasing problems. This is especially in my mind because we naturally assume that a technological fix that reduces time commitments to anything other than being in front of customers is a good thing.
To that I say, maybe. Maybe that can be a sustainable answer, but it also forces the question on preparation, of collecting the necessary information and marshaling the necessary support resources that enable a sales person to make a case.
You know from reading this space that I firmly believe the market today is unlike any we've seen in a long time, if ever. It's a zero-sum market in which many niches are saturated and success involves taking something away from a competitor -- and sometimes the competitor is yourself. This kind of market resembles retail, where most niches are also filled and securing a place for your product or brand may mean displacing another on the store shelf.
In business-to-business selling -- and even in business-to-consumer sales -- we can take a page from retail and its dependency on statistics for assortment planning, store planning, inventory management and the like.
That's where social media plus analytics come in. The two together can deliver the kind of information that retailers have sought for years, but people in more formal sales management have avoided because, frankly, there wasn't much need. Prior to the zero-sum era we are in, there were wide-open markets, green fields where whole categories had never penetrated, but that's not today.
OK, so that's where I'm coming from. Now let's add a bit of information from some research I recently did with that ninja analyst Esteban Kolsky. We wanted to understand how social media is being adopted in the enterprise and smaller companies. We also wanted to gain some perspective on deployment behavior.
Guess what? Marketing led the three major CRM divisions in adoption and in plans to adopt in the near future. Service and support were well represented, and we were surprised at how many nooks and crannies in the service realm were taking steps toward social. I am sure you can see where this is going: Sales was last in adoption and last in alacrity or interest in adopting social technologies.
I can understand sales' reluctance. When you work on commission you don't make enough to not care about closing deals, and that's the point. It makes people in sales rather conservative when it comes to taking on new approaches. For them "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" is practically a religion.
Right now, the old approaches aren't working particularly well, and the sales profession needs some new thinking. If this is you, before you grab that shiny object that promises great results without any change in your behavior or a requirement to try something new, think different.
It's time to get social deeper into sales, and this is the time of year to do it.