Sales is becoming increasingly strategic for securing the future of the company.
By Elmar R. Gorich / Dipl.-Bw. / MBA Up to now, sales has been one of the last playing fields for individualism, domination knowledge and often intransparency, related to relationships and processes. This often led to wrong assumptions and interpretations of potential sales opportunities, as well as to the waste of expensive pre-sales resources. Today, sales managers need facts quickly and reliably in order to be able to assess situations correctly and to secure the set goals through well-founded decisions. The digital tools already available today create sufficient transparency and quickly and comprehensively provide the facts required for sales decisions and project future trends and realistic scenarios.
Why will we still need salespeople in the future?
The speed of innovations is increasing and development cycles are becoming shorter and shorter. The amount of information to be processed is increasing at an alarming rate and is already perceived as barely manageable. Flexibility in all areas is gaining in importance. In sales in particular, transparency and a focus on customer orientation are needed in order to meet the needs of increasingly demanding customers and to make one’s own business model fit for the future. Speed, in general, is considered the primary goal in order to adequately meet the requirements of “digital commerce”. Multichannel concepts require new tools and methods. Modern technology already offers comprehensive digital support so that the salesperson can concentrate fully on the customer.
Eye level and entrepreneurial thinking and acting
The salesperson acts at eye level. His previous function as a “sales mediator” will be transformed by digitalisation in sales. The salesperson of the future will become a “manager of information” who is useful for his customer. Selling benefits, thinking entrepreneurially in the B2B segment, developing individual concepts and solutions and implementing them together with the customer, these are new fields of action that require empathy and a high degree of expertise – today and in the future. In the future, salespeople will be even more “online” and act with smartphones or tablets – ever faster and with increasing intensity. Customers inform themselves about products and prices on the internet, on platforms, in portals and social networks – where are the interpersonal components in the digitalisation of sales? What significance does the sales talk, the closing, the project meeting still have then? From today’s perspective, it can be assumed that the well-known brands will increasingly shift sales processes to platforms, as Amazon and many other B2C providers are already doing today, and orient sales towards two channels: “commodity” (standard products) and “consultative” (products requiring intensive consultation). The many “smaller” and agile companies can position themselves through cooperations and positioning in social media – but even with digitalisation in sales, a human being is still needed as a point of reference, a classic salesperson. The salesperson gives the anonymous company and product a face. The service and simple processes in B2C business are also expected by the B2B segment – the trend is towards a fusion of B2C and B2B.
Emotional selling in the digital world
However, the salesperson of the future must not only put a face to the digital-anonymous processes and companies. With digitalisation in sales, it is important to build a relationship bridge – from person to person, so as not to leave the customer alone with their human worries and fears. The humanly understandable concern about data misuse and the dangerous “half-knowledge” fed from many digital sources are likely to be valid factors in the future as well, which salespeople must attend to with attentiveness. The more complex the product or service, the more it requires an advisory and technically precise moderator – the salesperson thus takes on the function of a consultant. Consultative selling is becoming the supreme discipline in the B2B market – the focus of the sales performance is not on direct sales success, but on convincing the potential prospect or the regular customer of the personal or business benefit – arguing from the customer’s point of view, finding the way to the decision through the “customer’s glasses”, that is the approach here. Extracting the relevant facts from the many sources available – that will be the real competitive advantage of a company – the sales force of the future works emphatically and analytically.
Competitive advantage through the use of technology
The available technology (BI, AR, analytics, big data, bots, etc.) helps sales to master the increasingly complex world and to prepare the relevant facts in a comprehensible way for entrepreneurially sound advice. The technology provides the facts, the salesperson of the future decides on the relevance for the user, the customer – guided by the question: Will my ideas make my customer’s business better and easier? What private customers experience with GOOGLE and AMAZON is transferred to B2B business as an expectation. If B2C and B2B business merge (Meffert & Meffert, EINS OR NULL, p 24 – 27), this means that digitalisation in sales revolutionises customer contact and then also generates new business models.
Today’s concepts are tomorrow’s flops
The benefit-oriented and entrepreneurial consideration of a customer requirement to be solved requires a high degree of emotional intelligence in addition to specialist knowledge. The ability to analyse factually and convince emphatically will be the value of a salesperson in the future – not eloquence or appearance. These will continue to be important sales skills, but the development into an entrepreneurial consultant is likely to be a significant developmental step that will permanently change the job profile of the “salesperson”, especially in B2B business. This level variation in sales skills will also be expressed in the external image, in titles and competences. Digitalisation in sales increasingly requires visionary skills – showing the customer a development path for the company or the project and convincingly presenting a joint path of implementation – these are the skills that will be needed in the future to manage the complexity of the digital and international business world – only in this way can trust in digital support develop.
Omnichannel is changing sales through digital transformation!
“What is required is a realignment of business models, from product to service-dominant logic, based on an omnipresent digital infrastructure, or new, technical developments.” (Prof. Dr. Andreas Auinger, Faculty of Management, Steyr / Lecture: Digitalisation as an opportunity for exports). So Auinger asks why users like the digital champions and gives a simple but apt answer: “They build services that integrate into everyday life!” According to Auinger, this is how “triggers” are set in people’s minds. The focus on “services” with emotional actions, instead of classic marketing with differentiation strategies and campaigns, might be the explanation for the often passionate adoption of digital innovations by users – Uber, Airbnb, Google. Facebook and Alibaba are cited as examples. Sales was yesterday – the focus today is on services, or the development of digital services, which, according to Auinger, sustainably improves the user experience and the benefit of products and thus leads to new user habits and sustainably changes the handling of the new service products (cf. also Sinner, Schrader, 2015). An essential cornerstone for the digital business models of the future is an elementary understanding of customers and their obvious and hidden needs. Facebook can be mentioned here as a placeholder for a company that understood this very early on and has successively developed customer-oriented services and brought them to market.
The competitive advantage of the future – learn faster!
“The ability to learn faster than the competition is perhaps the only real competitive advantage of the future” (Arie de Geus, Head of Stratic Planning Group, Shell Company). Here, the core idea that education will be the essential foundation for future generations in an increasingly complex digital world proves true. What is changing in the short term as a result of digitalisation in sales? The year 2020 is not far off and allows for reliable forecasts regarding the changes in sales in the near future. The next blog will provide more details on this. If you are interested, I would like to invite you to a dialogue – please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I look forward to your feedback and your opinion on the topic of digitalisation in sales. Until then, I wish you an eventful time – stay curious!