If you want to make an old-school salesperson flinch, just bring up the idea of data-driven selling in conversation. To sales pros, especially those who started in the game more than 10 years ago, the idea of data driving the sale is sacrilege. It minimizes the sales person’s talent, and it suggests that sales are driven by a bunch of desk bound propeller-heads who never talk to customers.
There’s an alternate name for those propeller-heads today — they’re called “the marketing department.”
While it’s healthy to have an ego about your capabilities as a sales person, it’s not healthy to view advances in technology as an affront to your skills.
Chivalry vs. Survival
Think about this: When firearms were invented and sufficiently miniaturized to be handheld, the people most offended by their appearance were knights — people who felt vulnerable to those weapons.
The complaint was that they were an affront to chivalry. Real warriors fought at close range — face-to-face, not from a distance! Firearms were derided as vulgar and crude (as in Ludovico Arisoto’s epic 1532 poem Orlando Furioso). Unfortunately for the chivalrous, firearms also were superbly effective against armored knights.
Does that mean that knights went away? Well, some of them did — because they refused to accept reality and got shot. Most of them changed tactics and tools, however, and evolved into new kinds of soldiers, because they recognized that they needed to do so in order to survive.
There’s a real parallel here with sales people. The old ways of doing things have merit — even with the best customer intelligence, the deal won’t get done without the expertise and personal skills of sales, attributes that have been critical since the idea of selling was born.
However, the sales people who flourish today do so not by clinging to the old ways but by adapting to a new reality: Time is shorter, quotas are bigger, and technology tools are the only way to avoid becoming obsolete.
That means they need to do two key things. First, they need to partner with their marketing departments — not just accept stacks of leads lobbed over the fence, complain about lead quality, and spend inordinate amounts of time prospecting.
They need to become true partners, proactively working on common definitions of “leads,” “qualified leads,” and other terminology that both sales and marketing use to describe potential customers, and participating in the lead-nurturing cycle.
If they’re real partners, sales acts as marketing’s eyes and ears, serving as the field reporters who provide data about the deals they win and lose to allow marketing to provide leads that reflect the real world.
Second, sales needs to gain access to marketing analytics to help make decisions and to share the technology they use with marketing.
An organization in which sales and marketing have visibility into leads for only half of the process sets both sides up for failure. Marketing can’t analyze its results or nurture leads, while sales has no idea where leads are coming from. Marketing ROI is chronically disappointing, and the two sides end up at odds when they should be teaming up more than ever.
Death of a Sales Career
Sales needs to gain the right tools to capitalize on the right talents. As my other writing specialty has demonstrated, it’s not the plane but the pilot who wins the fight — selling skill plays a major role.
However, no fighter pilot would voluntarily go up against a modern jet in a World War I biplane. In fact, if you talk to pilots, you find that they are always looking for a technological edge. They must adapt to survive.
Unlike medieval knights facing new weapons or fighter pilots in obsolete planes, sales people who can’t adapt won’t die — but their careers will, and perhaps their companies as well. That’s a shame, because adapting is as simple as crossing the office into marketing and making the effort to truly join forces.
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