One reason that sales organizations struggle to generate revenue or growth is because they have a low-resolution view of sales. Two factors this view. The first factor is using the outdated, legacy approach to sales, a choice that fails to recognize what's changed in the sales environment—especially for decision-makers and buyers. The second factor is not paying attention to the sales industry, falling behind on key developments in the past twenty years.
A Low-Resolution View of Sales
A low-resolution view of sales makes things too blurry to discern how professional sales has changed and why it had to evolve. Low-resolution salespeople are told that the way we sold four decades ago is adequate for the current environment. Even when crucial changes are glaringly obvious to their competitors, these salespeople are content to see only what they have always seen.
Lacking a high-resolution view of sales, your sales force will continue to approach clients the way they would have in 1988 or 1967, a mismatch with what decision-makers and buyers need from sales partnerships. By failing to notice this mismatch, you will lose opportunities you might have won if you had provided your prospective client with a different experience, one they found more valuable.
To improve your sales results, you need a higher-resolution view of sales, one that opens the aperture and allows in more light and greater clarity.
Missing the (Inflection) Point
We tend to miss the inflection points that should cause us to change what we are doing. Here’s a brief summary of key inflection points in B2B sales.
- Consensus. There has been a long-term trend of leaders giving more authority to their teams for deciding what to buy and who to buy from. This greater autonomy allows the leader to hold the team accountable for their results and their decisions, while also giving them what they want. The trend towards consensus continues to grow, with many companies going from the consensus of a team to organizational consensus.
- Competition. The increasing number of competitors and alternatives has created a glut of offerings in many industries. The first outcome of this trend is that when more companies compete for a finite number of prospective clients, there is a loss of pricing power. The second is that competing requires creating greater value, which when done well can improve margins. Overall, the increase in competition shifts power to buyers, particularly in industries where new business models built on technology have wiped out well-established companies and put pressure on traditional models.
- Information Parity. The internet has been around a long time, but it didn't really start to take off until America Online made it easy for people to connect. Eventually, the internet become the world's largest bazaar (or shopping mall), dominated by e-commerce and the app economy. Buyers who once needed a salesperson to learn about the company and its products can now Google that information. In response, salespeople now have to create a new type of value that goes beyond mere information.
- Finance and Purchasing. More and more companies have given more authority and responsibility to their Finance and Purchasing functions, often motivated by the 2001 dot-com bubble and the 2008 Great Recession. These companies commonly use a transactional approach to buying while asking more from their suppliers, calling them partners to suggest the sales organization is responsible for the outcome, not the transaction.
- Uncertainty. In 2020 a pandemic swept across the world, leaving no one untouched and adding greater uncertainty to an already uncertain environment. Because our world is one of constant, accelerating, disruptive change, it's difficult to make sense of potential change—and even harder to decide. At the time of this writing, inflation is higher than it's been in four decades, supply chain issues restrict everything from groceries to high-security computer chips, and Russia is threatening war in the Ukraine.
A Higher-Resolution Lens and Why Sales Evolves
When your client's world changes, they change. Facing constant, accelerating, disruptive change, your clients need you to show agility and flexibility, starting by recognizing what kind of help they need from a salesperson. Asking a decision-maker “tell me about your problem” is not something they find particularly helpful, especially if it’s just an excuse to pitch them your solution.
Most sales strategies and tactics have been developed to make selling easier for the sales organization. While the "legacy solution" approach to sales at least moved us closer to an other-oriented and consultative approach, the way it is practiced is no longer effective. Those with a low-resolution lens will continue to struggle to sell effectively, unless and until they start facilitating each buyer's journey, taming the uncertainty that prevents change, and providing counsel, advice, and recommendations that improve their prospective client's future.