“The essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac. The fact that non-Westerners may bite into the latter has no implications for their accepting the former.” - Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
There is a clash of cultures all around us, with no less at stake than the soul of professional sales. On one side of this conflict are those who, pathologically, believe that they should be able to generate sales without exerting any effort, energy, time, or sacrifice. The pathology is equal to any "get rich quick" scheme, all of which not only fail to succeed but also extract a far higher price than any of the Ponzi realize—until it’s too late.
On the other side of this culture clash, you find the belief that the sales profession is designed, at least in its modern incarnation, to create value for people and companies who are working to improve their businesses and their results. They fight not for quick wins but to prevent and preclude damage, even before they have a signed contract. More importantly, they demand that salespeople exert effort, energy, and time, making the sacrifices necessary to master their craft and make a difference for others. Alas, this side of the fray is sorely outnumbered.
The soul of sales has been under attack for more than a decade. The fight began when the promise of technology was directed towards commerce, the benefits of which are undeniable. The four books that found their way to my home this week via Amazon.com exhibit a modern miracle, each arriving a mere 24 hours after my order. Add to that the entire catalog of music, film, and almost any other art, and you’ve got unlimited variety and accessibility that is almost impossible to imagine.
But at the same time, these wonders caused some to believe that all sales can be reduced to a transaction, with every interaction needing little or no energy, effort, or time. Instead, they preached, work should be automated, eliminated, or if it must be done, done at the lowest possible cost. All technologies, of course, can be used for good or for ill—and by and large, they benefit us and our clients. However, when they are used poorly, they extract a price that is too high. One way to weigh them is by looking beyond convenience, at their second- and third-order effects.
A long time ago, for example, the receptionist was removed from the front desk, replaced by software to help you find your way to the department or person you attempted to call. While I feel bad for the receptionists who were collateral damage, that immediate consequence—the first-order effect—the real problem is that the software negatively impacts the experience of every customer or client calling to acquire help. Apparently, your call and mine are important, but not important enough to provide the help of a human being. I’ll admit, though, that when this change first started taking hold, I didn’t think it was a harbinger of things to come.
Villains and Enemies
Let's evaluate the (alleged) progress in sales based on three factors: intentions, impact on the client, and the effect on professional sales. We’ve got quite a lineup of villains to get through, so get comfortable.
Fully-Automated Prospecting Sequences: Last week, I posted an automated email I received. It struck me as showing exactly what is wrong with the transactional thinking that generated the approach, not to mention the five spam messages that somehow wormed their way to my inbox. Naturally, the final email included its four progenitors "in case I somehow missed them." While there are some purchases and decisions that don’t require more than a transactional approach, non-transactional buying and complex decisions require something more from the communication. A number of people who are on the right side of this culture clash suggested the salesperson was to blame for this atrocity, missing the fact that the salesperson didn't send it and has no idea who I am. He would only attempt to call me if I took some action that would magically transform into an MQL.
Using our three factors, we can decide whether this approach is good or bad. The intention is not to serve the client but to badger them with emails until they take some action—to prospect without having to prospect. The impact on the client is likewise harmful: most professionals already struggle with overstuffed inboxes, and it takes both time and effort to process and store emails, even the no-value emails that go right to the trash. Lastly, the more these approaches are pursued, the more difficult it is for professional salespeople to use legitimate email in their prospecting approach, since every message is now suspect.
Connect and Pitch: We are going to have to find a way to save LinkedIn, the only significant platform for professional salespeople. It deserves a strong defense. The real villains here prey on salespeople too weak or afraid to do any prospecting on their own—they’re more than happy to outsource it to people with technologies that I believe violate LinkedIn's user agreement (please tell me if I am wrong). Because I write about sales, a lot of salespeople and sales leaders connect with me on LinkedIn. Many of them have the best of intentions, but many more are automated connections that have identified me a senior executive, all the evidence they need to request a connection and pitch their product to me a millisecond later.
Like the fully-automated prospecting sequence, the connect and pitch approach tries to skip the actual work of prospecting. The impact on the person receiving the pitch is that you have wasted their time, and most likely, caused them to have to disconnect from you and delete the InMail. Instead of starting a relationship that might have led to a commercial arrangement, you have revealed that you are the kind of person who avoids certain work. LinkedIn spammers and their enablers don't recognize just how much they are degrading the platform and ruining it for others who use it well. The damage is comprehensive, making it more difficult for real professionals to sell.
Legacy Approaches: I would argue that the legacy approaches are not only inadequate for modern sales but they also harm our clients and colleagues. Too many salespeople provide a commoditized—and predictable—sales calls and sales meetings. And let’s be honest: even clients who already want to change are too busy to repeat the same script every time they decide to gift a salesperson with their time. In this case, the villain is the approach, as most salespeople and sales organizations are unaware of how much sales has changed, let alone what they are supposed to do about it. The intention is good, but the impact on the client and profession is not.
The Fight Continues
The clash will continue until enough people recognize that we need to modernize our approaches to match the needs of our clients. The approaches will include technology, I’m sure, but use them in ways that let us spend more time helping our clients. In fact, let me make a few recommendations.
If you want to automate some part of your prospecting, start with Chris Beall and ConnectandSell, who will allow provide you with more conversations, increasing not only your efficiency, but also your effectiveness. To create and use a sequence, you should turn to Daryll Praill at Vanillasoft, who will give you an approach that is smarter than any other. For something much more than an LMS, reach out to George Donovan at Allego. Finally, for data reach out to Zoominfo, the very best in the business.
It’s not too late to join the right side in this fight. Whatever you’re selling and whoever you’re helping, first do no harm.