Sales Relic at Work

Cloud Reshaping GE, SAP: “For an idea of what’s in store for IT workers at industrial conglomerate General Electric Co., you can look no further than German software vendor SAP AG, which Wednesday told the Journal’s Friedrich Geiger that “job cuts” would impact people developing and selling traditional packaged software.” The Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2014

If you grew up in enterprise software sales, as I did, you may have read the WSJ quote and started coming up with synonyms for the word relic. I, myself, went so far as to use a thesaurus: obsolete, outdated, passé, antiquated, archaic, antediluvian (that last one’s my favorite).

We’re still grappling with the demise of the predictable, linear sales cycle and now this. Remember when we qualified the opportunity, conducted discovery and advised the customer on solution options, while educating them on the advantages of ours versus the competition? Those were the days.

phoneI love technology, because regardless of the decade in which we were born, we’re on the ever-accelerating verge of something new, exciting, even life changing: the first color television, hand-held calculator, personal computer, cell phone, digital camera, 3D printer, wearable electronics.

But like Mother Nature, technology is coldly indifferent to the destruction she leaves in her wake.

The Internet killed the linear sales process by arming customers with vast amounts of information they use to educate themselves on solution options (you, the seller, are no longer required). And now it appears an entire species of sales professional is about to become extinct.

Companies aren’t going to buy packaged software, implementation services, or hardware anymore; they’re going to lease them in the cloud.

If your sales tenure began when Netscape was still the browser of choice, the ground is shifting under your feet, but fast. The traditional sales skills you perfected through years of experience have become inadequate, and the sales jobs you know are disappearing.

Certainly, you can be forgiven for feeling the urge to fire up Netflix and stream “Gone With the Wind” or its guy equivalent.

Yes, growth and adaptation are eternally required. You must now furnish customers with insights on how their business needs will evolve. You must find and articulate challenges your customers have before they know they have them. You must hunt to find the actual buyers and then learn what motivates them politically and personally. You must embrace social media. You must learn to sell new things.

As a seasoned professional with long-term experience, however, you have a singular essential skill that less-tenured sellers lack. You have the greatest ability to think like the customer.

Sheer time spent in business gives you a deeper understanding of what customers struggle with and allows you to truly empathize with their needs. The span of industries you’ve sold to affords the broadest possible perspective on every customer’s ultimate objective: grow sales and lower cost. You likely speak several industry languages.

To you, customer needs are not abstractions. You have lived them. Given the dramatic increase in customer sophistication, you are in the best possible position to establish and maintain lasting relationships, because you have walked in their shoes.

Change is good. It forces us to be nimble, to keep looking forward. It keeps us young. No one would ever suspect I once found playing Pong on my Commodore 64 to be, quite frankly, the greatest thing ever.

It’s also hard. Enterprise selling is in an especially distressing state of upheaval, and keeping pace feels seriously painful. But one sales maxim has not changed, nor will it. Customers still buy from the person with whom they have the most affinity.

Anchor this truth firmly in your mind while you’re working to establish your twitter following.

Curious about the latest in high tech? See Paste Magazine’s “The 10 Best Tech Advances of 2013” 

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