For the third year running I recently had the privilege and pleasure of attending, presenting and acting as MC at the CSE11, Asia Pacific’s Premier Sales Leadership Conference – “The New Era of Professional Selling; The Pathway from Supplier to Partner Status”.
Over 150 delegates from Australia’s premium companies attended and we heard from some of the world’s leading experts on sales capability, strategy and culture. There was much talk about the rapidly changing face of our B2B (business to business) sales world and how we need to build relevant and sustainable partnerships if we are to flourish. One of the highlights was hearing from one of Australia’s top Procurement Leaders, Craig Rooney who is the Group Procurement Manager for Porter Davis Homes and former Coles Group Procurement Manager. Craig’s insights were well received and gave us all a clear picture of how to build a Pathway from Supplier to Partner Status with 21st Century Procurement Professionals. Like Selling, Craig pointed out that the profession of Procurement is undergoing dramatic evolution to adapt to the volatility of today’s business world.
The importance of Coaching to achieve real sales capability, results, and cultural transformation was a strong message as was the need to genuinely merge and unite sales and marketing, with the rise and rise of social media as a critical piece in the sales machine. And the emergence of Neuroscience to our effective and sustained performance in sales was a highlight at this conference with live experiments on show.
Another key and somewhat disturbing message was Adapt or Perish. The world of B2B selling is changing so rapidly that it is now polarising into two distinct areas, with the likelihood of a particular style of B2B sales person becoming extinct in the next few years.
There’s no longer a middle ground in B2B sales. What you now have is a polarisation of sales approaches:
1. B2B Transactional Selling
2. B2B Complex Selling
B2B Transactional Selling is commodity based selling where there is no product differentiation and price or cost is the only priority. The Pathway from Supplier to Partner Status is not relevant here and this is where we are likely to see the extinction or death of the transactional salesman as the costs to run (such as field sales force with diminishing returns) will see businesses re-thinking their go-to-market strategy. Those B2B field sales teams that persist in selling product will be treated as commodity sales people who add no real value. Customers will therefore not waste their time seeing or dealing with them. Eventually, we’ll see the sale of commodity based products move to internal phone sales teams and/or direct to online sales portals. In many instances this is already happening.
This leaves B2B field sales people in the world of complex selling requiring a whole different level of skills, knowledge and mindset. I have written previously in Know Your Business about the importance of business acumen in sales and becoming a business person who can sell which is even more of a priority now. I have also written previously about The Sales Pioneer the emerging breed of sales professional whose key characteristics rest in the ability to challenge and educate the client, bring insight and wisdom in their areas of expertise to the table and work in collaboration with clients to produce real results. The genuine Sales Pioneers are the ones who will flourish and prosper along with their clients in the 21st century yet these people are not all that easy to find or develop.
This brings me to consider ‘how do we professionalise selling?’ and create a pathway to becoming the Sales Pioneer Professional. The thinking and capabilities required to succeed in today’s complex sales environment are in the realms of the standards of MBA’s and other business qualifications. We all noted at the conference that medical doctors, engineers, pilots and other skilled professionals invest 6-8 years of their own money and effort into attaining their qualifications. It’s about time Selling stepped out from under the shadows of Marketing and MBA’s to be a qualification in its own right and earn a place at the tertiary and professional table.
In conclusion the CSE11 conference signified that many sales leaders, salespeople and procurement professionals are on the same page about where our industry and the markets are heading – insight and collaboration is key to navigating our way in these volatile times. Managing our own wellbeing and resilience by cultivating our neurochemical pathways and rewiring how we think and act. While we have a way to go you cannot deny that it’s exciting moving forward to use the changing market to develop our minds, skills and expertise and apply ourselves and our work to benefit our businesses, our clients and customers and the sales profession.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.