The New New Sales

Sales seems to be a hateful career, if you go by the daily pleadings of the desperate salesmen that we are subject to everyday. However, nothing moves other than sales, people need to be persuaded, nudged or educated to try out anything new or give up something harmful, and indeed, as Daniel Pink contends, that while the 'sales' is dead, everyone has to sell these days.

I meet a lot of young unemployed graduates who want a 'desk job', which essentially means that they want a process-based job and don't want to have anything with sales. I would usually tell them that this is a mistake, as process-based jobs, a direct casualty of office automation, are somewhat in short supply. And, that, sales does not have to be the desperate, short term sales jobs that is our usual image of such a profession. Today's salesman is strategic, knowledgeable, often an expert and often an entrepreneur. The people who have to do most sales are those who believe in something, the value driven ones, rather than the slick lot who believed in nothing and were called salesmen. 

Despite its obvious importance to any organisation, sales is shunned in academia: Its posher cousins, marketing and leadership, get a lot more attention. However, whichever name you call it, without sales at the core, there is no marketing: Advertising isn't abstract art, but rather a tool for selling. Leadership is similar: Leaders need followers and should be able to sell their visions all the time, even to adversaries. If sales is hateful, none of that really will happen.

Sales indeed gets its bad name because of those desperate people trying out rather silly tricks. I get a lot of those in education: A new industry of sorts, I meet a lot of people coming into it from all kinds of industries along with their 'best practices'. So, we get the overtly aggressive, narrowly result oriented and completely revenue driven sales model, which, despite its slickness, often does not produce the results. This is because education sales has its unique quirks: It is relationship driven in the most part, brands matter but the experience has to live up to the brand perception to the minutest details (which education marketers often ignore) and it is usually a purchase for a lifetime, unlike most goods and services. There are many education salesmen too focused on the cost of a degree, because that matters, yet the most expensive education one can buy is the one that does not work. Besides, education marketplace is peculiar too: The leading education brands are not those which has the most students but those which reject most students. 

Daniel Pink in fact argues that sales need to change, and one reason for this transformation is the rise of 'Ed-Med', the twin industries which are leading job creation. The shape of change, in his view, is a more expertise-driven sales, a more nuanced approach than the legends of the used car salesmen. The whole point indeed is that customers are infinitely more informed today, infinitely more connected today and sales is often the last mile in their decision process than being the first mile. Desperate salesmen trying to win one over offering trinkets (or a $5 discount if one signs up right now) is often driving the customer to the reverse direction, because people too often buy for relationships, and they already know that you have jacked up the prices.

Indeed, one could claim that this is not strictly true, as with the enlightenment of the customers, the sophistication of the sales side has increased: They also have more tools, more information and greater ability to persuade. But this is exactly the case for sales 2.0: It is not about the process-driven 1 minute-per-prospect call, but a more informed, strategic approach zeroing on interested people and swaying them through unbeatable relationships.


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