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Future Shock: Enabling tomorrow’s Sales organisations

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Alvin Toffler, an American futurist, wrote his global best seller “Future Shock” in 1970 describing the effect of new technologies on business and society. His work is particularly applicable for sales organisations today. The combined effect of the internet, smart phones, 5G, robotics and SaaS is having a disruptive impact on the way products and services are sold, as well as sales organisations themselves.

First, a bit of a historical perspective. The industrial revolution was characterised by patentable breakthroughs that had obvious benefits and could be scaled-up through broadcast communications to a mass market. Target customers only needed to be made aware of a new product’s benefits in order to trigger a buy-signal. Before the IT revolution, field sales reps and mass-market advertising for consumer products were the main channels for communication and education.

Times have changed. Modern technology has eliminated the need for broadcast communication through a field sales force. More and better-quality information is available to customers on the internet where price/performance comparison platforms have short-circuited the biased information from a company sales rep. At the same time, the internet has been an equaliser to accelerate price/performance convergence between products and services that makes differentiation by the rep on these dimensions more difficult. The historical role of Sales as a channel for communicating relative benefits has been eliminated. For the industrial-age sales person, this is “game-over”. Much of what they used to do has been automated away.

At the same time, technology is shifting customer needs and preferences faster than ever before. Demand for more individualised “solutions” made up of a number of different components has increased. In order to deliver this new value proposition, the fundamental purpose of field sales has to shift 180 degrees. Instead of talking benefits, reps must listen for needs and connect the dots to assemble a solution that best fulfils the customer’s requirements. This is a future shock for most Sales organisations and front-line sales people. A new set of skills and competencies is needed.

Its leading to some counter-intuitive changes in sales organisations – like downsizing the sales force to grow sales!? That is, shifting the rudimentary broadcast communication to automated channels, and investing more in fewer, more qualified sales people who are able to consult key accounts with their specific needs. This is happening across industries and geographies. However, it is most prevalent with firms that are serving consolidating markets and a growing number of key account customers.

What does this mean for portfolio companies? First, they need to check the time signature of their sales organisation and eliminate old sales activities that technology has made redundant and clients are no longer willing to pay for. Second, the qualifications of the sales force in the context of new customer requirements needs to be assessed. A competency framework and rigorous methodology inform individual development plans for each rep. With proper coaching and retraining, many can make the jump to the future.

Humatica has helped hundreds of firms to avoid Future Shock by anticipating shifting organisational requirements on Sales and enabling transformation before its too late.

This article originally appeared as the Humatica Corner in Real Deals magazine. To view the PDF version, click here.

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