We all have a favorite author or two whose new works we wait for with some anticipation. One who has been on our top ten list for quite a while is Thomas Friedman.
As we were perusing his new book – That Used to Be Us – the title of Chapter 7, Average Is Over, caught our eye. Freidman and his coauthor Michael Mandelbaum make the point that it is increasingly difficult to standout from the crowd in a world that is growing larger and more connected.
The authors go on to craft the argument that “ what was average work ten years ago is below average today and will be further below average ten years from now.” Based on this trend the authors conclude: “everyone will need to raise his or her game just to stay in place, let alone get ahead.” In this environment everyone needs to find or develop their “extra” – that unique talent, skill, or commitment that will separate them from the pack.
Although the authors framed the discussion in broad political anthropological terms, the message seemed equally valuable for those of us concerned about specific areas of performance like sales effectiveness.
Let’s explore the forces that are driving the importance of this message for companies selling in the B2B market.
- Marketplace. Due to globalization and advanced manufacturing technology, it is becoming more and more difficult to differentiate by product alone. Today when you have a superior product, a competitor is likely to market one that is equally good and cheaper in half the time of yesteryear. Under these conditions a sales force needs to be a competitive advantage, as opposed to, just being able to sale one. This requires the skills to create value rather than just communicate it.
- Customer-Base. In many markets the economic uncertainties of the last several years have lead to transformational changes. What companies buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it are all constantly changing. And, it is likely this environment of change will be the new normal. This means that a sales person involved in complex B2B sales will not be able to stay ahead of the game simply by doing a better job doing what they are doing. The “extra” in their case will involve learning new skills and learning to apply their existing skills under a new set of market conditions.
- Competition. During any period when seismic economic shifts occur, a new set of winners emerges. Some companies have already made the leadership choices and additional commitments to become members of that win-the-future club. They recognize the necessary changes to “get ahead of the game” will not occur by following a business-as-usual approach. They buy the notion that additional leadership and investment are necessary to maintain a sales force that can be a competitive advantage in the future.
For those companies who have not address this idea that “average is kaput,” the question becomes why not? Is it assumed the premise by Friedman and Mandelbaum is simply wrong when applied to the sales function? Or, is it the premise is right, but doing what they are doing is sufficient? Or, business-as-usual is a winner by default because of budget or political constraints. The worse case is not addressing the question and not arriving at a thoughtful answer… and as a result: taking too little action, too late.
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