Today we are living and selling in a time of “compressed history.” Changes driven by the global market and advances in manufacturing technologies make the past a bad predictor of the future. As a result, competitive advantages that once lasted a long time now disappear quickly. In sales if you want to prosper thinking about the future matters.
We recently came across Mark McNeilly’s article in Fast Company – How the Most Successful Brands take a Peek into the Future. He points out “things are changing too fast to predict the future … if a person or firm comes to you saying they can predict the future you should turn and run as fast you can.”
However, McNeilly goes on to sharethere are ways to know and take advantage of the long-term macro trends that are happening. If you are in Sales this idea is relevant, important, and too often neglected
To focus these notions about futurism to the every day world of Sales, let’s examine it from the perspective of customer value. There are important defining characteristics of the notion of customer value. A fundamental one is the idea of Value Migration – that is, what constitutes value tends to shift over time driven by a set of trends that impact that market.
Whether you analyze it from the perspective of the individual, company, or an entire industry, the expectations about value are dynamic. History is rich with examples of companies that had very viable value propositions but failed to accurately judge the shift in the market’s value expectations, subsequently ending up with a business model and a product portfolio that were no longer responsive to their customer base.
So how does one get a handle on Value Migration in their market? Two requirements come to mind.
Early Warning. First, every day large B2B companies have hundreds of really smart salespeople interacting with really smart customers. We suggest that the sales team could be an early warning mechanism for value migration.
What if each sales person took just a little time to discuss with customers topics like: “What market trends will have the most impact on your future success?” or “What will be more important to you tomorrow than it is today?” or “What are the obstacles that are preventing you from doing what you need to do to adapt to the changes in your business?” or “As you look at the shifts in your market what could we do to help?”
Would you ask every customer contact – of course not? But all you need is a few exceptional people and every sales person has several. Plus we would suggest that such discussions might not only help you understand the future but also help differentiate you from today’s competition.
Sales Training. The second piece of the puzzle is getting Sales Training into the game. Salespeople cannot be expected to effectively and efficiently be an early warning mechanism for Value Migration without sales training. One cannot simply read The Futurist magazine every other month.
Now since we have been in the sales training business a long time, we realize that training salespeople to be an early warning mechanism for Value Migration, that is becoming futurist, is not on the short list of training priorities. As a matter of fact most often it doesn’t even make the radar screen.
But what if it did? What if you trained your sales team to not only uncover and develop existing needs but to also discuss where the customer wants to be in the future, how they want to get there, and how you might help? First of all – that type of sales training is feasible. Second, if you did do it, you might not have to worry about predicting the future because you could invent it.
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