Constant change has always characterized the business world. Looking in the rear view mirror has never been a recommended strategy for determining future direction. However, from time to time the nature of the change takes on a different look. The scale and speed of the changes during these periods can truly be labeled disruptive. In the early 19th century the Industrial Revolution changed everything.
Let’s fast forward to the present and ask the question – are we now entering such a period? Or are the changes we have experienced in the last several years mainly driven by the economic collapse of 2008 and things are likely to shortly return to a new steady state? If you are a VP of Sales, a sales manager or a salesperson, where you come down on this question will dramatically impact what you do as the future unfolds.
The authors summarize their answer as follows: “Today our world is undergoing a dramatic transition due to the confluence of four fundamental disruptive forces—any of which would rank among the greatest changes the global economy has ever seen. Compared with the Industrial Revolution, we estimate that this change is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale, or roughly 3,000 times the impact. Although we all know these disruptions are happening, most of us fail to comprehend their full magnitude and the second- and third-order effects that will result.”
Obviously this is only “one man’s” answer but we found their narrative to be compelling. As an aside, the four disruptive forces that are examined in depth in the book are: emerging markets and urbanization, technology, aging populations and global connectivity.
For the moment let’s suspend disbelief and assume that we are experiencing and will continue to experience a period of unprecedented change – a change that is truly transformational. What does this mean for the Sales?
One consequence is a new set of winners and losers will emerge. New companies doing new things will arrive on the scene, existing companies will enter new markets using different technologies and innovative strategies and some marketing-leading companies will lose their seat at the head of the table. So will be the case at the individual level – some salespeople that made Presidents Club ever year may not even be on the short list in the years ahead.
So what to do about this? Obviously there is no simple cookie-cutter answer. However, it is possible to start the discussion. Let’s start by addressing what to do from an individual perspective. If all this is true what should a salesperson do to remain among the standing? Let’s explore some initial ideas.
- Refresh your knowledge of your customers. For salespeople a good first step for dealing with a future characterized by constant and significant change is to redouble your efforts to understand how your customers are changing to deal with their futures. If customers change how they buy, you need to change how you sell. This renewed effort involves learning more about a customer’ industry, company and markets so you can function as a trusted advisor.
- Understand the nature of the change. In times of normal change the changes are incremental and fairly predictable – not so in a period where the changes are transformational. If you end up making decisions based on your experiences from the past you are likely to miss the mark. If ever wanted to explore “outside of the box” thinking, this would be a great time to try that out.
- Take personal responsibility. Take charge of finding out what needs to done and go do it. For example, it is likely that you will need to upgrade your skills if you elect to stay in Sales. Don’t wait for training at the company’s national sales meeting – go out and get it. The goods news is today there are lots of sources to tap into from online universities to your favorite sales consultant who writes a blog three times a week to white papers published by consulting firms like Booz Allen, Bain and McKinsey. The really good news is these sources are either free or very affordable.
- Be on the lookout for opportunities. Although transformational changes can cast some dark shadows, there is a sunny side of the street. The changes that will occur will produce unparalleled opportunities. For the people who develop the awareness, acquire the skills and learn to manage the risks, times of transformational change have a renaissance like quality.
- Maintain a work/life balance. This, of course, is always a good idea. But in times of disruptive change it becomes both harder and more important to get it right.
- Leverage the technology. Technology is part of the reason for the nature of the change and also part of the answer. As the McKinsey authors note – “more and more people will enjoy a golden age of gadgetry, of instant communication and boundless information … technology will allow individuals to start businesses and gain scale at stunning speed while using little capital.”
Whether you are a VP of Sales responsible for providing direction to an entire sales team, a sales manager, or a sales rep trying to figure out their next career move, a future characterized by disruptive change provides both challenges and opportunities. There will be new winners and losers. Being among the former will require more than simply extrapolating from past successes.
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