4 trends: The future of sales

Are you comfortable with paradox, ambiguity, change management and unlearning things you hold dear?

The future of sales is both on us today and will continue to evolve at warp speed. Hyper-competition is squeezing flexibility and demanding a new sales approach. The future will emphasize holistic business management. It will require sales leaders to embrace a blend of entrepreneurism, social selling, higher-level financial disciplines and skills in moderating customer innovation meeting, and thinking about design. Tomorrow’s sales leaders must possess the holistic business skills of a general manager, including:

  1. A co-creation mentality that is skilled at uncovering and marshaling all enterprise assets;
  2. A balance of entrepreneurism and disciplined strategic management;
  3. Leading an enterprise relationship and social-selling with the customer; and
  4. Facilitating higher-level customer meetings focusing on purpose; sales and marketing will show up as “one.”

Let’s review each of these attributes in detail.

Co-creation mentality
No longer will organizations just hire great presenters and relationship builders. The future sales organization will comprise leaders who are skilled at the art form of moderating high-value, co-creation meetings with their customers, including marketing, operations and third-party creative teams.

Tomorrow’s leaders will be adept at managing an ecosystem of assets, alliances, insights and emerging new businesses. They will be skilled at facilitating higher-level collaborative meetings with the customer and all functional internal teams. They will become vital parts of the innovation process.

Entrepreneurship and discipline
Customers demand extreme value and will squeeze more profit out of every item, making it essential that tomorrow’s sales leaders be skilled at financial productivity analysis, organizational profit-and-loss assessments, ideas on transforming current products and helping to design fully integrated brand experiences supported by services. Sales leaders must think as entrepreneurs do, yet ruthlessly maximize all investments as if they own the company.

The future of sales will embody holistic customer thinking and a general management approach to stewarding a portfolio of brands, services and assets in support of the retailer’s core customer needs. In the next generation, every customer and resource is variable and open to reassignment. 

Enterprise social selling
Tomorrow’s sales leaders will harness the full intellect of an organization. They will be skilled at uncovering an even deeper understanding of the strategic, competitive, interpersonal, political and financial goals of the customer. The competency of the future is linking the special assets of your organization to the boardroom agenda of your customer. This level of alignment only occurs through “enterprise to enterprise” relationship management with a skill in social selling. 

The top organizations — and sales leaders — will continue to use social media content to engage the customer, providing ideas and insight until the customer is ready to buy. More and more buyer-seller relationships will become strategic or the relationship will not exist. The future is higher-level, business-to-business engagements. 

Customer oneness
Tomorrow’s most competitive sales organizations will structure their relationships around “customer immersion,” not just customer engagement. The manufacturer — and brand — will become “one” with their top partners. Ongoing curation of new ideas, seamless customer discussions, deep listening and creative discovery meetings will be the hallmark of the best future sales organizations. Companies will discuss mutual purpose — not products.

Tomorrow’s sales leaders will be better listeners, critical thinkers and creators of new business solutions, not just great presenters. Trust and fast learning, not persuasion, is the future of sales. 

The future is here. It is hiring general managers for every customer. The future sales leader owns his or her customer base, critically assesses all new investments and embraces the very best of entrepreneurism and strategic business management. 

Of course, accepting the future isn’t easy though. As author Chuck Palahniuk wrote: “You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.”

Dan Mack is the founder and managing director of Mack Elevation Forum, and author of the book “Dark Horse: How Challenger Companies Rise to Prominence.”

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