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Stop making sales predictions and start executing

BNN's Upgrades & Downgrades last week reported that Société Générale had upgraded Boeing to a price target of $94 (U.S.). I smirked at that, having followed the company since the 787 Dreamliner was grounded earlier in January. I failed to act when the stock was below $75, and it was trading north of $94 all of last week.

Is there any advice or value-add there for someone seeking to advance and move forward? I recalled earlier last week that I was sent a link to a slide presentation examining what the sales profession will look like in 10 years.

Projecting that far into the future can be a scary and often worthless exercise for two reasons:

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  • Given that about 40 per cent of business-to-business (B2B) salespeople do not make their quotas, it’s a better use of time and resources to address that problem now.
  • Changes in sales over the past 10 years have come primarily from the technology in use, less so in how salespeople and organizations actually execute.

Many of the challenges and frustrations expressed by sellers today are similar to those from 10 or even 20 years ago – as are many of the solutions. It's safe to assume changes in the next 10 years will outpace the last 10, but will that change selling, or will technology continue to mask certain issues or distract from what needs to be done to drive revenues?

Beyond the obligatory futurist-type statements, two themes emerge:

Selling will not change that much

As I was reviewing the predictions, I kept asking, "Isn't that what leading salespeople and organizations are doing now?"

One predicted salespeople will create value in every interaction and they are always learning, adding that in 10 years sales will be dominated by business-savvy, relationship-driven individuals who leverage ideas, insights and information to help clients achieve objectives. Along the same lines, another offered that sales will look like a conversation between people who share a passion – there will be no more pitching benefits, but more of a conversation about helping "each other to be more successful."

Is that not the stated objective of value-driven, passionate sales leaders and business owners? I know it describes many people I work with now.

Another prediction described how, due to resources available to the customer, the sales process will be shorter. That is true – buyers even now engage sellers much later in their own "buying process." But this is only the case for buyer who initiate purchasing on their own, which at best is only about 20 per cent of the market.

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The real skill is a salesperson's ability to engage with and sell to the 80 per cent of potential buyers sitting on the sidelines, not actively in the market, nor perceive a need to be. Engaging them by communicating value is the challenge, now, 10 years ago, and 10 years from now. Framing the issues without action steps to address it proactively does nothing to move us forward to achieving them.

Many future sellers will be order takers

For a lot of current salespeople, this is already the case. Buyers begin exploring on their own, they define their own requirements, and they make independent decisions to buy. The only opportunity left for a seller is to take the order. With the current trends in technology leading to even more self-serve purchasing, and the continued commoditization of entire product lines, this trend will continue as it has over the past 10 years. Order takers will facilitate revenue rather than drive it.

While feel-good statements make sense now and for the future, in the end, successful sales is about execution – not talking about it, doing it. It is not a lack of knowledge, awareness or vision about what needs to be done.

The reason why the discussion is taking place now, as it did in 2003 and 1993, is because the execution is lacking, and doing something about it is always kicked down the road. I would rather have read about how salespeople in the future will execute in a holistic rather than selective fashion, so we can begin taking steps now.

If we, as sales leaders, do not fix that now, the only thing that will be different in 10 years is the device on which we read the next version of this play.

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Tibor Shanto is a principal at  Renbor Sales Solutions Inc.  He can be reached at His column appears once a month on the  Report on Small Business  website.

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