21st Century Sales Warrior = People + Process + Technology

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Throughout my sales career, I grew increasingly frustrated by the perspective that sales people were not like other professionals — accountants, engineers, designers, marketers – and that instead they were viewed as lone wolves, undisciplined rebels who functioned independently of the rest of the organization.

On the contrary, I believe that any of my own success in sales was rooted in behaviors that these other professionals also engaged in, namely, harnessing the collective genius of the communities in which I operated, developing and applying best practices and intelligently exploiting available technologies that were available to me. In other words, I succeeded because I harnessed the power of bringing people, process and technology together.

This is even more important in today’s post-downturn world, in which closing a sale is no longer a matter of just showing up at the sales call. Sales people today contend with an increasingly global marketplace, an ever-expanding range of products and services, new channels of customer engagement and an expanding list of competitors. The power has shifted from sellers to buyers, who are better informed and always connected to a world of opinion, advice and information, thanks to mobile and social technologies. Now that the customer controls the conversation, we require a 21st century approach to the sales profession.

It’s no longer just about relationships when it comes to a successful sales organization; I passionately believe that a renaissance is required for sales to gain the professional recognition it deserves amongst its peers. The 21st century sales organization needs to rethink its selling process and align it to that of the buying process, and in order to do that, there must be a renewed focus on driving tighter alignment between people, process and available technologies.
What do I mean by this? Briefly:

• By “people,” I mean collaboration, enabling easy access to the right experts, content and assets to use in the sales cycle. This also means sharing the collective knowledge of the global community through professional organizations and universities that serve these communities.

• By “processes,”I mean identifying best practices and using those to design and follow innovative sales processes that are responsive to the customer’s needs. No longer can the sales process force-fit customers through a funnel, toward the sale; 21st century sales processes need to be in tune with wherever the customer is in the buying cycle and better inform sales people about the products and services they’re pitching.

• By “technology”, I mean leveraging and exploiting available technologies such as analytics
to digest huge volumes of information and deliver strategic insights to sales people on the move. It also requires sales systems that are connected to the rest of the organization’s systems (front and back office) and incorporates data from everywhere, including social channels – not a patchwork of disconnected islands of information.

I’m happy to see that others agree. People are starting to talk about the need for top business schools to begin offering sales-related education programs, especially in light of the “$800 billion spent annually on the sales organization in the U.S. and its 20 million-strong” U.S. workforce.

And in a recent blog post, Dave Brock uncovered “the secret to sales success:” a sales process that is unique to the organization and aligned with the customers’ buying processes. I whole-heartedly agree. I believe the future of sales is clear: We need a disciplined approach to sales that puts the customer at the center and provides sales people with insights on who their customers are, where they are in the buying cycle and the business challenges they face.

What will it take to develop a 21st century sales warrior at your company? Please share your insights, opinions and tips with the community.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Nicholas, great post, I like the concept of the 21st Century Sales Warrior. Too many sales people and executives are caught in the past. We are 12 years into the 21st Century still applying 20th Century methods, techniques, and approaches.

    While many of the principles around sales remain the same (for example creating great value in every customer interchange), the way we do this has changed profoundly.

    Success with customers and success within the profession demands great changes in the way we achieve success. You’ve articulated many of the core elements very well. Regards, Dave

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for the feedback and I could not agree with your comment more.

    I think this quote sums it up really:

    "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Leon C. Megginson paraphrasing Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species

    Regards,

    Nicholas Kontopoulos

  3. Your post is very inspirational. I’m a new salesperson. I’m making the jump to sales after five years in finance, I’m looking for details about how I can become a 21st Century Sales Warrior. I’ve been studying the generic sales cycles. I’m looking for ways to capitalize on my finance and analytical training to potentially deliver deeper insights to clients. I definitely want to learn the tools of the trade (Sales Force, etc.). Still I’m looking for a true primer on 21st Century selling, a high-level guide, whose information will not be outdated anytime soon. Any suggestion where I can find such literature?

    Best regards,

    George

  4. Firstly, thank you so much for the feedback and I am really chuffed that you found the post helpful. Secondly, please forgive me for the delay in replying to your post. I’ve been on a 3.5 week holiday that has seen me enjoying the sights of Dubai and Cape Town and find myself now wading through a sea of email now that I am back.

    Personally, I think having a strong Finance background will help serve you well in sales as at the end of the day sales is all about “creating value” – both for your customers and your employer, and having a good head for numbers will certainly give an edge here.

    In terms of developing your sales skills and the types of resources you should consider tapping into, I would have to recommend you certainly starting with this excellent recent post from Matt Heinz, which contains a rich list of thought leaders and resources you can dive into immediately.

    I am also a big fan of Dave Brock (listed as one of the Sales Bloggers Matt recommends), as he brings a no-nonsense and pragmatic view to the sales table that I think cuts through a lot of the “Sales Thinking” noise out there. In fact, only today I retweeted which 110% agreed with and which I think you can take great confidence in knowing that you don’t necessarily have to come from a “Particular Industry” or even had a “Sales” background in order to succeed in this incredibly rewarding profession.

    In terms of books I would recommend you also read The Challenger Sales which has been a pretty big hit and one I personally enjoyed reading and also pretty found myself agreeing with.

    In addition to the above there is a Sales iGuide that I helped sponsor which we push out quarterly which contains some really good blogs, interviews etc from numerous Thought Leaders and Practitioners across the globe.

    Finally, feel free in connecting with me via LinkedIn, SlideShare, Twitter, Mindgum.co (my personal blog) as I am often sharing content I stumble across or create via these channels.

    Hope the above helps and I look forward to connecting again with you soon.

    Cheers,

    Nicholas Kontopoulos

  5. George, Nicholas is absolutely on target with his comments. Sales is wrapped in too much mystique. Your training in finance gives you a great leg up, without being brainwashed with all the sales stuff.

    Skills from finance that are critical: Analysis, trying to probe for and understand the real facts/issues, not accepting things at face value. A disciplined approach to problem solving and project management. An understanding of value and how to express value.

    In terms of reading, Matt’s post has a lot of good stuff. Nicholas’ recommendations are great. I would go back to some of the “old classics.” They form the foundation for all current selling. Anything by Neil Rackham. Anything by Mack Hanan, Linda Richardson, Miller/Heiman will put you far ahead of your peers.

    Good luck!

    Nicholas, thanks so much for the kind comments!

  6. Dear Nicholas and Dave,

    Thank you for your responses!

    Unfortunately the notification emails that you guys responded to me went to my spam folder, which is why I’m so late in thanking you for your detailed responses to my inquiry

    I’m looking forward to reading the titles that you both suggested. Also, the link the Matt’s site and the iGuide chock full of good stuff, and are sure to keep me busy for some time.

    After five weeks on the job, I’m really enjoying my new career. The learning curve is fairly steep. Particularly, combining the product, technological, economic, and interpersonal aspects of the job in a way that drives value for both the client and the firm, when the market is changing seemingly everyday, is challenging. I’ve also lost the birds-eye-view of the firm that I had when the whole business was expressed in a nice, clean, financial model. In a nutshell, access to data to aid decision making is less available (I’m trying to change this now). That said, I’m finally on the front line, in the trenches, which is where I’ve wanted to be for a long time. So, despite working with a narrower scope of available data, I’m focused on an area that allows me to deal with a wider group of stakeholders, and directly relates my teams’ performance to one of the two line items that everyone is watching: the top line and the bottom line.

    I wish you both the best in 2013 and please keep spreading your knowledge and debating with your peers in public (i.e the internet). It’s been helpful for me, and I’m guessing it’s been helpful to many more people, too.

    Thanks again!

    George

  7. Hi Nicholas,

    Let me come back to your original post (sorry George).
    Of course I agree with the People + Processes + Technology assertion. In my line of work I use the same term but in a slightly different context. As I help Sales and Marketing teams to work more closely together in order to boost sales productivity I have learnt that my “Trinity” is: People 1st, Processes 2nd and Technology 3rd because you can have the latest technology and the most sophisticated processes but if you don’t bring the people along on the journey then your chances of success are severely compromised.

    Further, my “Trinity” goes right across the organisation but starts with Sales and Marketing teams as they are the engine that sustains an organization or the one that stalls it.

    I guess my perspective is not far apart from Nicholas’ , maybe it is just a little broader and more encompassing of the Marketing function ?

    Peter Strohkorb
    International Sales+Marketing Collaboration Consultant

  8. Peter,

    Thank you for your comment.

    We are in fact in total alignment, as I passionate agree that any form of business transformation needs to start with People (Customers, Employees, Business Partners etc.) first.

    From here you can then start to identify opportunities to rethink new, and innovative ways of designing business processes that help drive innovation at the cold face. The goal here should always be to help enable employees at the cold face to deliver on the brand promise, and to ‘engage customers like never before’.

    Its on over used saying, but technology is ultimately the enabling layer of this formula.

    However, too many business approach technology like a ‘Diet Pill’ solution, and this is a receipt for disaster in my experience.

    Ultimately, business leaders need to develop a more mature understanding of how technology works, not only for their business unit, but the wider enterprise. It can’t be approached independently of the first two steps (People + Process), and needs to be considered in a more holistic way, i.e. from both a front and back office perspective.

    Thanks again for your valuable contribution to the discussion.

    Kind Regards,

    Nicholas Kontopoulos

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