Despite centuries of discovery, salespeople are still cast in ancient agrarian terms as “hunters” or “farmers.” Organizations value aggressive hunters who dote on Big Corporate Game, compete for new major accounts, and ink million-dollar-plus deals. Hunt. Kill. Carve. Eat. Drool! Farmers, on the other hand, are installed-account focused. They’re patient, nurturing, and empathetic. Vision, without as much saliva. Even still, farmers are expected to grow cash crops, not weeds. Could any sales organization survive without them? The better question is can they survive with them, because these metaphors are dying. Today, such simplification no more reflects sales than it does food production.
In the context of socially-empowered customers, thinking “hunters and farmers” jams salespeople into roles they can’t adequately fill, and forces processes that don’t match how customers buy. Why? Because social media that fuels socially-empowered customers has fragmented communication into many pieces, and selling responsibilities have fragmented along with it. Just twenty years ago, holding conversations with customers was an almost-inviolable domain of the sales force. Not anymore. And we’re just beginning to understand that buying processes are in fact, complex social processes. Social buying needs social selling, and vice-versa.
This fragmentation yields a related problem—no longer can a hunter/farmer assemble a target-account sales puzzle single handedly. It’s hard enough when the pieces aren’t moving. Try doing it when they are. Nothing in sales remains static. An article by Tuba Ustuner and David Godes, (Better Sales Networks, Harvard Business Review, July-August, 2006) says it best: “The salesperson’s job changes over the sometimes lengthy course of the selling process, with each phase requiring its own particular set of abilities. The skills involved in finding a lead don’t apply to, say, closing a deal. Moreover, each stage requires the salesperson to build and use a different kind of social network.”
If different social networks underpin different phases of the buying process, it’s not safe to assume that sales methods based on “individual contributor” hunter/farmers can support those processes. The multiple social network idea Ustuner and Godes describe begs many questions:
Do sales executives need to challenge the long-held view that selling is about managing deals? Instead, is it more about managing networks?
If so, are we identifying and rewarding the requisite sales competencies?
Does the authors’ observation change the definition of the “end-to-end sales process?”
If social media enables malleable buying processes and social networks, do we need similarly malleable sales processes, technologies, and sales teams?
Can sales organizations innovate new strategies that embed customer-centric engagement?
For the answer to the last question, it took none other than GM, former paragon of ossified thinking, to show us true innovation. Though the company’s experiment to sell cars through e-Bay flopped, GM recognized that buyer needs might be better supported by looking at their sales process differently. According to Rob Chesney, VP of eBay Motors, GM wanted to know “if we offer consumers a new way to interact with the purchase of a car, would they engage?” Who could imagine GM asking that even one year ago?
Engage they did. The program generated 1.5 million visits to a dedicated section of eBay’s website, and 15,000 leads for California dealers. But GM ran into a pothole: the engagers failed to buy, and for now, GM is trying to understand the reasons. Although GM postponed further implementation of the program to 2010, Mr. Chesney believes “there is a real proposition that we can build upon there.”
Failure or not, GM’s eBay initiative is significant for heralding another legacy sales process cracking under its own weight. Changing the status quo in sales is always fraught with risk, but GM and other companies are proving that there’s nothing sacrosanct about tried-and-true. There has never been a better time to consider the question whether buyer needs are best supported by an “individual contributor”—whether hunter or farmer. Social selling has become too complex for any one individual to perform.
Can a Kinder, Gentler Sales 2.0 Rep Still Make Quota?, by Anneke Seley
Thoughts on Sales 2.0 from Lee Levitt, by Chad Levitt
Five Steps to Real Customer Centricity, by Graham Hill