Is The Profession Of Sales At An Inflection Point?


Share on LinkedIn

“An Inflection Point is a point on a curve at which the sign of the curvature changes.”

“Think of it [and inflection point] as a turning point….This profound change could be positive or negative.”

In sales, particularly B2B sales, I think we are at an inflection point. In the past 100 years, I believe there have only been two other inflection points in sales. But this one is different than the other two. For those that recognize it and embrace it, the opportunity can be extraordinary. For some, missing it will mean failure.

Let’s step back a moment. I believe there have only been two other inflection points in sales in the past 100 years. The first, probably was driven by the works of Dale Carnegie who started formalizing the role of the sales professional, developing methods, principles, and approaches which, when consistently implemented drove the effectiveness of people who sold.

The second, was driven by the works of Neil Rackham and Mack Hanan in the late 60?s and early 70?s. Their works shifted the focus of B2B sales people to be more customer focused, value oriented, and consultative in their approaches. They introduced stronger processes, methodologies, and disciplines associated with this customer focused and consultative approach. They were the real drivers in putting the customer at the center of sales. A great number of other thought leaders, like Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman, helped accelerate sales adoption of this change through their works. Since then, there has been a huge amount of good work. A lot of great research in the academic world, many important books that have had a great impact on me and millions of other professionals. But all this work has been primarily derivative of Neil’s and Mack’s works or extensions of it.

These two inflection points have something in common, they were driven from within the profession. They were fundamentally changes initiated by insightful sales professionals and executives, and have been sustained within the profession.

We are at a new inflection point, something which presents great opportunity. But this inflection point is different from the previous two. This is the first inflection point that is not being driven by sales, but rather by customers! Kind of scary isn’t it? The most profound change to our profession is being driven from outside our profession. The rules are changing and we aren’t making them (as if we ever really did).

We’re still trying to understand what this means, we’re struggling to discover new processes, methods, disciplines, skills, roles, and responsibilities. We have many opinions about what they are, many of those are converging.

Since this inflection point is different, we have the opportunity to address it differently. Where in the past, the changes were driven within the profession, perhaps this is the opportunity for us to change the way we drive the changes. Perhaps this is the opportunity not to do it by ourselves, but to embrace the customer in helping us to define the new methods, processes, skills needed to take advantage of this inflection point.

I’m interested in your views on this. I’ll be writing much more on this. One of the things I believe is happening simultaneously, is that marketing is at an inflection point. Couple these together and opportunities abound.

One thing is certain, there could not be a more exciting time to be in sales!

This coming Monday, April 4, at 2:00 PM EDT, Dave Stein, Charlie Green, and I will be starting a conversation about this at a Roundtable: Professional Sales, Are We At An Inflection Point? Join us, it should be a great discussion.

FREE WEBINAR! Join us for this week’s FREE webinar from the Future Selling Institute on Sales Metrics: Getting Personal with Metrics. Mark your calendars for Friday, April 1, 2011 at 11:00 AM EST and click here to register.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Hi Dave Interesting assessment of the opportunities in sales. I agree that customers are much more in the driving seat. I also think that we are perhaps going “back to the future” in that customers are looking for more transparent “trading” relationships. We have become good at selling to and marketing to customers now perhaps we need to go back to trading with our customers. I believe too that businesses need to develop new skills and structures to operate alongside the sales “hunters.” We need to gather insights from customers (and staff) so that we can evolve our organisations to better meet customer needs. In this collaborative environment we need skilled “hunters” and equally skilled “farmers” (what I call Clienteers).

  2. Dave: Similarly, I’ve thought about this topic as well, asking “would a successful salesman from 1912 (few women were in the profession at that time) be able to succeed in the sales profession today?” So much has changed that I’m not sure.

    I often reference a 100-year-old book I own, Salesmanship and Business Efficiency, by James Samuel Knox, for ideas and content. Some of the points are lame by today’s standards: “When approaching the order point, do not joke. Omit remarks about having ‘a nice new pen.’ That is irrelevant, distracting and hurtful. Be as serious as when presenting your arguments.” There is a chapter dedicated to “Mental Analysis,” containing advice on how to read “faces, heads, forehead, eyes, noses, lips, and chins.” Even the numbers are funny. Chapter 24 is titled “Building a $10,000,000.00 Sales Organization.” What a difference 100 years makes!

    But many of the author’s other ideas are remarkably durable:

    “Salesmanship is the power, or ability to influence to buy at a mutual profit, that which we have to sell, but which they may not have thought of buying until we called their attention to it.”

    Social media has frayed the latter idea, as some people insist that the genesis of buyer need, interest, and collaboration occur well before salespeople get involved. It’s worth recognizing the forces at play even though it’s tenuous to generalize that today salespeople have little to do with bringing attention to what they sell.

    I agree that Dale Carnegie’s groundbreaking ideas fostered sea changes in selling, but I would argue that the inflection point had as much to do with market forces as it did with Carnegie’s revolutionary ideas. Like most innovation, timing is everything. Nothing flourishes in a vacuum. Carnegie’s ideas were adopted because the buyer needs changed, and sellers had to adapt.

    I’m planning to write more on the Inflection Point idea as well. Maybe we can find some keywords on Twitter, post a collaborative document on, and discuss while sharing a virtual beer on a GoToMeeting session!

  3. Ray, thanks for the comment. I like the concept of becoming a trading partner with our customers—great concept. Thanks for contributing it.

  4. Andy, thanks for the comment. I’ll have to find a copy of Knox’s book. I think the concept of “Salemanship is the power, or ability……..” is even more omportant now that it has ever been.

    One of the misunderstandings people have about socieal media is the role of the sales person in helping customers think about their businesses differently. Engaging the customer at the point of their recognizing the need is too late–by that point, they will have already evaluated options and developed a shortlist. Sales people have to engage must earlier.

    It would be great to collaborate more on this–perhaps cohosting a webcast. We should talk off-line.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here