Sales Enablement 2012: What’s Hot and What’s Not


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Not even eleven months have passed since last year’s Hot/Not, but I couldn’t wait a minute longer to write this one! Adapting to rapid change is part of this year’s story, as you’re undoubtedly aware. If you recently spent more than 24 hours without a web connection, you missed game-changing selling ideas, new technology developments, and your Klout score probably dipped. Horrors!

Along with political revolutions, we saw some gravity-defying sales strategies and painful flops. One sales record hit the Guiness book. Around 8 million units of the Kinect, a Microsoft device, were sold within 60 days of its launch in November 2010. “No consumer electronics device has ever sold so fast . . .” according to The Economist (Beyond the PC, October 8, 2011). “These people will absorb new technology on a scale that is simply quite stunning,” said Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s head of research and strategy.

These people, of course, are the same consumers who recently rejected Microsoft’s Kin, HP’s Touchpad, and RIM’s Playbook. Make a note in your sales training guide that pitching “latest and greatest technology” might get your Account Executive laughed out of the conference room.

In 2011, India’s Tata began the worldwide product launch for its Nano, touted the world’s cheapest car. The entry-model Nano rolled out in Bangladesh, and will set you back 599,000 taka (about $7,900), which doesn’t include front console cup holders (I am not making this up). Still, that’s ten times the price of another bold 2011 Tata product launch—a 250 square foot home, sold flat-in-a-box that includes doors, windows, roof, and an assembly guide with twelve useful swear words in six languages. This product isn’t available at Ikea, but I see it in the future.

If wow-factors alone assured sales success, Tata might have considered offering cup holder-equipped Nanos. But sales enablement is much broader than showing off glitzy features. Strategy determines the market outcomes for these products and thousands of others. Launching Tata’s house-in-a-box requires selling local governments on how to best help India’s large homeless population. It requires soliciting private landowners to provide space. “Your (sales) mission, should you decide to accept it . . .” If street luging doesn’t provide you an adequate adrenaline rush, email your resume to Tata. You’ll get plenty there.

Whether your product provides shelter to those who don’t have it, cheap transportation, 24/7 connectedness, or something else, “waiting for things to settle down” isn’t a viable strategic action, because stasis seems as likely as Democrats proposing a flat tax. Since you started reading this, much has already changed. So here’s What’s Hot and What’s Not for 2012:

Hot: “Our community is great!” As Vanessa DiMauro wrote in a recent blog, “. . . companies increasingly look to real-time customer intimacy channels such as online communities as a new approach to reach and engage their customers.”

Not: “We’re great!” Yeah, yeah, yeah. The sound of one hand clapping is so 2011.

Hot: Jazzy relationships. Collaborative problem solving, quality post-sale support, and sustainable vendor-client relationships are the new bells-and-whistles.

Not: Jazzy product features. For B2B sales, “build it and they’ll come” is no longer true, especially when a vendor owns a reputation for persistent service issues.

Hot: Peer referrals. The fact that customers talk about their vendor experiences isn’t new. But their growing influence on prospective buyer actions should not be underestimated.

Not: “Just close the deal!” If your customers don’t actively recommend your company’s products and services to prospects, are you really in the game anyway?

Hot: defining customer problems. A teachable sales-enabling skill that’s rarely performed. But inventor Charles Kettering said “a problem well stated is half solved.

Not: leading with product solutions. When what you’re selling is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Management guru Eliyahu Goldratt put it another way: “By bringing solutions to a problem, that distorts the definition of the problem.” Customers need solutions, but never before their problems are defined.

Hot: Content relevance. Yes, your prospective customers do believe “it’s all about me.” And who are we to call them selfish?

Not: Infrastructure. Your IT architecture and 24/7 e-commerce up-time don’t get prospects barking-dog excited the way they used to. Besides, cloud computing gives you the opportunity to align your internal staff much closer to your sales mission.

Hot: Return on engagement. Get beyond creating awareness, driving people to your website, and lead generation. Measuring the value that social media provides across departmental and organizational boundaries will lead to better decisions about how to deploy it.

Not: Return on social media Investment. I know. I’ve beaten this one to death, and here I go again. But if you’re asking “what’s the ROI for social media?” you’re asking the wrong question. I can’t think of one successful instance of social media use when it hasn’t been part of a larger system.

Hot: “Fail forward!” Companies need marketers and business developers capable of taking intelligent risks, and who aren’t ashamed to share what they’ve learned when things don’t proceed as planned.

Not: “Fail and we’ll fire you.” Heavy-handed management often fosters a selling culture that favors timid, risk-averse people. Some of them occasionally make quota.

Hot: people as individuals. Back by popular demand from last year’s Hot/Not. Through social media, the ability to engage in personal sales conversations has become even stronger.

Not: people as data. If you can’t get closer to customers than that, you’re in trouble. According to IBM’s 2011 CMO study, From Stretched to Strengthened, “Lower performers are still focused on transactions,” not on customer relationships. Besides, you can’t converse with a spreadsheet cell.

Hot: point-of-impulse. Or, in tech-speak, mobile application delivery. But calling it selling at the point-of-impulse sounds much more exciting.

Not: point of purchase. . . . Unless you believe that’s where the buying process begins.

Hot: strong sales backbones. “Here’s what we do, and why it’s good for you!” I know, it sounds so product-centric, but as the late Steve Jobs said, “sometimes people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Not: hyper-agility. As a CIO recently told me, “Customers don’t want to hear ‘Oh! We can change that for you!’ Everyone says that.”

Hot: corporate character awareness. If you’re paying attention to Occupy Wall Street, choosing Corporate Social Responsibility over murky ethics offers a sales strength that, sadly, not every competitor can replicate.

Not: Brand awareness. OK, keep doing what you’re doing, but now people also want to know whether your company achieves good in the world. And there’s no avoiding the importance of walking the walk: according to IBM’s 2011 CMO Study, 53% of CMO’s said brand awareness is strong contributor to success, yet 57% said significant work is needed to get employees on board. I wonder what percentage of prospects finds the lack of connectedness disturbing.

Hot: privacy. Now, a strategic differentiator! When customers believe you’re serious about protecting their privacy, they’re more inclined to buy.

Not: transparency. Especially when it means unfettered sharing of personal customer information.

Hot: approachable companies. No surprise that people like working with companies that actually want to learn from what others have to say.

Not: approachable customers. According to Axel Schultze, “too many companies create a nifty social media campaign but prospects still have no way of getting social with (them) – it’s just another, expensive marketing gig.” We’ve all done that. And how’s that dialing for dollars thing workin’ for ya?

Hot: flexible sales job requisitions. A Wall Street Journal article (Why Companies Can’t Find the Employees they Need, October 24th, 2011) said, “Jobs can be organized in many different ways so that candidates who have very different credentials can do them successfully.”

Not: unbending requirements. Unless you can afford to wait for the “perfect candidate” while scaling your sales force.

A recent blog, “From Watson to Siri: As machines replace humans, are they creating inequality too?” presented an idea worth pondering: “Equipped with new capabilities, such as the capacity for natural language, these machines will begin to displace human beings in core economic sectors, such as sales.”

Sales? Ouch! Why sales, and not medical receptionists? Communication is core to everything we do in sales enablement, but it seems shallow to propose that automating capacity for language will catalyze adoption of a robo-rep. I believe it will take thousands of development hours to program a machine to perform assumptive closes, offer best sales questions, and give firm handshakes—if it can be done at all. Still, I’m holding a spot on next year’s Hot/Not list. After all, we live in a time of accelerating change.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Nice summary, Andy

    I like the twist on transparency as not an unalloyed good, specifically that while customers want us to be transparent with them they don’t want us being transparent to other with their details.

    And this: “Not: point of purchase. . . . Unless you believe that’s where the buying process begins.” 🙂

  2. I enjoyed reading your article.
    The fantasy that some new technology will replace the sales force is far from new. The last time people took it seriously was around 1999 when the internet was going to change everything. A lot did change, but as long as people are doing the buying, the world will need people to do the selling.

  3. Thanks . . . I recently read articles about two major selling initiatives–Harley Davidson selling more motorcycles to women, and VW selling the Beetle to men. These are two non-traditional markets for these products, at least according to the articles. The effort to change perceptions will be aided by automation and social media tools, but ultimately, “closing the deal” will require personal conversations. As you said, “as long as people are doing the buying, the world will need people too do the selling.”


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