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Faculty Insights

Sales: A Fast-Changing Landscape

By Charles West

August 21, 2013

In my last blog, I noted that of the 15 million people working in sales today, only 4 million will be in sales by the year 2020. The Internet is the most efficient salesperson in every company today and continues to become more cost effective with every click. The financial justification for the salesperson of the future will require him or her to produce annual sales revenues four times that of today’s sales representatives.
How will they achieve such a dramatic increases? The answer lies in significant competency changes for the sales professional. Here are a few of the big changes: tighter targeting, pre-call research, generating client specific ideas, and calling on executives. The new profile for the sales professionals of the future is captured by, “Don’t hire a sales person—hire a strategic and savvy business person and put them in sales.” The personality of the future sales professional will also be different. The new breed will think and behave like entrepreneurs instead of adopting today’s consultative problem-solving sales approach. This new breed will, in fact, be making deals that change the scope, boundaries, and future profitability of their companies.
How well are today’s classically trained consultative salespeople making the transition to the new competencies and attitudes? To date, the evidence is not encouraging. Fortune 1000 companies are experiencing 15% to 20% success in their conversion efforts. Smaller companies have been more patient about the timing of the conversion, but are experiencing similar success rates. The conversion problem is more attitude than skill. It requires a “change of heart” that is beyond the scope of normal re-training efforts. The result: large companies are changing their hiring profiles and aggressively recruiting to the new standards, while smaller companies are evolving their sales force as retirements and normal turnover permits.
Whichever conversion plan is put in place, the future of the sales function is clear: a smaller department with much greater impact on the future direction and profitability of the firm. In short, your sales force will become your marketplace entrepreneurs.