The Evolution of Sales Is Not What You Think

Twice in two days, I have been approached about the automation and disintermediation of salespeople.

First, an email exchange with Dave Brock, who expressed his concern about quantification without any reference to qualitative measurements. Because we can count, we believe that what we can count is the only thing that counts. There are dozens of tech companies that have solved the problem of counting but have not solved the problem of making the subjective into something objective. Somethings require value decisions. The context is missing.

Dave and I have agreed to do a webinar to make a case about how things are getting worse in sales, why they are getting worse, and what sales leaders and salespeople should be doing about it.

Today is my birthday and the 4th year of the last five where I have been booked to speak. I followed a speaker who has strong opinions about sales. When I arrived, I found my handler to let her know I made it to the venue. I was greeted by three people who were attending the conference who wanted to know if I was going to tell them that field sales is dead, that they only need inside reps, and that everything will soon be automated.

I explained to them that I was not going to speak on anything that even remotely sounds like what they just suggested, and that I vehemently disagreed with their premise. The speaker that spoke the day before I was scheduled had made this case, and they hoped they weren’t going to be hearing more of that message. They believed, rightly I would argue, that commercial relationships are still critical, and more still, selling is about creating a preference (if you want to win, anyway).

At the end of the first segment of my speech, I told them that “When sexting replaces sex, I will believe that human relationships no longer matter. But I am long on human relationships, and I would not bet against something so persistent over hundreds of thousands of years.”

We live in a world where the present state is not constant; instead, we have accelerating, disruptive change. This means cultural changes, economic changes, changes to business models, economies, and strategies, technological changes, scientific changes, and political changes. Much of what we know is changing and will continue to change.

It is a mistake to look only at what is changing without also looking at what persists over time. What are the deep structures that are timeless and don’t change much, if they change at all? Things like trust, caring, civility, relationships. Things like networks, and the need for advice navigating tough decisions.

Evolution transcends and includes what comes before it as it produces novelty and growth. It negates what is no longer useful, and the deep structures survive for a reason. You would do well to pay as much or more attention to what persists as you look at what is changing.

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