I haven’t sold for a living in almost 20 years but then again as an independent analyst I am always selling my ideas. I’ve also studied selling for a long time both as a rep and now as someone who tries to understand how we apply technology to a very human-to-human process; I think my opinions are well informed.
Something crystallized for me in a recent briefing meeting I was discussing sales acceleration with a CEO. I’ve long thought that sales acceleration is not only an archaic term but also a dangerous delusion that could prevent greater sales success. It’s an idea you might be familiar with if you read this space occasionally.
It’s my position that sales acceleration has seen its peak and has been declining as a driving force in sales management for many years. Certainly there are many, many people and organizations practicing a form of acceleration and there are more than a few software vendors poised to assist that effort. But as a practical matter the attempt to accelerate to me is like pushing on a string. That’s because there doesn’t seem to be much left to accelerate.
By necessity most acceleration happens on the vendor side. So we have all sorts of ways to reduce latency in vendor processes and actions. We speed up configuration, pricing, and quoting so that we can put offers in front of customers before anyone else can. Or we use the latest social media tools to be in the moment with customers whenever they have questions or even stray thoughts. But there hasn’t been much change over many years in what customers do. They take in vendor information and process it as they must and reach decisions, even deciding not to decide.
Customers’ deliberations are not guided by much more than spreadsheet analysis and decisions arise from thinking about the collected information from various sources. So I don’t think there’s much further to go in actually accelerating because I don’t know how you speed up the way other people think.
Acceleration is a relic of a much different time. In 1911, Frederick Taylor published his famous time and motion studies and inaugurated the age of acceleration. But Taylor’s goal was to eliminate wasted time and motion in manufacturing processes, to get humans to function as much as possible like the robots that have continuously replaced them over the intervening century.
Taylor’s efforts gave form to the industrial age and time and motion became cornerstones of business processes everywhere whether or not they were appropriate. Perhaps selling is one of those areas. Efficient selling has been a goal for a very long time and at first there were many efficiency gains to be had. Giving telephones, cars, computers, among other things, to sales people gave them the ability to reduce the inherent latency of selling. Today we’re at an intersection point of two important trends going in opposite directions. The drive to make selling more efficient is heading south while the need for reps to intuit, empathize, and adjust to customers has never been greater.
If you look at the sales tools that have been released in the last decade, most of them (certainly not all) aim not at efficiency in the Taylor sense, but at capturing various forms of data that enable better understanding of customer situations so that reps can focus their time and attention on the deals most likely to close. In effect, this has provided the ability to accelerate revenue if not individual situations because the automation we have makes it possible to keep tabs on many more situations. The net effect is more predictable revenue even if it doesn’t do much to accelerate a specific deal.
This is all very good but it brings into high relief the place of efficiency and acceleration in modern selling. Why are we still banging on the efficiency and acceleration drum? My thought is that acceleration has become a meme; something each of us inherits as sales people. It’s a bit of social genetics that we don’t think much about because, hey, it’s groupthink.
But I’d suggest that two things are happening. First the concept of acceleration is morphing to be more about revenue acceleration than about deals, which therefore accommodates the new reality. Second, at some point we’ll realize the gap between what we say and what we mean and we will adjust selling to better reflect the realities. If that happens across a broad swath of the profession it could usher in a new golden age.