Digital transformation for sales executives

How sales executives need to change to be performant in today's digital economy

According to Wikipedia, Digital transformation is the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society.

Digital transformation may be thought of as the third stage of embracing digital technologies:

Digital competence → digital usage → digital transformation

With usage and transformative ability informing digital literacy. The transformation stage means that digital usages inherently enable new types of innovation and creativity in a domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods. In a narrower sense, "digital transformation" may refer to the concept of "going paperless" and affects both individual businesses and whole segments of the society, such as government, mass communications, art, medicine and science.

Digital transformation involves everyone and every business. It could be seen as just transforming traditional businesses into a digital one (from selling boxes to selling solutions and apps).  It could be seen as changing the way to do business from paper to digital but it could also be seen as transforming everything from products to processes to media to human interaction to company structures and organization.

Today I would like to focus on the way sales executive will change when their companies decide to transform. However, we can ask the question, do they need to wait until their companies decide to transform or should they do it as part of the ever-changing world?

Sales executives nowadays whether they sell as B2C, B2B or B2B2C have seen a tremendous change in the channels they use. People and businesses no longer receive a catalogue of products, do not want to be part of a mass mailing campaign or get cold calls. Today prospects and customers want personalized contacts and they want information at the right time, on the right media with the easiest way to order (one click approach by Amazon).

Sales executive nowadays (unless they are in finance) do not dress the same way. Exit the old suit and tie, they now need to dress appropriately to engage with their prospects and customers. If you work in a digital company would you like to see one of your supplier arrive in a suit and tie and speak to you such as sales executives use to speak? I don’t think so.

Sales executives now sell different type of products. Most of them are digital orientated. This means that they need to receive training to be able to speak new digital vocabulary. They need to understand new concepts such as applications markets, mobile technology, web technology, collaborative economy (https://nicolas-babin.blogspot.fr/2015/10/the-collaborative-economy.html).

They also need to understand new trends as this new world makes everything goes faster and you can no longer afford to be left behind. Their prospects and customers will expect their sales executives to be on top of technology and to explain to them their vision of the products to come. This means that companies will need to ensure that their sales executives are part of the R&D vision so they know what is cooking.

When I first started to sell back in the mid-1980, you needed to first find the right phone number for your targeted prospect. We used to spend hours looking at the phone book getting the right number. Once you had the right number, you need to know how to introduce yourself on the phone Uou had a text all prepared. Finally, you needed to conclude with an appointment. Getting an appointment was the holy grail of sales executives. However, it was far from over when you had the appointment. You did not know the person you were going to meet. You knew only what you could read about the company you were going to meet.  Being prepared meant knowing your products so you could position them based on what you were going to learn during the meeting.

Today, sales executives know very well the person they are going to meet. They have read everything about him/her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Blogs, Forums, articles online…. Same for a company. Preparing a meeting today has become very personalized. Even if you don’t know the person in front of you, you know the name of their dog, how many children they have, if they have a wife or husband, what they like in life… your meeting is much more prepared and much more efficient. You already know before your meeting what product you are going to present and for what need. The only thing you do not know is the size of the budget. This is your priority number 1 to find out. Today the skills of selling are focused primarily on empathy and fact findings based on information available everywhere. The sales job has changed totally and sales executives who do not follow this trend do not have a job anymore.

So now that we understand why the sales job has changed so much, let’s have a look at what will make sales executives very successful. I will not go into technology details but will cover subjects around data.

This section is focused on B2B sales executives. In companies, today you see more and more data scientists and Chief Data Officer (by the way I know a very good one: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hugueslebars/). These people are becoming essential to business because they “make data speak intelligently”. With open data, big data, cluster of data being managed, NoSQL databases, data is being organized in such an efficient way that data scientist can predict what will happen (predictive analysis). They can understand what companies need, when they need it and how they need it.

Combine data scientists with sales executive power and you get a selling machine that is never wrong. Sales executive can go sell a product when the company needs it most. They sell a product on the most optimized channel used by the company and they sell it to the right person each time.

Finally, with the rise of Artificial Intelligence you have a triad of smart data, selling power and intelligence that goes beyond the analysis of data (it will have looked at all possibilities around hypothesis and assumptions). This triad will ensure a perfect vision of the deal, the prospects and the needs they have. The data scientist and the sales executive will know before their customers that they will order a product on what channel. Amazon has already announced that they will ship to people products before they order them. They prefer their customers to send them back for free if they are incorrect, but they are rarely wrong.

Looking at transformation of a job, skills and way of doing business, I believe every function in the company will need to transform. Sales executive will need to master data and data technology to be successful and to sell the right product at the right time to the right person and on the right channel.

I hear very often that new technology, robots and Artificial Intelligence will take jobs away from people. I do not believe that. I think jobs will transform and new jobs will be created. Jobs with more interesting outcome and less mundane tasks as robots will do the mundane tasks. Progress has never stopped, it has been going on for many, may years and centuries and no one has ever been able to stop progress. I heard a very interesting comment the other day about how Americans transform innovation in a job when Europeans transform it in a law. This is exactly the point here, let innovation and new ways of doing business happen so that all processes are optimized and improved.

As always, I am available to discuss this. Feel free to contact me anytime, I love talking about this and in the next episode we could talk about other jobs that need to transform.