Going into Sales used to be the career choice of people who weren’t particularly good at anything else. The view was, that you could always make enough of a living from finding people who could be convinced to buy whatever you had to sell them. Someone even less smart than you…
Over the years, being a salesman gained a bad reputation, becoming associated with images of aggressiveness and dishonesty. A 2011 survey of more than 9,000 people from around the world (What Do You Do At Work? survey, Daniel Pink) showed that the first words which come to people’s minds when being asked about Sales are ”pushy”, annoying”, ”sleazy” and ”yuck”!
Yet the days are long gone where salesmen rang our doorbells with a suitcase full of products to sell. The level of sophistication required to successfully sell products and services has risen exponentially with the avenue of digital (Internet, mobile, social media, analytics). Today, a sale is so much more than a transaction, it has become an experience for the buyer who looks for emotional triggers well beyond the traditional rational reasons. In our world of abundance, we have so many choices that we seek personal fulfillment in addition to simply satisfying a need. In fact, we often end up buying things we don’t even need. And the things we buy are often based on recommendations from people we’ve never met.
Today’s sales person must be incredibly versatile to navigate this complexity: be a subject matter expert, display focused business acumen and – probably most importantly – demonstrate strong emotional intelligence. They have to be masters at building genuine relationships whilst still delivering on the financial returns required by their employer. In fact, no sales means no revenue means no company. Everything else is context at the end of the day.
As our BBA students in the Sales and Key Account Management course reflected on the future of selling in a recent assignment, there was consensus that the role will only become more complicated in the coming years and decades. The human touch is being lost from the sales process, with many buyers preferring to make decisions and manage processes themselves (just consider how we prefer self-check-in or online purchases). How to compensate for the absence of contact, knowing that buyers are looking for an experience? Companies as they gain better insights into their customers through tailored analytics will evolve to employ artificial intelligence in the sales process as well as advanced technologies such as virtual reality and drones.
We’re in for an interesting and turbulent ride as business models are turned upside down (consider the fate of everything from travel agents to the music industry to the banking sector). Those responsible for ensuring that products and services are sold and that revenue comes through the door, will need to be highly adaptable and attentive to market shifts. We need business-savvy young people who are well prepared for delivering value to customers and to companies, whichever way is the right one. That preparation starts at Business School Lausanne.
Author: Anja Langer Jacquin, BSL Professor