Nearly half a million people read an article that Brian de Haaff published on Linkedin. Who, you are probably asking, is Brian de Haaff? He’s the guy that you had never heard of, and would never have heard of, if he hadn’t published that article saying that he was one CEO who would never again hire a single salesperson.
There is a certain irony in why his post was read by so many – not, as he might have assumed, because people feared the coming revolution and their imminent unemployment, but because sales is one of the most adaptable of all sectors, and we were interested. Historically we are early adopters of technologies and methodologies that other areas of our organisations hesitate on. We thrive on change, because we are constantly looking for an edge, the little differentiator that lets us beat the competition by a nose.
The article, in the event, wasn’t as interesting as the headline – de Haaff plans on replacing the traditional sales team with ‘Customer Success’ teams. There’s an element of creative rebranding here – these Customer Success teams will sell to customers, albeit seeking a more consultative and involved relationship than a transactional one. But then, aren’t most traditional sales people trying to make that leap too?
The primary difference for de Haaff seems to be making his organisation more customer-centric than transaction-centric. He espouses replacing the sales team with a set of customer account managers who focus on building meaningful, transparent relationships with clients, keeping them fully involved and informed in the sales cycle, and creating an atmosphere of collaborative action and benefit.
Now, firstly – this is the kind of language that you can hear being thrown about in any performance review, sales meeting, or sales team enablement session worldwide today. This is sales speak. There’s nothing wrong with that – these are good points, and both the sales organisation and the client would benefit from collaborative, honest relationships and the free-flow of information. But there’s nothing new or revolutionary about this – those Customer Success teams are sales teams, with a better understanding of aftercare and account management.
And that’s the key to this whole discussion. De Haaff’s piece isn’t anything new – but that’s why it needs talking about. The improvements he’s talking about making are the improvements that VPs of sales have been trying to push forward for years, and if they’re not eventually listened to… who knows. Maybe sales people – at least as we know them – are on borrowed time.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or if you follow the pieces I publish on Linkedin, you will know that in a lot of ways I miss the sales floors of the 80s and 90s. I’m not adverse to progress – quite the opposite – but I think that the lessons sales needs to learn are the ones that it knew once, and has forgotten.
To avoid bringing about their own demise, sales people need to remember how to be three things: Relevant, Valuable, and Necessary.
– When I say relevant, I mean a few things. I mean aware of your client’s specific requirements, their strengths and weaknesses, their buying processes, their aftercare requirements. You need to matter to them. I also mean the exact same set of things, but to your own organisation. You need to matter to your employers as well as your clients.
– When I say valuable, I mean in the sense of offering and delivering real value. This used to be the absolute bedrock of the sales profession. In terms of pitching product, it means remembering that value isn’t what something costs, it’s what something is worth. It’s exactly the same for you as a sales person – what are you worth to your organisation, and those that you are pitching too?
– When I say necessary, I mean that you need to be needed. If you’re not staying relevant and valuable, you are surplus to requirements. If the sales profession as a whole isn’t staying relevant and valuable, then it’s simply not needed anymore.
The move from ‘sales people’ to ‘Customer Success teams’, ‘Client Points of Contact’ or whatever the moniker might be might never come to your organisation. Even if it does, it won’t be a truly fundamental change. It’ll be a shake up – the result of slapped wrists at C-suite level, or a gesture to frustrated shareholders. But that won’t stop people losing their jobs over it.
Make sure you and your team are staying relevant, valuable and necessary, and make sure you are demonstrating those qualities to your managers. Otherwise, who knows – maybe sales people will go the way of the dinosaurs, and maybe Brian de Haaff will smile a smug smile and say that he told us so.