Why Sales Leaders Are the Next Tech Moguls

A Harris Poll asked 2,537 adults to rank 23 professions in terms of prestige and whether they’d encourage a child to pursue them.

“Sales professional” didn’t make the list, but the one profession requiring sales skills, “real estate broker/agent,” was unanimously voted the least prestigious. People said they were more likely to encourage a child to become a farmer than a seller of homes.

The profession they’d most enthusiastically back? Engineer.

People raised on Revenge of the Nerds and The Breakfast Club and generally a decade’s worth of math-smart, computer-savvy kids being pushed into lockers said this was the path they’d most ardently send a child down.

Which makes sense.

The internet arrived and those geeks in garages, ushering in a new world paradigm, became the next generation of celebrities: smart, rich, respected. Being a tech geek used to be an insult; now it’s cause for envy.

A prediction: Sales is on track for the same kind of transformation.

“There’s a huge stereotype that Sales isn’t really a career — that either anyone can do it or you’re born into it,” Suzanne Fogel, chair of the marketing department at DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business, told the Wall Street Journal, in a February article about how enterprises are having trouble filling sales roles. Simply because they’re sales roles.

Being a tech geek used to be an insult; now it’s cause for envy. A prediction: Sales is on track for the same kind of transformation.

Death of a Salesman, Glengarry Glen Ross, Tommy Boy, Tin Men, Boiler Room. Just as films cemented a stereotype of the computer nerd, they’ve given us images of salespeople as slick hucksters and buffoons in bad suits.

Parents are dissuading their grown children from pursuing professions in Sales, said Fogel, because of a perceived lack of intellectual prestige and unstable salaries. Though according to recruitment firm Stewart, Cooper & Coon, 63 percent of sales directors have bachelor’s degrees and 29 percent additionally have advanced degrees. And per the Labor Department, sales associates for technology and science companies earn a median annual income that’s “more than twice the median for all workers,” the Journal reported.

Salespeople out-earning CEOs is such a common scenario that The New York Times entrepreneurial blog addressed it twice in recent years (here and here), with writer and entrepreneur Jay Goltz concluding in one instance: “They earn that money. … Behind every successful salesperson making big bucks, there should be a very happy boss.”

So why the persisting stereotypes? Why are salespeople the only professionals that an otherwise well-mannered adult will hang up on? Why are failures in Sales still tied to assumed failures of personal character rather than of corporate process?

“Behind every successful salesperson making big bucks, there should be a very happy boss.” — Jay Goltz, on salespeople out-earning the CEO

We think it’s because the world is only just arriving at that next tech paradigm shift and its attendant moments of recognition and transformation.

Until now, salespeople have struggled to understand the companies they’re selling to. They’ve lacked information about the parts of the buying process that are out of their control — the parts that take place within clients’ companies — so they’ve instead studiously focused on what they can control: their actions, their playbook, their past deals and the unpredictable results of their own actions.

While professionals on the supply-chain side of a business have ERP systems that automate and provide details about even the smallest details and risks in the management chain, sales operations is still largely a manual process; Sales’ sources of revenue (buyers) aren’t part of the enterprise, so using internal sources to arrive at the right information is basically impossible. While the supply chain is entirely controlled by an enterprise, and can analyze and improve processes to improve results, sales teams have had no such option, since outcomes are controlled by how buyers buy, more than by how sellers sell.

This challenge is exacerbated by how much of the decision-making process has shifted away from the seller. Gone are the days when a prospect would call to inquire about a product, creating potential for a fact-finding mission. Today that all takes place online. According to research firm CEB, 60 percent of buying decisions are made before a salesperson is ever contacted.

“60 percent of buying decisions are made before a sales person is ever contacted.” — CEB

Sales is among the most important departments in every enterprise, if not the most important, but a lack of insights into the buying process — even as all other departments insist on being data driven — has left salespeople still largely reliant on that age-old sales tactic: hustle.

This fundamental challenge is finally being addressed by Enterprise Revenue Management (ERM), an emerging field pioneered by Collective[i]. ERM is the science of using intelligence about buyers to shape the processes of sellers.

ERM improves outcomes by shifting Sales’ focus away from analyzing the enterprise’s own process and toward intelligence about prospects’ buying processes.

While sales technologies have focused on managing salespeople, Collective[i] instead uses pooled data from multiple enterprises and multiple sources to generate insights about buyers. Buyers’ processes, buyers’ timetables, buyers’ needs. Rather than rely on a playbook, a salesperson can personalize a sale to ensure the best outcome.

Sales is the rare profession with a real adrenaline boost; a profession that not everyone can do and that handsomely rewards those that can. It’s our view that the combination of playbook selling and chasing odds has created the tarnished image most people have about salespeople.

Selling is an art. Truly, exceptional salespeople are unforgettable. They don’t sell so much as inspire a feeling of wanting to get on board with whatever it is they’re doing. They’re smart, they’re funny, they’re charismatic. Being around them, we want to sit at their table and win their approval and shake their parents’ hands. It’s an extraordinary talent, and it’s a terrible thing to waste.

ERM is the science of using intelligence about buyers to shape the processes of sellers.

And it does get wasted. Only 46.5 percent of forecasted deals close, 49 percent of a salesperson’s typical day is spent on problem solving and administrative tasks, and only 50.3 percent of sales associates meet or exceed their quotas. There are simply things a salesperson can’t know. Which is why ERM brings science to the art of selling.

It addresses and automates so much of the time-consuming and not terribly satisfying work that sales managers and team members have always performed in pursuit of an opportunity. It better positions them to — more quickly, more efficiently and more accurately — get to the place where they can do what they do so well.

There’s a profession-wide shift that’s beginning, and we’re so proud to facilitate it. To provide, essentially, a GPS that helps salespeople navigate what buyers want and when they want it.

When the intelligence that sales managers, operations and representatives receive is based on the buying process, everything gets better — forecasting, coaching, analyzing, selling and closing —and talented individuals thrive.

And when intelligent sales processes — efficient processes that make more actions have more meaningful results — become the norm, revenue becomes consistent and reliable, and companies become more agile and successful.

We’re ringing in 2016 as the year of the sales professional. As the year the art thrives — and gets appreciated—because of the science. We’re excited to bring transformation and innovation to Sales, and we’re excited for its unsung heroes to finally receive some long-overdue recognition.•

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Collective[i] provides real-time buyer intelligence, smart forecasting and other data-driven analyses based on one of the world’s largest networks of enterprise data, all to dramatically improve the performance of the world’s leading Sales teams. To learn more, visit
@Collectivei or www.collectivei.com.