The changing role of a sales executive

In today’s environment, sales executives serve one purpose – to sell your products and services to your prospects and customers.

In a B2B environment, we are slowly realizing that the nature of how we sell has and is changing rapidly. We started with selling products and services based on features and benefits. Then we moved towards solutions selling. Slowly, but steadily, we are now moving towards consultative selling or even challenger selling models.

All of these models are still geared towards the “Push” model of selling. We have built a product or service, it will will help you solve a problem that you may or may not know about. By making you aware of the problem & framing it in a way that only my product or service can solve it, I entice you to buy the product or service that I sell.

Push products or services

Sales executives are measured on how well and how much do they sell these products and solutions. They get big commissions based on their ability to sell.

There are two trends that we need to see and take into account:

  1. We are moving from an era of mass production to an era of mass customization (in every sphere of life). You can even order a car to be customized to your requirements. 
  2. We are also moving away from mass markets to niche market segments.

Organizational skills required to succeed in a mass-production, mass-market scenario is very different from the skills required to succeed in a mass-customized, niche market reality.

In an era of mass production, it was more important to produce in large quantities (efficiency of scale) and find ways to sell the inventory at a high enough price to turn in profits. So, to succeed in this world, you focus on producing in large quantities to reduce your cost/unit, hire an army of sales people, train them on different selling techniques, teach them about your product, give them a quota (with the possibility of earning a lot of commissions) and let them loose in the market.

In order to motivate them to sell more, you link their payout to their sales. You then find ways to improve your production, reduce cost and increase sales. You filter & invest in ideas that have the biggest addressable market with minimal or no competition. You keep repeating the process in order to be successful.

This process wont work in a world of mass-customization. In this era, you need your sales executives to listen & understand the unique nature of your prospects and customers  business. Then figure our their unique requirements or challenges. Then be able to create a concept of a product that could solve this challenge. They need to be able to customize your product (if not help create from scratch) to suit the needs of the customer/prospect. You do not need an army of sales executives who are solely tasked to sell your products or services. You need sales people to be folks who understand the  businesses of their prospects or customers, understand your strengths and abilities and are able to create a custom solution that solves a challenge for your prospects/customers.

In this world, the way you compensate your sales team also will change. You no longer are required to incentivize them for selling the standard product/service. You need to retrain them to be able to better listen better, identify trends, understand all aspects of a businesses. The primary incentives will be based on their ability to come up with creative ideas on how to address the challenge of your customer quickly, cheaply & completely. They will be expected to come up with ideas for products/services or niche market segments which can be addressed by creating new solutions.

They will be required to be morphed into the eyes and ears for the organizations, always scouting  for new niche market segments and unique customer/prospect challenges to address. They will also provide fodder to the innovation engine of the organization, helping build new products/services (as they are the closest to the world of prospects or customers).

Do you think you are ready for this new reality? How far do you think we are from this reality?

Do let me know your thoughts by commenting below or tweeting it to me at @rmukeshgupta.

4 Replies to “The changing role of a sales executive”

  1. Mukesh,

    I agree sales will have to change for number of reasons, such as technology, access to information and lack of ability to co-create.

    Marketing is doing everything to get rid of sales people. When they can’t, companies are bringing them in instead of out. An outside sales person better be super good today otherwise he better join “Jehovah;s Wiotness” for work (just kidding).

    Will visit again to see what you are thinking about sales.

    1. Thanks Jay for your kind words. Sales and how we sell will definitely go through a lot of change in this decade.. Hope that most of the sales folks are able to adapt to the new way!

      As with all change, folks who will lead the change stand to benefit the most..

  2. The market is indeed changing. What worked yesterday doesn’t necessarily work out today. The type of sales approach also depends on the type of customer. The more sophisticated the customer is, the more customization he/she expects.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thought YingYing. You are bang on.. As a salesman, we need to have a lot of options about how we engage with our customers/prospects and have the ability to pull out the best option based on our reading about the prospect/customer to be most effective.

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