Yes, but not in the form we know and practice selling today. This is one of my takeaways from the round table discussion between Nigel Edelshain, Jonathan Farrington, Jill Konrath, Linda Richardson and Dave Stein over at the Top Sales Experts. Especially “order takers” and 'glib talkers” will have a bleak future according to Jonathan Farrington. Intelligent strategic orchestrators and business advisors looking to develop long term allies however will have a bright future according to him. Jill Konrath seconded that she hopes that sales is really changing that much.
So we should expect a lot of organizational transformation within sales forces. However, and this is my second take away, the salespeople are not the primary target for this transformation. The sales profession -if we want to use this term despite the fact that from a scientific standpoint 'sales' is not yet a profession- faces not only a leadership crisis but a disaster as Dave Stein put it.
The transformation has to start at the very top with company leaders. They should get rid of the myths that super salespersons make good sales managers and that the necessary competences come with the title. Sales Management is an occupation in itself requiring different specific skills than those of a sales superstar.
Relying just on tribal wisdom, where newly appointed sales managers draw on what they have observed their own managers doing, will not bring the desired result as it is very likely that these managers were not properly prepared for the job either. In addition their understanding of selling and of their job role might be outdated and not fit in today's unforgiving economic context.
In my own opinion there will be no room left for purely action and result oriented managers trying to manage outcomes. It makes little difference if they rely on data from their own home grown spreadsheets or on sophisticated analytical CRM tools in their attempt to manage these outcomes. Outcomes are lagging indicators even if they come in the disguised form of forecasts. Management actions based on these metrics will always be too little too late. The future belongs to sales managers being able to interpret leading indicators helping them to derive coaching needs of their sales people.
The panelist were all in agreement that being able to coach people is a very essential skill for successful sales managers going forward.. There is however a huge skill gap with current sales managers. Linda Richardson's re-edited book on this subject will help fill this gap. As a questions from a listener indicated, a significant number of sales managers has though not only a skill gap but an outright attitude problem towards coaching. Let's hope for them that they can be convinced by appropriate business cases to avoid being phased out.
The dilemma for preparing sales managers for their job is though deeper. While a lot has been written with the salesperson in mind, there is a lack of a body of knowledge from which sale managers can be taught how to do their job. This is the reason why already three years ago, I started my blog with the sales executives and managers in mind.
In a webinar that I will hold on the Top Sales Experts platform at the end end of April 2009, I will introduce a method on formulation of sales growth strategies , which hopefully will contribute a further puzzle piece to this much needed body of knowledge about the sales management process. You can register for this event here.