Direct Sales Trends in 2011 and Beyond

As we move into 2011, the professions of direct sales and marketing are changing profoundly. The CEO of Huthwaite and author of Spin Selling, Neil Rackham, recently said that sales and marketing will rise significantly in importance in the coming years.

Why? What appears to be a significant downturn in the economy is actually much more. The US economy has changed forever in a few critical ways. First, companies can no longer grow simply by buying smaller companies with cheap, widely available debt.

Second, companies can no longer rely on a superior position they may have held against a few domestic competitors. Competitors are coming from anywhere and everywhere and many of these competitors have significant labor cost advantages. These two issues will force companies to grow more organically and get better at differentiating themselves from competitors. Which departments would you look to in order to accomplish these two things? That’s right, sales and marketing.

I would argue that the most important aspects of selling have not changed. It is still critical to target potential customers that will be a good fit, to leverage each sale with a high level executive in the target company, to work with all key influential contacts, to ask probing questions, to find sources of pain, and to map your solution in terms of each customer’s needs. That said, many things in sales are shifting rapidly.

First, there is a rise in the number of independent contractor salespeople, or agents, who are much tougher to find and manage. The advantage of utilizing agents, of course, is that your costs are variable and unproductive salespeople do not tax your resources. The lesson: experiment with direct hires, contractors, and resellers to optimize your sales channels.

Second, selling tactics have changed. If you look at the hospital market, for example, savvy medical device companies are negotiating long-term contracts with hospital administration while at the same time selling clinically to surgeons and nurses. The lesson: think about all the ways you can penetrate a target company and learn from other, more progressive industries.

Third, technology companies continue to try and revolutionize sales although the results appear to be mixed at best. These companies build lots of functionality into CRM programs to appease customers but salespeople are moderately compliant in utilizing these programs. The lesson: pick a simple CRM that supports your process and doesn’t burn a lot of selling time.

In summary, sales and marketing are becoming much more important to companies. Smart managers should become more versed in how to adapt to the changing landscape while staying close to the key fundamentals that have always helped organizations grow.

Sanjit Singh




About the Author: Sanjit Singh is the CEO and Founder of SalesThink, an executive leadership and sales coaching company, and President of USS Logistics, a transportation company. Sanjit draws from his 18 years of award-winning sales performance in the software, medical device, and transportation industries to drive sales teams to reach a higher level of achievement. He has helmed a number of successful sales teams and is considered a turnaround expert for poorly performing sales teams.

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