In this article, we discuss the impact of VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) challenges on the role of the sales professional.
The biggest problem today is that we have been raised in a context in which we believe the world is predictable. Even the British weather that we love to talk about is not conforming to what has gone before. We live in a world where everything is uncertain; the world is interconnected, we live with legacy systems. Such that, what is expected to happen because you believe you have known unknowns – now you have unknown unknowns. How can you govern, advise and decide in these circumstances?
What is needed is a new mindset to expect uncertainty and live with unknowns and best guesses.
In a VUCA world, there is a challenge for business leaders and sales professional to adapt to the increasing requirement for clarity and simplicity.
The job of the sales professional is to help buyers and business leaders to predict and anticipate on a more sustainable footing. The challenge is to live with possibility rather than reaching for absolute certainty and you can imagine how conflicting this requirement can be. The sales professional must coach their relationships in this new mindset. They are developing resilience in their customers to cope with the inherent risk that a VUCA world presents for large-scale social and technological change.
One of the critical mindset changes is leading away from what is probably and toward what is possible.
The VUCA environment means that we must focus on what is possible (because anything can happen) rather than on what is likely to occur (which is determined by what happened before).
Sales professionals must adopt the new paradigm of a sales consultant adviser if they are to gain the trust of their customer. The Harvard Business Review Consulting is More Than Giving Advice, shows how closely aligned consultancy is to the sales interaction in the hierarchy of consulting purposes:
- Providing information to a client.
- Solving a client’s problems.
- Making a diagnosis, which may necessitate redefinition of the problem.
- Making recommendations based on the diagnosis.
- Assisting with the implementation of recommended solutions.
- Building a consensus and commitment around corrective action.
- Facilitating client learning—that is, teaching clients how to resolve similar problems in the future.
- Permanently improving organisational effectiveness.
Consultation is the mechanism in managing a VUCA world when there are greater need and demand for clarity and simplicity.
The Global Simplicity Index 2011 is the first-ever study to calculate the cost of complexity in the world’s largest organisations. The research was conducted jointly by management consultancy, Simplicity, and Warwick Business School.
Since 2009, an annual stock portfolio comprised of the publicly traded simplest brands in the global Top 10, which has outperformed the major indexes by 679%, and 64% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand because it provides simpler experiences and communications.
Here are three ways you can help improve your ability to deal with higher levels of complexity and gain a clear perspective:
- Ask different types of questions that are strategic, open and searching.
- Take on multiple perspectives, do not be siloed into a corner, be customer-centric and have a whole value chain or customer journey perspective.
- Have an entire company vision in mind, the bigger picture has a context of the business mission rooted in possibility.
Sales professionals need to become more like business consultants when presenting complex solutions
The impact of your knowledge, your research and your advice are far-reaching in a consulting sales solution process. If this advice is siloed into functional areas, the effect is reduced, and the risk of complication is increased.
Unless you work across the whole organisation and can influence at the right level, the outcome will be minimal and possibly fail. I have certainly worked on a project that has not had the buy-in across the breadth of the organisation or have in the past sold into a department with little discussion across the organisation to access the impact on connected departments and so the effect of the solution is not fully understood, utilised or measured.
Sales professionals must become business consultants when presenting complex solutions to customers, moving from sales centric to buyer-centric, and then to organisation centric sales consultant advisers.
The required skills are of thought leadership, trusted expertise, independent problem solving and visionary; because leaders, buyers and customers expect you to know the what, so they can ask you how and you ask them why? Leading the trusted relationship with authority and the permission to ask difficult, uncomfortable strategic searching questions. The sales consultant adviser negotiates and influences a vision of possibilities and with buy-in, then helps make a reality.
The new role of a sales consultant adviser is to:
- Understand the outcome and impact first and identify the gap and assess if data can fill the gap. Trusted adviser looks beyond the data, into the business context, without context across departments and of the mission all is lost. The sales consultant adviser creates simplicity and clarity, finding the gaps with strategic searching questions that you only have permission to ask if you have gained trust, then you can better measure the outcome and impact on the mission.
- Ask strategic searching questions: “What’s the decision you are trying to make that you are looking for the solution to fill?”
- Trade on trust: ‘trust is not an intangible, elusive quality that you have, or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you create over time’, says Stephen Covey author Speed of Trust
- The job of a trusted sales consultant adviser is to gain trust and influence, and this reduces the risk of engagement. It is shifting emphasis away from short-term engagement to long-term collaboration and mutually beneficial partnership. It is saying “I understand your world, and we are in this together” it is building a trusted partnership.
- The business of the sales consultant adviser is to create a favourable impression with other influencers and decision-makers. To be referred to decision-makers and leaders, you must be credible and recommendable., you must invest in your personal brand and experts knowledge and experience.
Research shows that the average B2B opportunity has six decision-makers involved. That is a lot of human interactions. The way the seller influences is now an organisation-wide strategic approach. The belief is that a consultative decision reduces the company risk. Leaders, buyers and customers expect that all advisory positions are sensitive to human needs, excellent relationships builders and skilled in improving the whole connected organisation’s ability to solve future not just present problems. This is a big ask for a sales professional but a walk in the park for a seasoned consultant.