Today’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of Carew International. Register now to hear Jeff speak at the Sales 3.0 Conference in Las Vegas on September 18, where he will present “Building the Perfect Sales Beast.”
Much has been written about Uber’s recent troubles, culture issues, and their general inability to get out of their own way. It’s a shame, because these crises cloud the bigger story of the astonishing impact Uber’s innovation has had – and will continue to have – in the transportation business and in many other industries, including housing, RVs, boats, vacation homes, and even the sales profession.
Imagine if B2B sales careers were impacted by a substitute process/resource the way Uber has disrupted cab drivers. To put the impact into perspective, in 2014 a New York cab medallion (operating license) was selling for $1.3 million. Today, you can find a New York medallion for $250,000.
Can you imagine the impact of Uber in London, where it takes four years of training and the purchase of a black hackney cab (approximate investment of $60,000 USD) to be a certified cabby? Even before Uber, the cabbie industry was a bit arrogant – slow to adapt and relatively neglectful with regard to the customer experience, from payments systems to traffic knowledge, quality of vehicles, and customer engagement. Their complacency made them all the more vulnerable to a paradigm shift.
As Uber turned the for-hire transportation industry on its ear, the initial reaction was to attempt to legislate Uber and others out of business. We are now seeing transformation of these businesses to adapt and adjust to their new business reality for the sake of survival. I think back to my mother’s advice: “Never get in a car with a stranger.” Maybe it would now be modified to, “Never get in a car with a stranger – unless the stranger is on an app.”
What can anyone in B2B sales learn from major disruptors like Uber and Amazon?
Another formidable disruptor in the current business landscape is Amazon, which has upended big-box retail establishments by changing the rules of engagement. How might it feel to be in the crosshairs of Amazon? As part of its current expansion, Amazon is entering the MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Operations) business to compete against Grainger and Fastenal – both strong competitors. Right out of the gate, Amazon will have a significant competitive advantage on the distribution side since it owns an airline and pay almost $5 billion annually for shipping to FedEx, UPS, and USPS. Amazon has an annual revenue of $136 billion, compared to Grainger at $10 billion and Fastenal at $4 billion.
What does Uber or Amazon have to do with B2B sales? Well, everything, because technology and innovation can eliminate dead space in a hurry. This is where sales professionals and leaders must look forward, assess the playing field, and pro-act (vs. re-act) to avoid being “Amazoned” out of a career. The key is understanding your unique value proposition as well as those customer needs that simply cannot be met by technology or a substitute process.
For example, Amazon can provide many solutions; but, currently, they cannot align solutions with my unique needs to manage the outcomes. This is the one thing technology solutions cannot do, period. They cannot understand the driving force behind how or why the customer makes a decision. The greatest artificial intelligence and computing power in the world (think Watson) can only look at trends and crunch data. They can give multiple outcome scenarios (spray and pray), but they can’t understand how that outcome applies to the customer’s circumstance. They certainly can’t act as a business advisor for competitive advantage.
How do you survive and thrive in the Uber and Amazon world?
The number of sales professionals who are still relying on the customer to uncover, understand, and ultimately order their products and services is quite alarming. Those at risk and who put your business at risk are sales professionals who have gotten comfortable in their approach and business, who take too much comfort in thinking customers depend on them, that they are irreplaceable, or that disruptors such as Uber and Amazon don’t relate to them.
With this complacent mindset, by the time a shift is noticed, it is usually too late. I suspect a host of big-box retail legends thought that same thing.
Sales professionals have the greatest skill set in the world when it comes to communication, diagnostic capability, marshalling resources, and, most importantly, providing expertise that does not reside within their customer organizations. Shame on us if we get comfortable and stop using them! And shame on sales leaders who believe they can jump-start the sales team with inspirational challenges, a new CRM, revamped sales compensation, or even skill training.
Certainly, all of these play a supporting role in our efforts to connect, understand, and consult with customers, but job one is to use these tools to offset the prevailing culture that is deemphasizing the in-person or live customer experience in favor of technology.
There will be no transactional sales positions in the coming years. We do not need them and they add zero value to our customers. The future is now, where sales professionals are going to the next level with expertise beyond their own field, the ability to leverage internal and external resources, and the capacity to think beyond the solution of their product or service to the impact they can have in many areas. This level of career thinking provides the best immunization against Amazon and other would-be disruptors.