Foresight is defined as knowledge or insight gained by looking forward. As we begin to contemplate what 2016 will hold for us, consider the impact of a sales strategy informed by foresight and future trend data.
The concept of applying foresight to business strategy is not new or revolutionary. Marketing leaders, Chief Strategy Officers and CEOs, for example, often seek information on trends, trying to get a sense of what the future might hold before they set goals and build strategies. But those of us in sales leadership roles are traditionally not as future-focused as some of our colleagues in leadership. I have to confess I am not sure why that is, but it is something I have observed across the wide range of companies I have worked with over the last dozen or so years. In fact, many of us who lead sales teams are guilty of not giving very much consideration at all to the long-term future when we set annual sales plans, quotas, territories, or sales strategies.
We sales people can turn on a dime and react to customer needs and changing demands relatively quickly. Why is it a problem for us to be short-term focused? Might we be wasting time focusing on things that are yet to come? Are there opportunities sitting right under our noses that we might miss if we gaze too far into the future?
I suppose the answer is, “Maybe,” but the explanations sales leaders might offer for their lack of interest in the future are cop-outs. Focusing on the future does not have to come at the expense of pursuing and winning new business today. I’ve written before about the false choice of “either/or” for sales leaders, and this is another case of that false dilemma. When one is focused on winning a piece of new business, then near-term thinking and opportunity planning is perfectly appropriate. When focused on building a business for the long-term, however, understanding what the future might hold and setting a sales strategy accordingly makes a great deal of sense.
While I appreciate the value of foresight when setting sales strategy, I am not a futurist myself. I am not steeped in the methods of doing future-focused research, so I look to experts like Michael Vidikan, founder of FutureInFocus, a firm that specializes in researching and understanding trends that will shape the future of business, society, and life, in general.
I asked Mike a simple question, “Why would a sales leadership team use foresight as they set a sales strategy?”
Following is what Mike had to say: “A good sales strategy requires looking ahead to understand the market as it will be in the near future and also what the market will look like in the longer-term future. You have to be prepared to adapt and change according to market conditions, and there are some areas that require foresight for longer term planning.
Knowing Your Customer and Your Customer’s Customer
For instance, are the people you are selling to today going to be the same people in 5 to 10 years? You might be selling to Boomers today, but how will GenX and Millennials respond to the same message when they are in charge of spending?
If you are selling predominantly to men now, you might be selling more to women in the future as more women take leadership roles at companies. How would that affect your approach to prospective customers?
How Are You Communicating?
In recent years, companies have dedicated more resources to communicating by social media. There are a variety of places to reach people online from Facebook and Twitter to blogs and forums. As apps proliferate, people are going to do less searching on mobile browsers. How will your customers find you then? Will you need to develop your own apps?
Is your customer going to adopt a new communication method, and if so, will you be ready to reach them on it? Are you looking at new media for prospecting?
Customer service is becoming integrated into the sales process. How will your customers expect you to serve and communicate with them a few years from now?
Hypothesizing About Emerging Trends and Technologies
Are you asking “what if” questions about new technologies? Are there any emerging technologies that might impact your business or industry – let’s say by dramatically increasing demand or supply of your product – or reducing demand or supply?
How can you be disrupted? For example, there’s a new egg substitute on the market. It disrupts selling eggs to large food manufacturers. That was the result of someone identifying a potential crisis in egg production. (Lo and behold, that exact crisis played out this year, sending egg prices through the ceiling.) Uber is disrupting taxi services today, but they are also interested in self-driving cars, which could potentially impact dealerships.
A company called Mattersight is developing a call center algorithm based on the voice of the customer. If the customer sounds upset, they get routed to a person who is better able to handle that personality. How would such a technology impact the way you think about your sales force?”
As you can see from just a few of Mike’s observations, there is a world of new opportunities and challenges to address, if we are willing to open our minds and expand our viewpoint beyond the next fiscal year.
What might you have to do to identify and address the new sales opportunities that will present themselves two, three years or more from now? Will pursuing those opportunities require a different sales model, or structure, or perhaps different people with new talents?
Knowing how long it really takes to change sales structure or to get new talent aboard and help them reach a high level of productivity, I suggest that it may be well worth your time to consider the future now and assemble a long-term sales strategy that ensures you are ready to succeed many years from now.
I welcome your comments and feedback in response to today’s post. Thank you again for your time and attention.
United Sales Resources provides actionable intelligence and practical advice to sales leaders, so they can drive better sales results. If you would like to discuss this post or dig into our original research on what separates top performing sales organizations from averages ones, then contact us for a brief tour or a conversation.