This is a new time for sales. The rules, they are a changin’. The old verities are being heavily and quickly abridged by a combination of fiscal caution, increased workloads, and technological innovation.
Austerity has become a particular byword for business and government in the last two years. And nowhere is it more noticeable than in executive sales. For example, at my own seventeen year old executive sales outsourcing firm, Corporate Rain International, I’ve never seen such a timidity among real decision-makers at corporations. Caution and conservatism reign supreme. In fact, there is a palpable hesitancy in the air from top to bottom about anything that requires more than a short-term commitment—in government, in the private sector, in education, politics, art, and media.
Internationally these jitters are taking the form of violent and non-violent mass protests. As much as anything, I think these actions are fueled by simple fear of the future and fear of the unknown, an inchoate anger at forces beyond our control and a distrust of uncertain change. Greece, Thailand, and the Arab world have had violence in the streets and Wall Street is under duress from the unfocused, confusing protests in Zuccotti Park.
Individual executives are stressed too, often groaning under twice their previous workload with half the staff. Annecdotally, my next door neighbor is vice-president of a large non-profit in NYC. Her staff has been cut from 15 to 3 this year with no change in workload. Though experienced and competent she is overwhelmed. I find this is a very common tale these days.
One result of this is an increasing premium on executive time. Decision makers will not take meetings unless these meetings are very focused and address specific needs with a clear ROI objective. Also, if your product is perceived as commoditized you are dead, brother.
It is also not easy to get a hearing for the new, the magical, the inspired, the groundbreaking, either. When executives are overworked with reduced budgets and scared of losing their jobs, the salesman must be succinct, soothing, efficient and yet aggressive and compelling—all at the same time. No easy task. Caution about taking any risk is redoubled in the harsh dawning of economic bleakness. Buyers and decision-makers are frequently deer immobilized in the head lights.
As Edmund Burke put it in A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756), “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Thanks Edmund.