Talking the Future of Sales with John Barrows

The following is an interview with expert sales trainer John Barrows. During our conversation, John shared his thoughts on Millennials in the sales force, the impact of artificial intelligence on the sales function, social selling best practices and so much more!

Q: We are definitely experiencing a shift in the market where sales leaders are beginning to embrace new platforms, processes and technologies that other departments like marketing and customer success have been utilizing for quite some time now. What do you think has been the biggest recent change for sales thus far?
A:
As you mentioned, marketing and all these other divisions have been using technology to automate a lot of the processes around what they do. But sales didn’t really have any tools other than CRM until relatively recently. Now what’s happening is that there’s almost an overflow and overload of sales tools, and there is a hyper-focus on the sales world.

There’s a slew of new of investments and technologies to help sales because I think it’s become very obvious that most companies don’t really succeed or fail based on the quality of their products or the market or any of that. Most of them fail specifically because they can’t sell, so sales is now being looked at as much more of a focal point for industries and organizations.

We’re also experiencing a segmentation of the traditional sales role, which is reflected in the types of technologies that are now being developed. I think the sales reps who can do the full suite of sales activities – grab a territory, prospect into that territory, meet with clients, identify needs, close business, manage a book – are few and far between.

Sales is much more compartmentalized now. There are sales reps who do a really good job outbound prospecting, there’s others who do really well in qualification and still others who do a good job at account management. But this has definitely changed the definition of what sales is in my opinion.

Q: Millennials are comprising more and more of the sales force. How do they work differently from Gen X, and how do you see their growing presence impacting the sales org?
A:
When I was a kid, if I was in the house and I was bored, my parents would literally just tell me to get the hell out of the house and figure out something to do. I was not told what to do; I would go outside and figure it out.

But when I look at my six-year-old daughter, I can see that Millennials and the generation that’s coming up after them has had every moment of their lives structured. They go to school from this hour to this hour, they have soccer practice until this time and then they get to play with their iPad for 30 minutes. Literally every moment of their lives has been structured, so when they get out into the workforce and a manager tells them to go do something and figure it out, they’re like, “what are you talking about?”

Millennials thrive in structure, and there is actually a plus-side to that. If you give Millennials structure, they can execute at a higher level than any generation before them. So that’s why it’s our job as Gen Xers and managers to create a structure that the Millennials can fit into and execute within – not a script, but a structure.

Q: Artificial Intelligence seems to be the hot topic right now. What role do you believe AI will play in the future of sales, and how can salespeople harness this new technology and avoid being left behind?
A:
I’m seeing some of these artificial intelligence tools write emails better than I could. They are more customized and thoughtful and they are doing it faster. Go download Shakespeare.ai – it will literally blow your mind. Going back to your first question, these tools have the power to further change the definition of sales and what reps do on a daily basis – and that worries me.

However, I also think that these tools can give us better insight into our customers, their activities, where they need help, where they are in the sales process, etc. It’s an interesting time right now. Reps who aren’t paying attention run the risk of being replaced by these technologies, but there is also the opportunity for reps to leverage this technology to make better decisions, help customers make better decisions and gain better insights. The reps who do this successfully are going to be the most valuable commodities out there in sales and without question make the most money.

Q: Social selling is among the more recent tactics employed by sales teams, and has definitely been spurred on by the presence of social-savvy Millennials. Can you talk a little bit about that and some of the best practices reps can use to do social selling well?
A:
There are two sides of social selling. The first one is listening to the social world, or at least to your top accounts. I always recommend everybody to have a list of their top 25 accounts that they listen to and follow so that they can learn about when things happen, because you always need a reason to call. And that’s what tools like Google Alerts or Owler are for.

The other side of social selling, which I actually think is far more important moving forward, is the brand-building side. It’s interesting, as a Gen Xer, I grew up trusting brands. But Millennials don’t trust corporate brands – they trust personal brands. When Kim Kardashian tweets about a certain brand, Millennials go out and buy it, not because of the brand but because Kim Kardashian told them to. So to me that’s why I think it is so critically important for everybody right now to be focusing on their personal brands; it’s going to become more and more of a differentiator moving forward.

And I’m gonna steal something from Gary Vaynerchuck: if content is king, then context is god. To me, marketing is content and sales is context. You can’t build your brand as an industry expert by just retweeting and posting the same random shit that everybody else is posting – why should anyone care? But if you take that article and then you say, “hey, really interesting article that I just read here, here’s what I think about it,” or, “here’s why I think it’s important,” and you put your context around it and then share it out there – now you are doing it right. The more thoughtful we are with the information that we share out there, the more people pay attention, the more they trust our brands, and therefore the more they are willing to engage with us.

For more information around how next-generation sales leaders like John are managing sales processes, pipelines and performance, check out The 2017 Guide for Next-Generation Sales Leaders.

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