Regis Lemmens on Sales 2020 at TEDxLiege (Full Transcript)

Regis Lemmens

Regis Lemmens, founder of Sales Cubes, discusses Sales 2020 at TEDxLiege Conference (Transcript)

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Sales 2020 – Regis Lemmens at TEDxLiege



My story starts about 4 years ago in 2010, when I joined the university in the Netherlands. And my assignment was to set up a research department in sales.

Now I don’t know if you know, but academics do not see sales as a truly academic profession. Let alone my marketing colleagues, they’re actually quite surprised, asking me: “Why? Why are you going to research Sales? Sales is dying, sales is dead, the Internet is here. Most of us are buying over the Internet. That’s the future. Come and join Marketing. Don’t go and play with Sales.”

But I don’t share that vision. I believe there is a future for Sales. And a very bright future. And I call this future “Sales 2020”. That was title of my research.

And what I am going to do today with you, I’m not going to tell you a beautiful story about how we did the research. I’m going to pitch to you. I am going to do a true sales pitch. And I’m going to convince each one of you, by the end of these 18 minutes, that you should all join the sales profession. In 18 minutes.

Now, I believe that sales is going through a rebirth. Indeed sales as you know it today is not going to be the same as the sales we’re going to have in 2020. It’s going to look very different. And just to give you one example which is my favorite one.

In the future, you as customers will be very, very likely to pay sales people to sell their products and services to you. Think about that. Why on earth would you pay a salesperson to do their job, to actually sell you their products and services? Yet that’s what you’re going to do.

Even when I tell that to salespeople, they’re first really excited about the idea: “Teach us how to do that! We want that!”

But then 5 minutes down, they say: “No, our customers will never go for it.”

Yet, over and over again, we in our research come across organizations, who have found a way to transform their sales approach into a highly valuable service, for which their customers, just for the service, pay.

So I was thinking about how can I bring an example that you can all relate to? Because a lot of the research happens in the B2B and it’s not always very obvious to explain it. So I was looking for it, and then it struck me.

There are 21 speakers here today, all selling you an idea. We’re all salespeople. We may not think of us like that. But today, we’re all salespeople and some of you are already seeing where I am going with this. You are customers, didn’t you pay to be here? So in many ways, this is already happening today.

And you may think, yeah, that’s an irony. You know, come on, you can’t compare a TEDx event with a simple sales transaction. I am not going to pay for that sales transaction. But I haven’t said that the sales transaction is the future. I don’t even believe that sales transaction is the future. That will go to the Internet.

The future of selling is more events like this, where there’s high value, where you don’t feel like a customer, and I don’t feel like a salesperson, yet we are. But because we don’t feel it, because there’s so much value in the exchange. And therefore people are ready to pay. That’s the future of sales. That’s where I want to bring you. OK.

But before I take you into this future and show you how it works, I need to tell you what we need to leave. And what we need to leave is selling. We need to move from what we call selling to co-creating. The rebirth of sales is to move away from the selling activity and really co-create value with our customers.

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So what’s wrong with selling and how we’re going to do this move? If you look at sales today, what is sales? It’s about targeting customers in order to persuade them, that your product and services are better, and will offer your customers the promise of a better future. Now I don’t know how you feel but for me there’s three problems. I’ve got three problems.

The first one is targeting. I don’t want to be a target. I don’t know how you feel about being a target, but I don’t like that idea. But whether I like it or not, whether you like it or not, your names are somewhere out there in a database of a company, of a sales department, ready to be targeted to sell you something. I don’t like this. You may not like this. But that’s the reality.

And then they are not just targeting you. They’re going to persuade you. How do you feel about somebody coming to persuade you? I don’t like that. I like the feel in control of my own destiny. I don’t like the idea of somebody else is going to tell me what I should be doing. How do you feel about that? I am sure you don’t like it either.

And then they’re going to persuade us, with what? With a promise! “If you buy my products and services, the future tomorrow will be nice.” A promise? I want more than a promise. I want delivery.

So these three things in our view really have to fundamentally change. If you want to change sales and go into a mode which we call co-creating.

Now I am going to give you a few examples of companies who actually already are doing this today. The first one is an example of a multinational software company, that is actually moving away from persuasion to a mode of more collaborative selling. What are they doing? They’re specializing in high-tech technology, and they develop software projects with this technology for their clients.

Now we were working together two months ago together with them, and I invited them to come and present at one of my courses. And they came with Google glasses. They came and they showed the Google glasses to everybody in the room and they said “Isn’t this cool technology?” And everybody said, ‘Yeah! Really, we really want this!’

But what are you going to do with it in a company? What is really the advantage of Google glasses in a company? And think about it. As sales, we’ve been trained that if you want to sell something, we need to look at the problems and needs of your customer and persuade them with the benefits of your solution.

But what would possibly be the problem that needs of a company that would require Google glasses? They didn’t know. Probably the customers don’t even know it. So you can’t go and sell this. That was the point. We can’t go and sell, we have to transform our sales approach. How did they do that? They created around the world SPOC centers which is a fantastic toy shop for people who like gadgets, all the latest technologies out there. You go in there, you become 12 again. I promise you. And what they do is they invite their clients one by one, and then with the Google glasses, they say ‘Well, come on and have a look at Google glasses, try them on, test them and then have an experience with them, and then we’re going to have a brainstorm together as to what the value could be in your industry’.

Now they claim to be the first one of these in the Netherlands to have an order for 2 projects from a bank to develop apps for Google glasses. Now unfortunately it’s top secrets so they couldn’t tell me which apps they were, because I am really interested to know what on earth possibly can a business bank do with Google glasses. Yet there are apps out there. But you couldn’t have sold them to them. You have to co-create them with them.

So the role of salesperson there is not to sell. It’s to facilitate that event and that brainstorm in order to come to a project. Are the customers paying for it? Initially not. Initially, when they set up the center, it was for free. It was just the way to invite clients to come and be inspired.

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5 years further, customers are now asking them, “Can we come at least 3 to 5 times with our team to be inspired in your center? And we’re happy to pay for it.” Think about it.

Their customers are asking them, “Can we come and be inspired by you and we will pay you for it, and then, the projects that will come out of it, we will pay you for those as well.” Isn’t that fantastic? But in this relationship, nobody feels client. If you see that event, you wouldn’t recognize who is from the software company and who is from the customer. They are all working together. So that’s one point.

The other point I want to make is that of course this is hi-tech, how would this work in low-tech? Because we’re not all in the hi-tech industry. What if you’re a bank? Very traditional industry. Selling loans and other financial products to businesses. How can you co-create value with your customers?

Well we came across with banks in our research that did just that, they discovered — you know what they said? Small to medium sized companies, and even entrepreneurs, they’ve got to make big decisions. Big investments from them, we can supply them with the finances. But they still feel very insecure about those investments they’ve got to make. So they’re looking for advice. But they can’t go to the big consultancy companies because they can’t afford them. So how can we help?

And they came up with an ingenious idea. They actually went to interview their clients and they found out that many of their clients have expertise and are willing to share them. So they’ve now assigned the salesperson a new role, the role of a broker. You now, when your client is thinking about a new strategy, a new idea, your task is to find other customers who have expertise in this idea and bring them together and allow them to bounce ideas together. And in so doing, creating an ecosystem where we all help each other.

What’s the benefit for the bank in doing that? The benefits are tremendous because they’re more likely to finance projects which are really worthwhile so with fewer risks.

Further value to the bank, think about yourself in your company where you work. Which bank would you rather join? The one which just sells you products and services? Or the one who also helps you to build your business? I think that’s a very easy question to answer. So they created an ecosystem and as we see it, we see this coming over and over again, this new idea of redefining who the clients are and how we can actually use our clients also as suppliers of competences, and therefore have sales developing this ecosystem.

It’s happening everywhere and just a simple example I think we all know is if you think about your smartphone today. If you look at the smartphone, on its own, it doesn’t do that much. It’s not that smart actually. It only gets smart because you download apps and you get other gadgets on it. So the value of this smartphone is only valuable to you as long as there’s an ecosystem around it. And that’s how you compare very often two smartphones. How big is the ecosystem that goes with it? How many apps do you have in the other one that we can download? That creates the value for us.

So ecosystem is a really important element in business. And I challenge you really when you go back to your work tomorrow, think about this. Think about what if we would see our clients as suppliers. All sort of competences. What if we bring our clients together? What could they do together? How could they add value together? If you find an answer to that, imagine what would it mean to these clients if you would be the one to facilitates this? And who better to do that than sales? You create an enormous loyalty and an enormous amount of value.

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To bring you my last point. From promise to delivery, let’s leave it, let’s go back to smartphone. Imagine you’re selling a smartphone to an elderly couple. There’s a fantastic ecosystem. You can do plenty of things with this smartphone. But if you cannot go online, download the apps, you don’t know how it works, you may not have the technology. Then it’s just a phone. It was all just a promise. You’ve never delivered.

So the role of sales tomorrow is not about promising you things. It’s about actually delivering it. So it would be the role of that salesperson to ensure that couple, that elderly couple who bought the smartphone that all the apps that they want are downloaded and they can actually use them. Will the couple be ready to pay for it? Absolutely they will, because they can see then the added value of getting that advice. And that’s where actually I want to bring you to, it’s that the role of sales tomorrow is going away from persuasion, targeting and promising. And it’s going into much more collaborating all together, facilitating thought processes and building ecosystems and making sure that we do not promise but we deliver on the promises. That’s where sales is going and I hope thereby to make you — to have put in your mind a beautiful picture where sales is going. And it’s an attractive profession to go for in the future which is definitely not dying.

Now I want to leave you with one last example. Because most of you are probably not in sales and you may wonder, “Yeah that’s all great but I am really not going to move my profession. I am an engineer. Or I am a project manager. I am very happy in my job. I am not going to change.” Whether you like it or not, you are already in sales. You don’t think about it this way but if you think about it in those forms, most of what we do at work is about to sell ideas to people. Sell ideas, try to persuade them to move in one direction or another direction. Whether it’s a customer, an employee, a supplier, we’re all doing it. We’re even doing it at home with our children. So we’re all salespeople. We’re all doing it all the time.

Now think about it. If you have to take just one example. If you’re a project manager, how do you run your project? Are you saying, “I am going to first develop the system. And then when it’s fully tested, I am going to target the users in order to persuade them to use the system because I promise them a better work afterwards. And I am going to call this change management.” You’re selling. That’s what you’re doing. There’s no change management. You’re selling.

But what about, let me challenge this. What if we change the project around? What if I invite the users at the very beginning to create a vision of better work for tomorrow? I invite users to collaborate in the development of the project or the system that we’re making.

And I also do not say my project is finished when I develop the system. No. I’m actually going to help them, in their work, to actually deliver the promise that we’d created together. I am certain, and I am certain that you know as well, which of those two projects will be more successful: it’s the last one. So we’re all in sales.

And what I actually want to bring to you is please think about it. When am I selling and how can I change my behavior to move much more into co-creating, and therefore be more successful?

Thank you very much.


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