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7 Forces Disrupting Sales – #3: The End of Competitive Advantage

Most experienced sales professionals have both enjoyed “riding the wave” of selling a high-demand product in a hot market, as well as the lows of selling in a highly competitive, poor demand environment. Nothing is more energizing in sales than having a distinct edge – a superior idea or highly differentiated offering. But, brilliant new “insights” or product advantages have an increasingly shorter shelf life in today’s connected, real-time world.

In her groundbreaking and deeply researched book, The End of Competitive Advantage, Columbia Business School professor and globally-recognized strategy expert, Rita Gunther McGrath, contends that the “holy grail” of sustainable advantage is giving way to something she refers to as ‘transient advantage.” In a world without sustainable competitive advantage, the new path to winning means capturing opportunities quickly and exploiting them decisively, then moving on once they are exhausted. It’s all about learning to thrive in a world where unique ideas and insights are rapidly assimilated and copied.

At a macro level, this trend is further captured in a single data point – the average lifespan of a company in the S&P 500 has declined from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today! For sales organizations, the new reality of transient advantage is hardly good news. Any edge that you (and your organization) typically translate into a selling advantage will likely be short-lived.

So again, the question is, “What is your sales organization doing to adapt its thinking and approach to a world of transient advantage?” We won’t completely address that question here, but there are several major aspects of the “sales machine” to consider.

1. Sales Process/Methodology

Sales messaging needs to be continually revisited to ensure “cutting edge” relevance for buyers. Today’s brilliant idea will be a temporary advantage. How you sell will become more important than what you sell. Sales methods need to support collaborative techniques for creating selling advantage versus product advantage.

2. Sales Talent/Competencies

An increasingly important aspect of talent assessment will be the ability to identify smart, sophisticated business people who are technologically literate, globally astute, and operationally agile. Situationally fluent sales professionals who can intelligently collaborate with buyers will have a distinct edge.

3. Sales Technology/Enablement

Knowing the customer is more important than ever. Sales intelligence is paramount – sales professionals need to continually refresh industry and customer-related knowledge in the context of sales opportunities. Process and methodology automation technologies need to be highly configurable and able to adjust sales playbooks quickly to address new thinking. Technology needs to support rich, transparent collaboration between sellers and buyers.

Over the next several weeks, we will continue to explore each of the seven forces disrupting sales and touch on key ramifications for sales strategy and execution. Then, we’ll tie it all together with an integrated approach to create a change-resilient sales organization. Next up, the Millennials are coming!

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