Skip to main content
Top Tier Training & Development Inc. | Seattle, WA

This website uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience.
You can learn more by clicking here.

Can you feel the earth moving beneath your feet?

A momentous shift in the profession of selling is underway. Just like a literal earthquake, this metaphorical earthquake plays out in multiple spots at once, with varying effects and varying impacts… and with all the movement traceable to a single dramatic lurch coming from far beneath everyone and everything we know. But there’s an important difference.

Unlike a real-world geological earthquake, the earthquake I’m talking about doesn’t conclude in a few seconds. It keeps on shaking and shaking. In fact, it shows no signs whatsoever of giving us any steady place to stand. There will be no returning to what we used to think of as “normal.” Because of this earthquake, the ground will always be moving beneath our feet.

This massive, profession-defining earthquake– the digital empowerment of buyers– has been rumbling for a while, but, thanks to developments in artificial intelligence (AI) it really started shaking full-time this year. I believe we are all going to look back on this year as the year of AI, the year everything changed for salespeople, the year we realized that surviving and thriving during an earthquake was not a one-time event, but an ongoing, perpetual requirement of our profession.

To help you wrap up 2023 in the way that best serves your clients/customers, your organization, and your personal goals… to help you prepare for a selling landscape in 2024 and beyond that will be shaped by relentless, unavoidable enhancements in what buyers know and how they come to know it… permit me to share these three non-negotiable takeaways for selling in an AI world.

Big, Non-Negotiable Takeaway Number One: Adapt or Die

AI has already changed our profession forever. Some positions are simply no longer viable. If you think about the classic Sales Development Representative (SDR) job– the person who focuses on identifying leads, moving them through the early portion of the pipeline, and then delivering those leads to someone else who is responsible for closing the deal– that SDR position is largely going to be replaced by technology, if it hasn’t been replaced already. It doesn’t matter how good we thought we were at doing that job, it doesn’t matter whether we think what’s happening is fair or equitable. That job won’t exist anymore. Neither will sales jobs that are essentially all about taking orders from willing buyers. Those jobs won’t exist, either. Technology can do most of that stuff now. 2023 wants us to know that. Software is now handling those transactions.

Going forward, as far as human beings are concerned, the field of sales will be dominated by adaptive people, people who commit to developing and deepening human-to-human communication skills, and who continually expand their fluency with the new tools and platforms necessary for them to compete and thrive. Many of those technologies will be driven by AI. That shouldn’t frighten us. It should excite and inspire us.

If you are one of those adaptive people, if you’re willing to assume personal responsibility for creating, nurturing, and sustaining mutually beneficial business relationships, then yes, you can expect to succeed in sales. On the other hand, if you try to hide behind the technology, if you try to avoid engaging, if you don’t build up the behaviors, attitudes, and techniques necessary to engage in the ways your buyers are engaging, pose difficult questions, and wait for the answers, you won’t be in this line of work for long.

That’s the reality. That’s the key lesson this remarkable year in selling has for us. Heeding that lesson, and adjusting accordingly, is how we will make sense of 2024 and beyond.

Big Non-Negotiable Takeaway Number Two: The “Cold Calling Strategy” Fades– as the “Dating Strategy” Dominates

The classic “cold calling strategy”– the strategy that assumes we can and should turn a stranger into a viable lead in a single real-time conversation– may not be quite dead yet, but it is dying. And it is likely, in the months and years to come, to be regulated so heavily as to be deeply impractical for most selling teams.

Ask yourself: When was the last time you chose to accept a call from a number you didn’t recognize? When did you last reply to an email targeted at a couple of thousand people, or perhaps a couple of million people, who clearly weren’t you? Case closed.

What we see successful teams doing today is focusing with more and more precision on what I like to call a  "dating strategy"– a strategy that’s far more relevant and useful to both buyers and sellers in today’s information-rich, multiplatform selling environment.

As professional, earthquake-savvy salespeople, we should always be dating a certain number of prospects. We want to stop thinking about talking to as many strangers as possible, because let’s face it, there are tools that keep people from having to interact with unknown salespeople, and those tools are only going to get better. I believe we want to start thinking instead of prospecting as dating, as engagement, as creating quality interactions and building up trust authentically with people we get to know better and better over time. Then, hopefully, we get married to the right person. The metaphor kind of breaks down here because in the real world, you want to marry one person, and in sales, you want to close multiple deals, but I think you get the idea.

Think in terms of a relationship-building process, rather than a process that’s built on the idea of scoring a quick win. Quick wins are being designed (and regulated) out of existence.

Big, Non-Negotiable Takeaway Number Three: Work the Triad

Here’s something else 2023 wants us to notice: Today’s buyers have ever-escalating access to new levels of information, insight, and guidance that they once did not have– information, insight, and guidance of the kind they once relied on salespeople to provide.

Guess what that means? Lots of these buyers are measurably less likely than they were yesterday to meet or interact with traditional, cold-call-focused, pushy salespeople early on in the buying cycle for Product/Service X… unless, of course, they already happen to know and trust someone with knowledge and expertise relevant to Product/Service X. That person, they’ll reach out to for help. Regardless of whether or not it’s a salesperson.

How do we know this? Because each of us is such a buyer.

Each of us has easy access to AI via applications like ChatGPT, Bing, and Google Bard, just like the people we want to sell to. Each of us uses one or more of those systems to arm ourselves with critical information before making or influencing a major purchase (or, let’s face it, any number of minor purchases).

So let’s get real. it’s absurd, delusional thinking for us to pretend that our own potential buyers aren’t using those tools to circumvent interactions with pushy salespeople… because we ourselves are using those same tools to circumvent interactions with pushy salespeople. If you disagree with this, you may just have a wishful thinking problem. This is the reality of the post-2023 buyer’s journey. We already have reams of information, instantly. So we don’t need pushy salespeople to give it to us.

At the same time, though, we do turn to people we already know and trust to get their take on whatever it is we’re considering buying: car, truck, refrigerator, inventory management system, you name it. Right?

Here’s the point: ChatGPT and the other tools give us all kinds of potentially relevant, highly accessible facts and conclusions, and most of those facts and conclusions– not all, but most– are fairly reliable. So yes, we do lean heavily on these tools. What these tools don’t give us, though, and what no large language model or AI tool is going to provide in our lifetime or the lifetimes of our kids, is a relationship with another human being we trust.

So the big question for salespeople, in the final quarter of 2023 and for the foreseeable future, is: How do I stop being the pushy salesperson… and instead become the insider the buyer ALREADY knows and trusts?

My answer is: Work the triad.

Three actionable communication venues now determine who is and is not admitted into our personal “circle” of trusted advisors and influencers when it comes to B-to-B purchase decisions. (B to C is another topic, perhaps one I’ll address in another article.)

Those three venues are: LinkedIn, email, and text messages. And in each of those venues, there’s the opportunity for us to move from a “first date” to a “second date” to a “third date” and beyond.

In each of those three venues, there’s the potential to engage authentically and intelligently. Not spammily. Authentically. If you work even one corner of this triad like a spambot, the whole thing comes crashing down.

  • Spoiler Alert Number One: Your personal LinkedIn presence– that is to say, your personal LinkedIn brand– figures prominently in this, as does your ability to create emails that connect to people as human beings. Again: If you ever use any point on the triad in the way a pushy salesperson would, the game is probably over, at least as far as that individual buyer is concerned.
  • Spoiler Alert Number Two: Working the triad entails changing your mindset from a “lead list” approach to a “data enrichment” approach. We're no longer going to go buy leads. What we're going to do is we're going to have leads that arise from existing buyer relationships, LinkedIn contacts, and online events. And we’re going to expand, enrich, and cultivate that unique personal lead list over time.
  • Spoiler Alert Number Three: LinkedIn is where you’re going to want to start. Consider that the first point of the triad, because LinkedIn grows more important to salespeople every day. Three years ago, LinkedIn was useful to salespeople. Now it’s a lot more than that. If you're not active on LinkedIn, you're going to have a difficult time even competing in the first place.

Are You Earthquake-Proof?

In this article, I’ve shared my three biggest takeaways from 2023, the year of AI. These are the critical lessons I’ve implemented in my own world, and that I’ve been sharing with my clients.

Ignoring all three takeaways would, in my view, be a huge strategic mistake for anyone who sells for a living. Picking and choosing the one or two that you feel most comfortable dealing with would likely leave you vulnerable to the competition. But consistently addressing all three, as you and your team move forward in a world where buyers always hold more cards than they held yesterday, will go a long way toward making you and your organization earthquake-proof.

And whether we like it or not, earthquake-proof is now the standard for sales teams in an AI world.


Share this article: