So, you want to predict the future of the sales profession? 

Mar 13, 2023 | Blog

So, you want to predict the future of the sales profession? 

I am no Nostradamus. I am no Miss Cleo. I don’t have conversations with spirits. However (and you may not believe me), I have successfully predicted:

  1.  “The Great Resignation” months before it became a thing: I even had a cheesy slide I used in keynotes about it, in the form of a weather warning, but this one read, “Severe Turnover Binge Warning”
  2. Last February (13 months ago), I wrote about and dedicated an episode of The Sales History Podcast to what’s happening right now. The economy. Layoffs. My post on LinkedIn didn’t get much engagement – 29 likes and 21 comments, half of which were basically how I’m wrong.

Well, I guess I’m on a roll. How, then, did I do so? Well, it’s actually pretty easy. It’s to view, see and apply all things through one of two lenses.

Lens #1: History: It keeps repeating itself

Since the dawn of modern selling, we’ve had events that have shut down the economy (wars, pandemics, even a terrorist attack). We’ve had depressions, recessions, and bubbles. The run-up and run-down to all of them look almost exactly the same.

Picture of Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell, credited with conducting the first successful test of the telephone in March of 1876.

We’ve had technological innovations that would change everything: from the telephone’s true beginning in 1876, to the dawn of email kicking off in 1971, and even the rise of the World Wide Web. The boom and then a plateau of each look shockingly similar.

Lens #2: The Shift to As-A-Service: The most significant way the selling world has changed

We can argue that more information has changed selling. It hasn’t…really.

We can argue that buyers have changed. They haven’t.

Here is not the place to argue this…but using history and behavioral science, we can see that the same arguments and concerns were had all the way back to 1906.

What really has changed? The shift of everything to an “as a service” or “subscription” economy. Anything that is still around today that is designed to “get the deal” versus “onboard a customer for life” is changing, or absolutely will change. Customer profitability for the overwhelming majority of SaaS companies doesn’t come in year 1. The need for clients who stay, buy more, advocate, and take you with them to their next step is the lens.

You’ve seen it through the rise of client success as a key function in the success of any organization.

You’ve seen it through the rise of the Chief Revenue Officer function and title to oversee the entire customer lifecycle.

For Example?

So, let’s apply this to a couple of things:

Today’s economy

It’s March of 2023. We’re coming off of our fourth economy in just over three years…going from a steady growth period in 2019/early 2020, into a shutdown economy in the spring of 2020. By the fall, the engine of growth caught incredible fire, taking us through Q3 of 2022. Q4 of 2022, and now 2023 have been represented by large swaths of salespeople losing their jobs, the economy slowing down considerably (especially for tech), and now the failure of a significant banking player or two in the technology world.

How did this happen?

To quote a passage from Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, there’s a character named Mike who is asked how he went bankrupt. His response? “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” Everything happening right now happened gradually, then suddenly, right? This quote was from 97 years ago!

Over and over again in the history of the post-stage 3 of the industrial revolution / modern economy (1900+), we’ve seen multiple instances of an economy in slow growth, disrupted by something…a war like in World War I & II, a significant sector experiencing a crisis like real estate, automotive or banking, a pandemic like Covid, or anything else that shut down a big chunk of the economy for a period of time. In each case, it was followed by a period of high growth, an inflation spike, then a significant drop in the economy.  

We are in the drop. 

Technology innovations

ChatGPT is all the rage right now. What will happen with it? It has the ability to revolutionize communication, right?

We can look to the past to see what we’ve done with it, and what happened.

The first successful telephone call happened on March 10th, 1876, by Alexander Graham Bell. Fast forward 35 years and the fruits of that invention were beginning to make their way into the world of selling, revolutionizing outreach and customer engagement.  By the 1950s and 1960s, people were sick of it, and technologies were being invented to prevent such sales outreach, like caller ID. When that didn’t work, the government had to step in, and create the Do Not Call Registry, now occupied with 221M phone numbers in the US. Canada & the UK have similarly large numbers as a percentage of their population. AGB would be rolling over if he knew how we ruined this gift.

Ray Tomlinson executed the first successful email in 1971. And guess what…same as above. 

And the internet. And LinkedIn.

“But Todd,” you add. “AI is different! What about the fact that Google invested $300M in AI?”

Good point. Allow me to take you back to 2015, when everyone was all goosed up around the rise of voice technologies, and how that would revolutionize how we interact with our homes, shop, and consume information. Back then, Amazon offered up $200M in investment to advance voice technologies via The Alexa Fund. How did that do? Well, in 2022, Amazon “bled $10B in cash” surrounding Alexa, and have had to purge a large percentage of the team.

We can always predict that:

a) When a new technology takes hold, first movers will grab hold and seek to use it for “scale’ and “volume”. They will then ruin it. The telephone and email fit this category.

b) When a new technology has it’s trust questioned, the technology will quickly and often permanently cap its own potential. Alexa fits this category, as the concern over devices that listen to us in our homes squashed its potential – and ChatGPT’s trustworthiness around where it pulls its information from will likely reduce its potential as well. 

The Futurecast

I believe that the way we use cold calling will have to change in the future. Because of the as-a-service economy, your reputation is either building with trust or eroding trust with every interaction. If cold outreach isn’t trust-building, it will stunt a company’s growth, shrink in effectiveness, and eventually subside. It will likely never go away, but smart companies will invest their outreach in trust building – not hammer and close.

I believe that the way we negotiate was founded in a close-and-move-on world in the 1980s and 1990s. Learning to negotiate via word art via individuals who negotiate the release of hostages from bank heists fails to see the point of an as-a-service economy. Yes, I’m biased in my own belief in transparency, but Transparent Negotiations will have to rise in prominence, especially as it builds trust, builds deal value, and makes deals more predictable.

A Unicorn in Early 2022 | Same Unicorn in April of 2023 (I saw this somewhere long ago, and recreated it)

I believe that we will get through this economic slowdown, enter a period of slow growth, then something will happen again to shut down the economy. Something we cannot predict. We’ll recover, experience rampant growth, followed by a spike in inflation, which will be followed by another recession. In other words, we will forget, and then we will repeat all of this again.

I believe that there will be additional new whizbang technologies that will be created. We will take that new technology and immediately attempt to “scale’ it. The first to jump will see short-term gains from it, which others will see and attempt. As a result, that technology will eventually level off and become more challenging. Technologies will be created to help consumers and buyers combat those new technologies, and in some cases, that won’t be enough, and the government will have to step in.

I believe that the future of selling has to be a return to sales as providing a service to buyers – doing their homework for them, helping them predict outcomes, versus trying to convince people to buy. However, the overwhelming majority will not heed this advice, and in 5-10 years, the sales profession will still drag the bottom of Gallup’s annual trusted professions survey along with politicians. 

Thus, your opportunity – to differentiate in the way that you sell. You can stand out…and I swear you’ll need a bigger wallet as a result. 

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I speak and teach revenue organizations on how to leverage transparency and decision science to maximize their revenue capacity. It’s what I do…teach sellers, their leaders, and really entire revenue organizations the how we as human beings make decisions, then how to use that knowledge for good (not evil) in their messaging (informal and formal), negotiations and revenue leadership. I wrote a 3x award-winning book (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘺 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦), and have a newish book out (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘓𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘳) now that just won its first award!

Reach out if you want to discuss The Transparency Sale sales methodology, or really…anything else (sales kickoffs, workshopskeynotes, the economy, history, etc.)! Email or call 847-999-0420.

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