Book Review “Future Proof Sales Strategy” by Steven Norman
How sales leaders transform their teams in the age of the informed buyer
Within the huge range of sales book written in recent years, “Future Proof Sales Strategy” from Australian author Steven Norman takes a special place as it well describes how to tackle selling in the age of the informed buyer with their expectation on customer experience. In addition to those changes in B2B sales, it provides a useful framework for sales leaders to transform their sales team towards future proof capabilities to win with sustainability in mind.
Steven Norman has been working in various sales leadership roles from agile startup companies to general management roles in the corporate IT world across Asia Pacific. Applying his experience and ongoing learning especially to sales leaders, he created his own consultancy Growth Acumen implementing future proof sales strategies. He is also a member of Sales Mastermind Australasia, a group of highly regarded thought leaders in the world of sales and leadership. This book is the best way to understand his coaching methods.
This book consists of two parts after a longer introduction into the topic. Part one is all about grappling with the changes of today’s sales landscape from vendor based to customer focused selling. He focuses on business to business (B2B) sales of complex technology solutions which can be derived as well for other areas serving the business needs of corporations. The larger second part is his manual for interested sales leaders to implement the right structure for their teams. This highly practical part of the book consists of seven steps including the sales structure itself, recruiting and promoting, lead generation, converting middle-of-the-funnel, customer experience and referral selling, stakeholder management and continuous improvement. No need to implement all steps in one go, rather a modular system allowing any desired order for change towards future proof capabilities. Here a warning: the sales leader also needs to change the C suite’s perception of the sales teams’ roles.
Many sales books are flooded with quotes from famous thoughts leaders in their space. Steven rather creates sentences which stand out and can be quoted. One example is “The sales profession has moved from a buying process that was intertwined with our own sales processes to a buying journey that runs very independently of suppliers and the sales function.” Don’t we still hear managers taking about sales process instead of buying journeys nowadays? Steven even turns an obvious disadvantage into a positive sign: “Thanks to product commoditisation, your sales capability — rather than your product or service — is now the key differentiator.” Further I like the changed mindset towards customer success in “We should not rest until that customer is an active advocate for our products and solutions.”
Steven’s book addresses first and foremost sales leaders with decision making power to prepare sales teams for the future. Regardless their position within the middle or top management, they can benefit from the described useful journey how to develop a next-gen sales team. it is also a great lecture for field sales executives and even inside sales representatives to understand the big picture and prepare themselves for the upcoming (or missing) decisions to advance the sales profession in general as an industry and in concrete cases for their own company. Actually, I believe that after reading the book, sales reps should recommend it to their managers form a bottom up push to advance success internally. In that sense this book is highly adaptable for the own practice of those two reader groups.
There are many articles and books talking about the future of sales but many of them fail as they only look at side elements like lead generation or the people aspect. Steven Norman successfully adds all relevant topics in the seven mentioned steps adding comprehensive description and highly relevant practical tips. His focus is emphasized on improving people not technology. Especially I like his suggestion to read the whole book first and then pick where readers see the highest gap to work on them in detail within the holistic approach of the book.
A couple of points provide good inspiration for the future book author. First of all, the chosen title is short and precise and comes up in relevant searches. The highly relevant subtitle “7 steps to rise above the chaos, transform your team and take charge of your career” underlines the practical approach of the book addressing also the employability of the reader as another key element beyond improving sales results. The asymmetric structure with three parts of increasing size is another good learning: The very comprehensive introduction entices to read more like an expose on its own, comments about Steven follow at the end of that intro like the leading wolf goes last. The following part of the sales landscape has a compact appearance before the mentioned seven steps provide the core strategies based on the earlier laid foundation. This unique approach helps to embrace change and apply the theory into practice.
Q&A with Steven Norman
1. What was the deciding moment to write this book?
Sales organisations need to change to meet the challenges of the evolved buying/selling paradigm. Other functions such as marketing, manufacturing, logistics and customer experience have evolved dramatically in the past decade or more, but sales organisations have generally not transformed as much as they should.
As a leader running a large complex sales organisation, I struggled to find good advice on how to set my team up for success in the current environment. I saw many good books for salespeople on sales techniques, and even books directed towards sales management but nothing for sales or business leaders wanting to take a critical hard look at the overall sales organisation.
How should we structure our organisation, should we specialise sales functions and if so how do we do that, what are the critical skills and functions we need in a modern sales organisation, how do we hire and retain our talent effectively and how do align stakeholders and drive change that sticks
These are the questions I wanted to provide answers to and package it up for sales leaders into a practical framework, one that they can implement at their own pace.
2. How long did it take from concept to launch?
It was about a year. I did a lot of planning in the early stages to map out the whole sales strategy framework and subsequently the book structure. I was pretty clear in my mind what the whole thing would look like early on, then it was a matter of generating all of the content and making it meaningful and entertaining!
3. How did you perform the research to create the practical content?
While I had a lot of my own structures, experiences and stories, I thought it was critical to get the perspectives of sales experts and practitioners from around the world. I spoke to over a hundred experts on topics such as prospecting, qualifying, discovery, change management, negotiation, hiring, talent assessment tools, storytelling, insight selling and the sales tech stack. This added a lot of great content to the book as well as some great stories that bring the subject matter to life.
4. What was the biggest challenge along the process (and how did you overcome it)?
Writing a book is a huge investment of time and mental energy so it is a big challenge every day to keep at it. Beyond writing the book the publishing and distribution process also takes time and effort, so writing the book is only half the battle, maybe two thirds.
5. What was your own reflection along the journey?
I’ve been a lifetime student of sales and this exercise was an acceleration of that learning experience, it was a process where many of my ideas about sales were challenged and evolved. A big gift was coming into contact with a multitude of renowned sales experts who were so generous with their contribution to the book’s content. I found so many folks with the same passion that I have for the sales profession and made some great friends along the way.
6. What is the outcome in having this book available?
Future Proof Sales Strategy fills a gap in the B2B sales literature. It is squarely aimed at sales and business leaders looking to make themselves and their sales organisation competitive in today’s challenging market. It offers a practical 7 step process to bring their sales team up to world class level.
7. What would you advise others about writing their book?
If you have passion and deep expertise in a specific arena, then a book is a great way get your message out there. Investing some time upfront on the overall methodology and your book structure helps a lot. Spend time to really think through your logic, the sequence and the methodologies, how do they all fit together into something understandable. Once the structure is in place then it’s a matter of filling in the blanks with your own material, research and interviews.
Steven Norman: “Future Proof Sales Strategy”, Sydney: Grammar Factory January 2019, ISBN 978–064843072–8 (Paperback) or Kindle, www.growthacumen.com.au
About the author: Gunnar Habitz helps Small Business professionals to improve their Personal Branding and Social Selling capabilities. In his role as partnership manager at Australian software vendor Noggin, he uses these skills to build successful channels using Noggin Integrated Safety and Security Software. As a Chartered Manager at the Institute of Managers and Leaders (IML), he mentors the next generation of leaders. Find more content about leadership, networking and #socialselling on www.gunnarhabitz.com.au.