We are already living in the 21st century and many of us are hanging on to practices, processes and systems that no longer serve us. When we continue to pile on much of the same, the result is often much of the same. When we focus on setting out to solve problems, we get stuck in the 20th century scarcity model of fear of not being enough or having enough. We find ourselves competing for a share of the pie instead of baking new pies in an abundance of flavors and shapes to see which ones people would truly enjoy.

Transformation and innovation require us to do work in creating a path that works for us. It is so much more than slogans and programs that need to be implemented. They require us to think deeply, experiment and challenge ourselves in new and ancient ways.

One of the biggest opportunities we have in the business world today brings us to a new mindset when it comes sales. We need to let go of the current culture of sameness of how things are done. So many people are so busy trying to be like everyone else that we forget who we are, why we are here and who we can create and co-create with. We are obsessed with best practices; we are constantly told about how others are successful in a world where the definition of success is changing. It is helpful to hear other’s stories and learn from them.

But how often do we ask if they would work for us? How often do we take the time to think deeply of why we are here and how we can connect deeply with others around the value of  what we offer? We get so caught up in the pitch or sales process that we miss opportunities that are right in front of us. And it’s easy to do when everyone around us is blasting information about how to be successful. But do they know you? Do they know what melts your butter?

I am part of a collective that often gets invited to speak with leadership teams and run sales enablement programs. I like to share stories from my soon to be published book about what leaders are doing in the world; not what their company’s best practices are. From the stories of the frontier of 21st century leadership, we then start talking about their own stories and why they are here to create something beautiful with their own business that people will benefit from.

And that is our opportunity in the 21st century. Research (from the Corporate Executive Board global study of over 10,000 customers 2013-2014) shows that while 88 per cent of executive decision-makers want to have dialogue, not a PowerPoint sales pitch, only 15 per cent believe their meetings with sales people are valuable and live up to their expectations.  Only 5 per cent of executive and 9 per cent of IT leaders accept the follow up meetings.

We need to bring back common sense and redefine the sales experience

In the 21st century, we are in the human-to-human purpose and experience driven era, where we can tap into new and ancient tools that are available to each of us. To do this, we need to take a break from our 24/7 busyness and remember our deeper purpose. Over the next 15 years, we have the opportunity to reinvent business as one of the most powerful forces to fuse our global society. To do so, we must awaken to a path that requires us to to rethink how we do business. It goes beyond what we are really good at–shuffling the deck shares on the ship and focusing on organizational structure.

It starts with conscious 21st century leaders who have a clear and shared purpose of what they want to create with their business and who they want to create with. Imagine that every person in your organization had a clear understanding of why they are here and how their role benefits the company and the planet. What would your business look like then? What would happen if you tapped into the childlike imagination of every person around you and focused on opportunities? What would the sales experience be like then? How many executives and IT leaders would invite your people back to follow-up conversations; not meetings? How much time do you spend thinking, imagining and creating the 21st century experience for everyone involved?

Some new and ancient tools 

Listening and empathy are key to creating an experience. Unless we know what the need is, how can we help a customer fill it? When we come armed with our sales pitches and personal brands, we are in presentation mode of selling what we have. When we come with a mindset of listening and empathy, we learn to listen deeply, ask questions and understand the pain points and opportunities another human being faces. It goes deeper than what is keeping them up at night but how we can help each other find joint success by first understanding what they need and second exploring different options. We get to spend more time co-creating a joint approach that deepens our relationships.

The most important currencies in the 21st century are trust, relationships and community. We need to know who we trust, who trusts us and what fosters the trust. Despite the hype of social media and the influencer movement, word of mouth is still the most ancient tool we have in building our business. Building a community where people can recommend you because they believe in you is key. Knowing how to connect deeply with people and focus on the relationship versus the transaction will most likely get you invited back.

When was the last time you participated in an open dialogue and let the two-way conversation flow? Over the last decade, we have over processed and over structured business. We have increased the complexity of how we do business and became too mired in jumping from one transaction to the next. We cannot build trust, relationships and community without bringing back the ancient tool of dialogue. From a sales perspective, by listening to the people you are doing business with, you can then offer valuable perspectives on the market in response to what you are hearing that helps people navigate and avoid landmines. The ease of the dialogue will signal to others how easy it is to connect and have a relationship with you. Go beyond the technology you are selling, for example, and find out what they are creating in the world and how you could be part of their journey. How do you create a new story, together? What questions are you asking that sparks the imagination?

Being a community builder is also a key shift that we are experiencing. In today’s business world, we have an opportunity to connect the dots. We are more inter-connected than ever thanks to the Internet and we can easily jump on video calls with people from around the world and build new relationships or strengthen existing ones. The opportunity for the 21st century leader is to bring a community of people around their customers. By listening and connecting deeply, you are able to bring other people into conversations and connect them. By building community, the conversation can expand and provide increased value to everyone involved. In a world where buyers are more sophisticated and time constrained, how do you stand out?

The bottom line is if you are living your purpose, you are most likely to be involved with something that you believe in, which means that you don’t necessarily need to pitch it, but share with others why it would be beneficial and valuable to someone else. When you are clear about your own story, you can connect with others to create new stories in the world. The lines are starting to blur on how we are supposed to do things so we can introduce more purposeful experiences that capture the hearts of minds of others.

Think about how you can transform from transactions to deep and meaningful relationships on your journey. And don’t forget that we are here to make an impact and enjoy the ride.

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  • Ayelet: Your article really hit home to me as the leader of FOX GROUP Technology on a personal level! As technology advisors and advocates, we see clients struggling with how to evolve their businesses and what technologies to choose, disregarding sector or role. It is interesting to try to have the open, 2-way dialogues without powerpoint slides, emails or texts disrupting the discussion, even if only for 15 minutes. Maybe we need to have meetings in sand boxes, on swings or some other child-like environment to enable us to block out the distractions? Look forward to reading your book when it comes out!

  • Not at all sure what your getting at Ayelet, sorry.

    Most people and companies are trying to differentiate, not be the same. We are all looking for an edge.

    Most sales today is pretty much as its been forever, with the single biggest shift being away from the sales person as conduit for product information.

    What’s changed the most is buyer decision culture. Decision process is more complex, more people involved, greater risk aversion in general, and much longer for new vendors, or really new ‘stuff’, although shorter for trusted advisors // trusted vendors.

    Trust being the key, typically earned over time on both emotional and technical grounds. Like its always been.