In his keynote speech last month at the Sales Enablement Society’s annual conference, Dr. Howard Dover, director of the Center for Professional Selling at UT Dallas, raised serious concerns about the state of modern selling.

He began with a detour through “the Valley of Death,” describing how “suitcase farmers” destroyed the windswept plains in the early 1900s by plowing the land until nothing remained but a parched, cracked Dust Bowl.

This enormous national catastrophe was caused by many factors. According to Dover, chief among them was the use of innovations like the disk plow—even when drought conditions indicated that more plowing wasn’t the answer. In short, not doing things differently accelerated the crisis.

“We can actually destroy the world.”

Against the vivid imagery of fallow plains, Dover discussed some warning signs that are threatening sales today:

  • In 2010, it took 4.7 contacts to move a prospect forward, according the The Bridge Group. Now, in 2017, it takes 8.2 contacts.
  •  CSO Insights found that only 53% of salespeople are hitting quota attainment, continuing the downward trendline that started several years ago.
  •  Bob Perkins of American Association of Inside Sales Professionals predicted that 68% of us will increase our headcount in 2017.

Dover then cited research from CB Insights, which indicates that technological innovation in sales is at unprecedented levels. “We’re about to get automated,” he said. “We are now mechanizing, industrializing the sales function.” In other words, sales has found its disk plow, and those who don’t do things differently risk creating a sales dust bowl that could have tragic consequences.

“We can actually destroy the world,” Dover cautioned. “And do it quickly. And be home for dinner and drinks.”

Take the better path

Going back to his history lesson, Dover said that “it was only after we actually changed the way we farmed that we had innovation that was successful.”

And, in his view, the same is true today. He bemoans the fact that we keep using innovation to contact the customer, only to find that the constant cell phone calls, emails, and texts are ignored.

“When I can get an executive who is in charge of revenue to tell me what they’re really worried about, they’re really worried about actually generating revenue,” Dover asserted. “They know what they’re doing isn’t working, and they know they’re increasing headcount as a stop-gap measure because they have to hit the quarterly numbers—not because they think it works, because they don’t have a solution.”

Dover said there are two paths that sales enablement professionals and salespeople can take. They can keep plowing the land and cause economic disaster, or they can do things differently and achieve massive productivity increases.

The people who are succeeding by doing things differently, he revealed, are “not badgering the customer. They’re finding ways to become valuable to the customer. They’re finding ways to communicate to the buyers. They’re finding ways to be a valuable asset to the business community, and they’re being rewarded handsomely…They’re not scarring the land and causing dust storms. They’re actually harvesting the land and the people are inviting them to be part of the conversation.”

The Visible Impact Vantage

Having been on the receiving end a few years ago of calls from my home mortgage bank trying to sell me insurance in case I lost a limb on the job, I can tell you there are lots of risks in play here. Of course, I often work at home — in the comfort of my triple-screen, command center. The chance of losing a limb is rather remote, as I told my caller the first time and politely said “no.”

But the calls kept coming and I had to keep saying no. I came to the realization that this recognized brand — much in the news of late — had probably outsourced the work to a firm that was getting paid for the leads. They had no concerns about the “brand damage” being done by making these calls over and over.

It was a microcosm of the Dust Bowl problem — now made worse by auto-dialers and other forms of auto (faux personal) communications.

From our perspective, it’s time to strike a different balance between volume and value in one’s outreach to prospective customers. Time to conduct a different kind of conversation — one that produces real value at every at every stage of a buyer’s decision process and burnishes your brand.

Would you be interested in a discussion on this topic? I’d happily explore it with you. Connect with me in LinkedIn or reach me here: Britton at  

Watch Howard Dover’s 24-minute presentation.