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Why It’s Time to Re-Imagine Selling for the 21st Century

It’s time to change our mindset when it comes to selling in the 21st Century.

During my time as a senior executive in hi-tech, corporate America, I helped large internal sales organizations develop and execute their sales strategies globally. I had a front row seat to growing large businesses and being on the leading edge of integrating technology into our go-to-market strategies. There were massive successes.

For example, we propelled Cisco Canada from #6 to #2 in global revenue for the company in 2010, with $1.9B in product and services sales. This was done with a 21st century mindset using the art of relationship building, which goes beyond the traditional sales transaction.

Let’s dig into where we are and why we need a new path forward when it comes to co-creating a human-to-human economy this century. I’ll provide some thoughts and insights and hope you can add your thinking in the comments, so we can have a two-way conversation.

1. Bringing Our Common Sense Back to Business

We have lost common sense when it comes to business today. We are still using antiquated 20th century practices in a 21st century world.

In the last century we didn’t have enough so we convinced ourselves that we needed to compete with others to win. The spread of fear and scarcity thrived. We were told through every medium and salesperson that we were not using the latest and most improved toothpaste, and we convinced each other that more is better.

Today, we have enough. And we need to move away from notions of taking market share from our competitors, to recognizing that living in an open and connected world means we can find people who love what we make or do anywhere on the planet. We don’t have to kill anyone in the process. We don’t need war rooms to strategize our next moves. All we need is some healthy common sense and ancient wisdom; both are readily available.

We have lost common sense when it comes to business today. We are still using antiquated 20th century practices in a 21st century world.

This is also where pure innovation plays a role. We live in a time where companies re-invent themselves because anything and everything is possible. Many capture opportunities on the edge and create new markets. Netflix, for example, changed its business model to include creating original content. Who imagined Netflix would enter the market and create a new playing field for the television industry, which in the 21st century is becoming the experience industry? Customers love it.

Tower Book Ad

A business is created when someone has an idea and there are people who want what they make. The purpose of the business is to serve its customers. It’s that simple. Create something and connect with the people who want it. And in the 21st century, we no longer need to yell at people and broadcast our wares.  

If your business addresses common sense questions – such as who you serve, what you create in the world and why does someone need it – you would focus more on having people share in your purpose than in the outcomes (how much money you make). In today’s world, consumers are more aware of their power and buy differently, which is creating a new way of doing business. Most organizations, and even some entrepreneurs, use social media tools in a 20th century way by broadcasting and yelling at people. They use less than 2 percent of the potential of these tools as they are stuck in the last century of selling. (But that’s for another post).

2. Using Ancient Wisdom and Technologies Matters Today

While we have a love affair with technology and progress, what is needed most in the 21st century is for us to remember how to use old technologies that are readily available to each of us. Ancient wisdom shows us that:

  • If we see work as art form, we bring our passion and purpose to it. If we focus on selling our art, we can disconnect with the 20th century notion of “making a sale.” In the 21st century, through the lens of sharing our art, we don’t need elevator pitches or personal brands. We simply share our creations with the world and connect with the people who could benefit from them.

    It means organizations need to recognize their people as artists. It is about truly believing in what we create and having a passion for sharing it with other people who may need it.
  • Listening becomes a critical skill for sales people. There is no empathy if we don’t take time to listen. I remember running a workshop on this and being told that they already designed the program and they didn’t want feedback because they thought it was great; they were especially concerned about the changes they would need to make if they found people didn’t like it. They were too close to launching.

    The days of the patriarchy are coming to an end. There is power in co-creating solutions, and it requires a deep desire to listen. People will generously share with us and it’s a missed opportunity when we think we know better. Most of the time, we don’t. Imagine what could happen if we used our hearts to listen and connect deeply with people who share our purpose in business. How will this impact our ability to exchange our services and products?
  • Just like listening, we need to bring back a very ancient technology called two-way conversations. Everywhere we turn we have people yelling at each other. I dare you to go out and observe a two-way conversation for 30-minutes. I bet you will learn something about the power of storytelling, or people talking over each other to satisfy their ego in making their points (which is by the way what happens online). There is no scorecard in the 21st century.

    Regardless, listening will make you a better sales person since you will see the humanity of connecting with people. Go outside your comfort zone and have random collisions with people. It will expand your network in ways you never imagined. We never know what’s going on in someone else’s world unless we take the time to truly connect with them and see them rather than our sales target.

    The world is changing, if you keep showing up in the same places you will get the same results. Isn’t that how Albert Einstein defined insanity?

3. Welcome to the Human-to-Human Economy

Many people like to segment their business according to what type of businesses they sell to; B2B, B2C … the acronyms go on. People smarter than me have ushered in the human-to-human economy and it is the 21st century way of being. When we recognize that the art of selling is about promoting why our product or service can help someone, we know our opportunity is one of explaining to people why we can help them with something they need.

I don’t want to be a personal brand. I am an author and speaker who wants the opportunity to share a new way of living and working in the 21st century with people in organizations who are ready to become 21st century leaders and pursue LIFEworking. That is my purpose as an activist for the human spirit. I don’t have an elevator pitch, since research has shown that not many people have ever bought much in an elevator. My goal is for people to know what I bring to the world and invite me to co-create with them.

In a human-to-human economy, it’s all about relationships. The most important currency of the 21st century is trusted relationships and community. The days of sales pitches are coming to an end, and the most important question any organization and individual can ask themselves and know the answer to is “Who do you trust?” And most importantly, “Who trusts you?”

In a human-to-human economy, it’s all about relationships.

Welcome to the 21st century, where people are at the heart of business and the possibilities are endless. Co-creating with unusual partners, using our imagination, is what it’s about. The 21st century sales person is the 21st century leader; she knows how to create the space and bring people together around shared purpose. She no longer needs to be the expert and she definitely does not need followers. Her currency is trust and she connects people to other people or products or services, based on their needs.  


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Ayelet Baron is an author. speaker. activist for the human spirit. She is passionate about showing a new path for business in the 21st century and her interactive keynotes engage you in a conversation around this question: are you a 21st century leader? Ayelet's extensive global business experience has taken into every region across the world to experience firsthand how people work. In her 12+ years at Cisco, she helped position IT as a strategic business partner shifting customer satisfaction from 69% in 1999 to 76% in 2001, facilitating the global mobile strategy that achieved over $2.2B in revenue in 2003, helping to launch new markets in Emerging Markets in 2007 and propelling Cisco Canada from #6 to #2 in global revenue for the company in 2010 as the chief strategy and innovation officer. Since then, Ayelet has been an innovator in residence at Roche where she helped introduce the 21st century way of working to the company as a futurist and instigator. She is the first futurist providing a point of view on the future of LIFEworking.

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