Technology has impacted just about every aspect of our lives and the sales profession is not immune. In fact, in my role as a specialized Recruitment Consultant, I have been witness to a remarkable evolution. Across the world, progressive organizations and innovative sales professionals are using technology to re-engineer the sales process.
So, what does this mean for you as a sales professional?
The functions of your job are changing dramatically. You need to keep up or risk losing relevance in the market. In this recruiter’s observation, over any other experience, hiring managers today seek sales people with the following attributes:
- Understand the evolving sales function: qualify, listen, and recommend
- Have the ability to collect and interpret data, then make sound decisions
- Be an expert and position products and services to a highly informed audience
Attribute 1: Understand the evolving sales function: qualify, listen, and recommend
Until maybe 10 years ago, the sales process was far less efficient. The key was to search relentlessly to identify a prospect, capture their attention, uncover a need, handle as many objections as required, then move toward a close.
Consumers grew wise to this game. More sophisticated buyers use technology to create a barrier from sales people (caller ID, junk mail, and gate keepers), forcing the sales process to adapt.
Sales and marketing teams are now working closer together and new forms of prospecting have emerged. Made possible by the effective use of technology, marketing teams communicate with potential buyers on an ongoing basis through relevant content. When these prospects seem curious to learn more, marketing teams then engage the sales team.
The evolving functions of a sales professional:
1. Qualify: Access to information creates educated buyers, they are informed and in some cases ready to make a decision before they even speak with a sales agent. Sounds great doesn’t it? But if a trigger happy sales person facilitates a transaction without properly qualifying, this can have harmful repercussions. Sales people and companies need to preserve their brand. A bad experience or misaligned solution could be stretched far across the globe in a matter of minutes. KNOWING your solution is a good fit will lead to far more business than getting a quick sale.
2. Listen: The new sales person must ask each prospect questions about their previous research and the competitive analysis they have done. The consultant will then learn their unique situation, get a budget and understand their expectations of service or product delivery.
3. Recommend: The ideal sales person will then guide the prospect through their own decision making process, helping them compare and contrast against the multitude of similar offerings. In this way they foster a more genuine relationship with the buyer and are seen as a consultant rather than a sales person.
Attribute 2: Have the ability to collect and interpret data, then make sound decisions
Data is everywhere, but don’t just leave it to the analysts for interpretation. In competitive job markets, leading managers are now choosing, career-growth minded, sales professionals who possess the ability to gather information, interpret data and, with careful consideration, make decisions.
Historically, high level executives differentiated themselves from subordinates with their ability to leverage data. In the current business environment, the average sales executive has access to much of this same data. And with education becoming more accessible, the above skills are attainable.
If you’re looking to close gaps you face in this area, check out this relevant course from the UBC Sauder School of Business: Data analytics for managerial decision making >
Attribute 3: Be an expert and position products and services to a highly informed audience
Think of the last big ticket item you bought. You likely did a fair bit of online research and by the time you visit a sales person, you may have already made up your mind, but inevitably there are few key details that arise.
The purpose of a sales person going forward will be to guide the buyer toward making the RIGHT decision. With increasing selection and product / service complexity there becomes a need for expert consultants to deliver that ideal solution. To remain relevant going forward, sales people must become a TRUE expert in their field. With educated buyers, this cannot be faked. A sales person is now both a solutions provider and trusted advisor.
Becoming an expert is really just a matter of specialization, longevity and commitment to the craft. Hiring managers are far more drawn to sales staff with passion and interest in becoming a subject matter expert. To be classified as an expert you need to read and listen to industry contributors, educate customers and develop your personal brand. Remember, this will take time but in the end it will be worth it.
What does the future hold for sales professionals?
The human element in business transactions will endure, however, as businesses streamline, highly sought after sales positions will be fewer. Which is a why top performing sales people will enjoy longevity. The ideal sales executive will command high income by bringing an expert ability to qualify opportunities, digest information to make informed decisions, then guide prospects on a highly consultative journey toward a purchase.
My advice to sales professionals is to seek roles at forward thinking organizations that will invest in your growth of these elements and to spend your own personal time expanding your skills. Energy and effort today will ultimately result in long-term success and prosperity in your career.