If you have a spare minute today, do a quick search of social media and take a look at the volume of articles posted discussing the future of selling and how the role of the salesperson is changing. Headlines such as “1 million B2B Sales Jobs will Vanish by 2020” grab your attention and strike fear into many. There is no doubt that the role of a salesperson is evolving but are things really as bad as the headlines suggest ?
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that buyers have changed, the buying process has changed and the balance of power between the buyer and salesperson has radically shifted towards the buyer. Buyers are more informed, have faster, easier, access to knowledge and are well-connected to experts in their industry. All of this ensures that buyers are much farther through the buying process before they even consider engaging a salesperson and when they do, they often know exactly who they intend to engage.
In this context it’s easy to understand how the historic persona of the salesperson who is a brave, hard charging, lone wolf capable of breaking down doors to find and close the deal is no longer relevant. The days when salespeople where able to engage buyers in discussion around commodity products sold in a transactional manner are gone forever to be replaced by fast efficient technology that enable buyers to self-serve and complete the buying process without ever engaging a salesperson. If you are a seller in this type of commodity, transactional market then I’m afraid you will either change or become extinct. My advice, take steps to develop yourself and find another role soon, before the decision is made for you.
At the other end of the seller spectrum the future is very bright. I believe the need for professional salespeople who are thought leaders, able to add value throughout the buying process and take pride in helping their customers be successful will continue to grow. The traits and skills of individuals who operate successfully in this context are however very different to those that have proved successful in the past. So what are some of the traits and skills needed for future success :-
Collaborator : the successful salesperson of the future will be an outstanding collaborator, someone who thrives on working WITH their customers, in sequence with the buying process and helping enable the customer to buy. (Note: while I said working WITH customers that does not mean that you always agree with their point of view.)
Thought Leader / Educator : expertise in content marketing, an active presence on social media and a willingness to participate in networking discussions are a prerequisite for today’s salesperson. The ability to create a close partnership with colleagues in Marketing is important. The successful salesperson spends more time educating and developing their thought leadership to engage potential customers very early in their buying process, sometimes years before they have an active requirement.
Curious & Knowledgeable Business Coach : Salespeople will have a deep understanding of their customer, their customers industry and issues effecting their customers business. They will have specific domain knowledge, be curious and capable of asking insightful questions that drive their customers business forwards. A coach is someone who is accountable for helping the individual being coached develop and perform at a higher level, this is a great description of the successful salesperson of the future.
Generates Referrals & Recommendations : Salespeople of the future will pride themselves on collecting recommendations and referrals from delighted clients. Word of mouth and introductions from happy customers will be the pre-eminent method of lead generation. Traditional “Cold Calling” morphs into “Warm Calling” and proves to be far more effective.
Closing is the Natural Conclusion : Great Closing skills that manipulate a client to buy outside of their buying process are no longer deemed a strength. Salespeople of the future will close deals as the natural conclusion to the buying process where knowledge and insight has delivered value from the start and differentiated the salesperson from their competition.
The profession of selling is going through a period of radical change brought about by technology disrupting traditional processes, like many other professions. I believe that we are at the “tipping point” where selling will become regarded as true profession and the standards, skill levels and ethics of those employed in sales roles will be of the very highest level. Darwin’s “Origin of Species” quote describes the salespersons current predicament perfectly “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”