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What New Characteristics are Critical to Sales Success?

by Shawn Karol Sandy

Meet the next gen sales pro.

One of the hardest employee positions to fill right now is that of sales professional.

My LinkedIn inbox and email are hit 4 or 5 times a week with business owners and recruiters asking for referrals of qualified and experienced sales professionals. I also see on LinkedIn many sales people boomerang in sales positions. Through interviews with both employees and sales directors, there is much frustration right now with hiring and performance in most every sales program.

The reasons and causes are numerous—from scarce applicants (retiring boomers and reluctant millennials to enter sales as a career) to the most critical factor which is:

The current characteristics and skills needed in modern sales professionals are not the personality traits that have traditionally been hired to perform in these positions.

Those Old Selling Methods Just Won't Work Anymore

With the buying process in the hands of the customer, leverage, timing and information has shifted the bulk of the sales journey to the customer. This mega shift in the sales universe has left many sellers struggling to create opportunities and meet their quotas because their previous methods are ineffective at selling to modern customers.

  • Buyers now complete 57 – 70% of their buying process before engaging sellers.

The disconnect is that some of the traditional personal qualities that made the best sales people have changed and sales directors and sales pros are finding their experience is not aligning with new marketing and customer demands and thus, results are suffering.

  • As companies become savvier about the products they buy, wheeler-dealers are out, and problem-solvers are in. 

Successful sales people will still be confident, driven, hard working and hungry people. But especially as our work begins to collectively develop and be valued more around our social conscience (and more millennials join the work force) pure commission or bonus is only part of the overall compensation for many people.

Doing work they believe in, believing their company, products or services are truly the best answers to problems and feeling valued, appreciated and recognized are among the new factors professionals weigh in their overall compensation package. That is a big red flag change in the previous mindset of creating sales programs filled with dog eat dog competitive sales reps such as in the famous movie/play, Glengarry Glen Ross:

Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee’s for closers only.

So, in order to meet the demands of both modern customers and modern employees, the definition of Sales Professionals is moving away from some of the more ingrained personality traits you’d traditionally associate with successful sales pros.

5 Characteristics and Skills that will Define the Success of the Next Generation of Sales Professionals

1. The Lone Ranger is replaced by The Team Captain

Riding in to town to save the day or “going it alone” are two common ways you might have described the characteristics of a Sales Pro but now, instead of the “Maverick”, modern customers need “Major Generals”. Marshaling internal and external resources to help customers make decisions, leading teams and leveraging resources is the new demand from customers.

Some of these skills were used after the sale but may have been part of the sales hand off to a project manage or production but now,  

Successfully closing a sale means demonstrating how you will lead and manage client investments before the deal is done.

In B2B channels, sales professionals are being called to perform in more project manager capacity and spend time engaging the resources and other stake holders to fully understand and plot the scope of change necessary to implement a new product, service or solution. This process requires more collaborative, empathetic and team leadership qualities than have ever been demanded from sales professionals.

Buyers are demanding a much bigger demonstration of value before they open the doors to meet much less go through the length of the buying process with a sales person.

  • 74% of buyers choose the company that was first to add value

2. Prospecting via cold calling will be replaced by leveraged relationships

Most everyone is aware of a sales person’s agenda: you’re job is to close customers. Doing this badly has given sales in general a bad reputation and leaves people running for the door sometimes so they don’t feel pressure from sales people. We’ve all had those experiences where pushy sales reps didn’t take no for an answer or pushed their own agenda too hard.

We actively avoid those situations now by doing much of our own information gathering and research online and by sourcing others experiences through their referrals and endorsements.

  • Currently, it takes an average of 8 cold call attempts to reach a prospect. In 2007 it was 3.68.

With 8,293 ways to ignore sales reps and marketing efforts, the key to relationship building is both online and offline networking—earning your way in customers circles of influence. Social media and social influence is the new “knock on the door” that sales pro’s must master in order to get any where near both the buyer but also contribute influence to a customer’s decision making criteria.

If you are not visible, vocal and influential in a buyer’s journey, then you won’t have much input in to the decision to buy or not buy you. Buyers are looking to the internet—social media, peers and case studies— to determine how and who they’re going to buy.

Next Gen Sales Pros will build their network of online relationships, asking for connections by offering value, building trust by demonstrating expertise and insight, not promoting or pitching via social media.

Instead of knocking on the door or calling cold to ask for an appointment to discuss your product and a customers’ business, the next generation of super sellers will identify their customers (much via social and digital channels) and connect with them in the places that they are seeking insight and answers to their problems. Twitter, Facebook and most especially, LinkedIn are tremendous assets that sales pros must master to connect, influence and earn modern customers trust and business.

3. The heavy-handed closer will be replaced by the collaborator

Much like being the team captain, the new face of selling will build trust and close sales by collaborating with and for their customers. Solutions (again, especially in B2B channels—software and technology) are more customized and less out of the box. Customers want solutions that will work with their infrastructure, their billing and operating systems, their culture and their objectives.

Now, closing sales looks less like an arm wrestling match and more like a symphony

All parts of your business, their business and even other vendors, agreeing on the objectives, outcomes and terms is what it takes to green light the sale. This takes time, patience, leadership and a lot of “nurturing” behaviors—traits that are not always aligned with those high strung competitive personalities previously thought of in sales.

  • The average sales cycle has increased by 22% over the past 5 years.

4. Company mouthpieces will phase out and be replaced by authors, speakers and evangelists

We’ve probably all met the company mouthpiece—that guy who seems to eat, sleep, breath the company’s slogans. He’s a walking advertisement for his product. Always pitching, always promoting features, features, features.

Modern customers have no patience for the company mouthpiece, nor do they trust them.

  • Buyer-to-company trust = 33%. Buyer-to-buyer trust = 92%

Buyers have researched and determined their own set of buying criteria and may or may not want to hear what you or your company has to say about its own product. They are looking to other resources and other buyers for their insights and experiences.

So for a sales pro, it’s not enough to know your product, your company and even your competitors. Successful Sales Pros now need to understand the entire industry—up channel and downstream. In depth knowledge of the market, economic forces and innovation happening affecting your product takes tremendous commitment, passion and expertise.

Instead of memorizing company slogans, repeating product features or reading slick presentations, sales professionals earn trust and credibility by speaking and sharing authentically and transparently about their passion and expertise for their product or in their industry.

Not everyone has to be an author, but the original thought, the heartfelt and earnest belief in the cause and results your product or service provides and a sales pro’s willingness to champion and personally vouch for what they are selling is different than someone who repeats the company slogan.

The new best sales pros now are speakers, authors and yes, even evangelists for their product or services. Instead of pushing people with messages towards products, customers are compelled or pulled in by the messages and delivery.

5. Slick people pleaser personalities are replaced by empathetic, perceptive and emotionally intelligent humans

Gone are the days where only high energy, extroverted, glad handing people pleasers are the ideal sales people. Much of those attributes are felt as fake or inauthentic and turn buyers off like a hot shower in July.

As we lean in towards collaboration and team implementation, next gen sales pros have really got to be able to understand people and understand and articulate their own motives and intentions. This isn’t new but different from how sales has previously connected to the personality and emotion of buyers (think “closing techniques” and manipulation),

Understanding and empathizing with buyers is key as well as being able to navigate, negotiate and cooperate with multiple types of personalities. Perceptiveness and emotional intelligence allows sales reps to foresee problems, diplomatically navigate difficult situations and limit non productive sales behaviors like discounting or undermining credibility.

Self aware and self governing sales pros are able to remove personal feelings or understand intentions and motives but still connect with emotion and empathy and are ultimately viewed as more authentic and credible—two key factors in earning buyer trust.

  • Elevating your Sales EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) helps you sell bigger deals, in less time at full margin.

Adapt, Evolve, or be Left Behind 

You can call it a shift in the sales paradigm, or possible describe the change in what makes a successful sales professional an evolution. No matter how you describe it, there is no under estimating the fact that Selling has changed dramatically and will continue to evolve quickly and dramatically as customers control their buying journey and demand specific experiences.

Some industries may see these changes quicker than others but sales as a profession will have to reconcile the next generation of sales pros with what buyers want and need in order to achieve sales success.

Topics:Customer ExperienceProfessional DevelopmentSales Trainer

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