Wednesday 25 September 2019 4:40 am

Death of a sales tradition: Tomorrow's sellers can't rely on the gift of the gab

Richard Hilton is managing director EMEA at Miller Heiman Group.

Over the course of the last decade, the art of selling has undergone a radical transformation. A key factor in this has been a shift in the buyer-seller dynamic. 

Buyers are changing substantially faster than sellers, with younger generations increasingly self-educating – a CSO Insights study found that 70 per cent of them now fully define their needs before engaging with companies. 

This means that selling is no longer simply about supplying information about a product or service, and the traditional make-up of a salesperson has consequently had to evolve.

The most successful people in sales now are those who provide inspiration around a problem their customers haven’t even thought of yet. So, what attributes do today’s sellers need in order to deliver this?

Tech and analytical skills

Top sales organisations are looking to use technology to make more efficient strategic decisions, such as choosing which deals to put effort into closing, identifying new business to go after, and recognising those opportunities that aren’t worth their time. 

In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to analyse past results. And as the salesforce continues to input data, the system will refine its algorithms to make more precise recommendations.

In reaction to this, leaders are placing more emphasis on IQ over EQ (emotional intelligence) when it comes to hiring. As the sales environment becomes more complex, sales teams will be increasingly comprised of people with a maths, statistics, or economics background. 

Meanwhile, those with degrees in stem subjects (science, technology, engineering, and maths) will be needed for their analytical thinking and technological competence, which will be necessary to sell successfully in tomorrow’s AI-fuelled sales landscape. 

A propensity for learning 

As the old saying goes, “knowledge is power”. While this has always been the case in sales, myriad technological, economic, and social factors have led to a greater imperative on sales teams to constantly update their skills and knowledge. 

Lifelong learning is critical – it’s important that individuals have a thirst for developing their skill sets to stay at the top of their game.

As well as personal development, successful sellers will be those that focus on improving the overall team’s performance through training and coaching to guarantee that effective strategies are in place. This is especially important to anticipate when markets may be slow or unpredictable.

Empathy, persistence, and broader EQ qualities 

These changes don’t mean that all traditional sales skills are now obsolete. 

We’re all familiar with the Del Boy stereotype of salespeople who excel through charm and the “gift of the gab”. Today, such stereotypes seem anachronistic, but talking the talk – or front-line customer engagement – has always been a seller’s traditional bread and butter, and will continue to be incredibly important in the future. 

In fact, tapping into these soft skill sets is essential for knowing how customers and team members tick, understanding what drives them, and then how best to communicate with and motivate them.

Also, industry knowledge is futile if not supported with excellent communication skills and a focus the post-sales relationship. Whether in person or on the phone, sales teams need to  ensure that they do not appear target-driven in conversations, but instead show that they understand a customer’s challenges and are eager to add value to their business.

They don’t call it the “art of selling” for nothing – people have been perfecting their sales technique throughout the ages. But sellers who want to be at the top of their game need to adapt to the changing buying habits of their customers, and take advantage of innovations and methods that will make their jobs easier, their approach more sophisticated, and deliver better results.

Main image credit: Getty