• Mike Poledna

The Sales Landscape Has Forever Changed

Updated: Jan 13

The world of sales is rapidly changing. Today’s business landscape features drastically different competition, and companies must evolve as quickly as possible to stay ahead.

The impact of accelerated change in businesses, which is undeniable, leads to a greater need for constant evolution.

Disruptive technologies, lower barriers to competitor entry, shifting needs and expectations of customers, macroeconomic conditions, and other factors necessitate changes across nearly all industries and job roles. However, sales would be among the sectors most affected by this acceleration rate of change with regards to variables such as disruptive technologies like virtual reality (VR), products becoming more accessible on online marketplaces worldwide; lower barriers to entry because digital competitors do not require real-estate making it easier for new companies entering a given industry; shaping customer demands by using interactive communication tools that can reach people anywhere they are through their mobile devices or laptops.

In 2013, Bain & Co. found that the cost of sales has been increasing substantially for more than half of the large US companies studied since the beginning of this century, reversing previously long-standing trends. Their research concludes that this trend represents a new phase in business growth where scale economics are no longer enough. Most companies need to revamp their sales and marketing strategies due to increasingly low barriers to entry.

The reality fuels this new level of complexity that the buying process has become much more sophisticated. Customers expect value that extends well beyond the features and benefits of any particular product or service. Unlike the days of transactional and tactical selling, customers are increasingly demanding tailored solutions anchored in industry and functional expertise. Sales professionals have it even tougher these days, with mounting expectations of solving tangible business problems. Customer expectations are higher than ever, which means working on ROI instead of just features and price.

Our Rapidly Changing Sales Environment

Advances in the business-to-business (B-to-B) procurement process during the early 2000s heralded a more advanced buying process. Armed with these cutting-edge tactics, buyers began to feel they needed less help from charismatic salespeople. They started shying away from such transactions, which were replaced by a solution selling technique. It’s not hard to see why this is the case in the world of sales. In an environment where power dynamics are a premium, aggression can often provoke resistance. Conversely, trust-building fosters cooperation and creates benefits for both parties involved in transactions. The research field of neuro-marketing substantiates the claim that sales professionals can generate greatly positive or negative reactions on a single random trial due to their ability to activate parts of our brain and incentivize specific emotional responses. Sales professionals are constantly adapting to increased complexity, evolving techniques designed to promote top-down alignment with the powerful players. However, achieving success today demands more than this: it requires salespeople who understand business problems and can get answers on how your product will benefit them. Convincing someone of that often requires a different approach - for example, highlighting the impact of pain points independently from your solutions and instead focusing on persuading potential clients on the value proposition they bring (e.g., a solution to create longevity).

One of the most obvious changes in today's sales professionals is the significant increase in product/service and company information available to customers earlier in the buying process. Long before they get introduced to a sales professional, a customer will be well informed about what products and services are offered, why they should purchase something from your company rather than one of your competitors, and what people had said who have already bought from you.

Today’s sales pros can no longer rely on their charm or presentation skills. They need to provide context by becoming a business consultant and partner; they must fully understand the company, customer needs, competitors, current trends among customers, and how this product will help the organization meet its strategic goals.

These factors make it necessary for sales representatives to evolve their approach constantly, but many aspects remain as important as ever. To retain relevancy in the changing landscape of modern business, sales professionals must stay current with new technologies and practices by initiating relationships, earning trust through their personal impact as a competent partner to the customer, tailoring communication styles and methods to accommodate different needs.

These aspects of selling are needed but incapable of creating a top performer. Today, the salesperson must be willing and able to take on an even greater burden by helping customers navigate these consistently changing realities.

The research of sales performance over the last 15 years has led us to believe that CEOs and sales leaders must expand their conception of what it means to be a traditional hunter/farmer and include a wider range of sales-related functions.

New Business Development

A New Business Development salesperson might be your first thought when you think of a traditional salesman. They contact prospective customers to cultivate opportunities by making cold calls or sending emails and create a need for the products/services they represent. New Business Development is one of the more "traditional" categories in sales. They are tasked with influencing and persuading, building relationships, negotiating, being resilient in the face of rejection/failure. Top performers in this role also need to be self-starters/self-motivated, so a strong desire to achieve goals, the tendency to initiate action on their own, and the ability to manage time effectively are critical aspects of performance.

Account Development

The other "traditional" sales category that emerges from our analysis is Account Development, or what is often referred to as the “farmer” sales model. While individuals in this category are still required to move others to make decisions and take action, they are typically not required to be as assertively persuasive or ego-driven as their “hunter” counterparts. Rather, they are often charged with maintaining and strengthening relationships with current customers and developing new relationships through introductions or referrals.

An account developer will need to become an expert in communication, networking, organization, negotiation, and persuasion. When combined with the traditional skills for sales professionals, such as developing relationships and negotiating – top-performing account developers can be truly successful. One of the biggest challenges for sales reps is determining who they need to talk to. Key Account Service Specialists can identify key decision-makers and how these individuals will be affected by changing events to tailor their approach better.

This category of sales professionals often finds success by providing strong service to existing customers/accounts up-sell at the appropriate times. Top performers in this category build rapport with clients, identify their needs, offer tailored advice about products or services, and create additional opportunities to generate business by coming through for their customers.

Consultative Seller

This category of sales professional reflects somewhat more recent trends in the world of sales. More and more customers expect to partner collaboratively to develop solutions to pressing business problems. Top performers typically win business by consulting with customers to understand their true needs and provide solutions that effectively address those needs.

They established and strengthen working relationships based on mutual trust and shared accountability, allowing them to systematically ask probing questions and uncover the root causes of stated issues. This process provides compelling proposals, which allows them to close sales that turn into repeat business.

Top-performing consultative sales professionals exhibit a range of competencies that reflect the desire to develop common goals and objectives with the customer. Related to this, they also have a motivation to provide insight or create tangible value in some way relevant to both the bottom line of the company and the organizational status of primary decision-makers. The competitive landscape and customers' evolving needs mean that sales professionals are in a state of constant change. Successful salespeople demonstrate these skills: strong interpersonal sensitivity, active listening, and relationship building. They also need to own their issues as problems or opportunities and communicate them to customers to foster collaboration.

Disruptive technologies, the bargaining power of producers, and changes in customer demands are a few factors that have created the need for change within sales organizations.

As the world of sales continues to evolve, one thing is becoming quite clear. That is, the boundaries that once dominated thinking in the world of sales roles are no longer a valid approach to understanding sales. Professional buyers now have the capacity to conduct deep research on products/services and vendor companies. They are easily able to obtain feedback from the previous buyers who engaged my vendor company and me as individual representatives, as well as the number and quality competitors.

While we have largely shed the expectation that customers do their own research, buyers now do most of the detail-level work that was once the responsibility of salespeople. Sales reps are expected to go deep into what is happening in the buyer's industry and understand how it will affect business needs.

It is because of these changes it is becoming difficult for sales leaders to identify and hire top performers. While they recognize the world of selling has changed, they still employ old-fashioned methods for selecting new hires. These old-fashioned methods no longer work because they are designed to identify selling styles that no longer work. The hiring manager must now identify a candidate with the right level of reasoning ability, possess the requisite natural characteristics, and have a passion for sales that will support being a consultative seller. The type of sales professional that will succeed in the new world.

That is where SalesLab can help. We provide sales-specific candidate assessments to help you answer critical questions about your potential new hire. Our assessments can accurately predict a candidate's performance in your sales role and environment.

Need help identifying the right sales candidate for your sales position? Choosing the right assessment is an important task and one that can become overwhelming. Different assessments provide different benefits and limitations. When choosing which assessment to use, there are several factors to consider. Click here to learn more.

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