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Guest Blogger

By Richard Hilton, Managing Director EMEA, Miller Heiman Group

Selling has changed.

Buyers once turned to sellers to provide information on desired products and services. But the buyer-seller dynamic has shifted. The infinite wealth of information at buyers’ fingertips has empowered them. It is the customer who now runs the show.

The breadth of the internet is more than a single seller can ever compete with. No matter how informed a seller is, providing cold facts is no longer enough to secure a sale. Research from CSO Insights confirms this. 70% of buyers now say that they define their needs before engaging with companies.

Sellers that want to survive in 2019 need to inspire their buyers. They need to study their customer and know them inside-out. They must provide solutions to problems they haven’t even yet contemplated. This is of course easier said than done. To make such a connection, sellers need to first build and hone a new set of vital skills.

Technology competence and analytical skills

Technology provides the key to effective decision making and resource allocation. Sales organisations that are thriving are well aware of this. It is the harnessing of the right tools that sorts the wheat from the chaff.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) provide a powerful means of optimising practices. Specialist software can help better identify deals and new business opportunities worth pursuing, rather than relying on gut feel. Analysing past data on wins, losses and no decisions, AI suggests means of improvement. And as sales teams continue to input such data, ML refines algorithms to increasingly generate more precise and sophisticated recommendations.

Technological innovation will only continue to provide better and smarter means of selling. As a result, technological know-how will become an increasingly valuable asset. This is already changing both the selling process and the salespeople using them.

Traditional sales skills alone no longer suffice. When hiring, organisations are beginning to place more emphasis on IQ over EQ. Backgrounds not typically associated with sales are becoming more common. Individuals with qualifications in maths, statistics and economics will soon dominate the sector and those already in careers will need to upskill on data and analytical processes too.

A propensity for learning and up-to-date industry knowledge

Buyers’ needs are evolving at an increasingly rapid rate. This has been intensified by the rise of globalisation and the opening of new markets. The results are unprecedented levels of innovation and endless streams of new and improved products and services. Buyers’ choices have become almost limitless and as a consequence, their expectations are higher too.

While great news for the customer, this creates a chaotic environment for sellers. They need to pull out all the stops if they are to keep up with the pace of change. They can no longer rest on their laurels and constant improvement is vital to stay at the top of their game. We see this in in all fields, from sport to entertainment.

Sellers must maintain a hunger for learning throughout their careers. They need to master the tools available to them and should know their customer and markets on both a micro and macro level. Leaders have an important role to play too. They must foster a culture of constant upskilling, ensuring that the best mentors and training programmes are available to all.

An educated workforce means that sales organisations are also better equipped to absorb shocks, which can come in various forms. They may be internal, offering a degree of control, or be out of sellers’ hands entirely. From digital disruption to economic recession, sellers must have processes in place to shore up their sales and the wider business should conditions get rough.

Empathy, persistence and broader EQ qualities

There is a vast amount of new skills that modern sellers must learn. But it is equally important that they don’t lose sight of their bread and butter. Traditional sales skills remain as vital as ever. Technological prowess ought to complement these rather than replace them. While we may laugh at Del Boy types as outmoded parodies, the ‘gift of the gab’ remains key. It is this that makes an outstanding salesperson. No amount of tech expertise will make up for an inability to build relationships.

Closely linked with this is the ability to empathise. Sellers need to be able to get into the mindset of the customer. To deliver on desires and wants, sellers need to be able to read what they are. Being target-driven is of course important. But the key to long-term success is interpersonal connection. And this doesn’t end after closing a deal. A seller with long-term vision recognises the importance of post-sales relationships.

Excellent communication skills are what make a charismatic salesperson. It is impossible to inspire customers without conveying ideas in a compelling way. The best sellers express themselves in an imaginative manner that excites. They appeal to customers’ emotions. Until technology can simulate this ability, no salesperson can do without it.

Final thoughts

There is no doubt that selling has become more demanding but as the old adage goes, “To stand still is to fall behind.” Sales organisations have been able to rely in recent years on high customer demand. Strong global economic growth has driven this, but they need to be prepared should this flip. Sellers must not lose sight of traditional skills, such as rhetoric or empathy that will allow them to close a deal. However, those who don’t know how to make technology their friend and take advantages of opportunities to up-skill will be outperformed by competitors.

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