Don’t Sell Yourself Short: The Challenges of the Modern Seller

December 6, 20197min

The nature of selling is evolving at an exponential rate.

Thanks to the internet’s provision of easy to access information, buyers no longer look to sellers to educate them on products and services. Research from CSO Insights reveals that 70 percent of buyers now say that they define their needs before engaging with companies.

The fact is that the artful delivery of information is no longer enough to secure a sale. Sellers need to provide their customers with solutions to problems that haven’t even thought about yet. And this means that sellers need to know their buyer inside-out, pre-empting their needs, rather than having a purely reactionary relationship – as has traditionally been the way.

So, what attributes do today’s sellers need to have in order to deliver this?

Technology competence and analytical skills

Across all sectors, corporations have realised the potential for technology to optimise decision-making and resource allocation. This has been no different within sales. Organisations that have not embraced the benefits of digitising their methodologies, will soon find out that they are no longer able to compete.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have revolutionised the game. Rather than having to rely on sellers’ instincts, specialist software now analyses and identifies the deals and new business opportunities that are worth pursuing. Evaluating past data on wins, losses and no decisions, AI generates guidance on how strategies can be improved. Over time, as more data is collated, ML refines its algorithms and provides recommendations of greater precision and sophistication.

As technology continues to provide smarter and superior means of selling, the cost of non-adoption has become greater. And this is having a significant impact on the sales organisation demographic. Leaders are beginning to place more emphasis on IQ over EQ when hiring, looking for individuals from maths, statistics and economics backgrounds. Equally, those already in sales positions are being required to upskill on data and analytical processes.

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

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for salespeople to follow the desires of buyers. The choices available to them have proliferated. Globalisation and the opening of new markets have resulted in increased competition, this in turn pushing through greater innovation and superior products and services.

While this is of course a good thing for all of us, it nonetheless sets a fast pace of change for sellers to keep up with. In such an environment, mastery of one’s craft can never be assumed. Sellers depend more than ever on the latest theory, tech and market knowledge to stay afloat. A hunger for learning must therefore be maintained throughout a career in sales.

Sellers should know their customer and markets on both a micro and macro level. The onus is on sales leaders to facilitate this. They need to ensure that a culture of learning is inculcated and that their salesforces have access to all the necessary resources, mentors and training.

With markets volatile and near-impossible to predict, though ultimately powerless to prevent such turbulence, an educated salesforce is one that is best placed to anticipate difficulties, react to change and to absorb shocks.

Empathy, persistence and broader EQ qualities

It would be a mistake to think that the digitalisation of selling means that traditional sales skills are now obsolete. Tapping into soft skillsets is essential for knowing how customers and team members tick; understanding what drives them and how to then best communicate and motivate them accordingly.

The notion of the ‘slick salesman’ is an old cliché but there is undoubtedly much truth to it. Industry knowledge is futile if not supported with excellent communication skills, a focus on results and post-sales relationship, and the ability to deliver perspective and insights.

Whether in person or on the phone, sales teams need to be having mutually valuable conversations to understand a customer’s challenge and ensure that they do not appear target-driven but instead eager to add value to their business.

Adapt or fall behind

While selling has always been a demanding task, it has never been more so than in our current era. 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 can’t lose sight of traditional skills. But those that want to be at the top of their game need to be adapting to the changing buying habits of their customers and taking advantage of innovations and methods that will make their jobs easier, approach more sophisticated and deliver better results.


Richard Hilton

Richard Hilton

Richard Hilton is Managing Director EMEA at Miller Heiman Group.




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