Sales Shifts Into 21st Century Mode

People wonder what will become of the sales profession in the new, creative economy. Some suppose that most transactions will be done online, without the interpersonal component that has existed since at least the Industrial Revolution. Few expect the demand, however, for sales folks to increase. Yet, in an article for Inc. magazine, Geoffrey James (the Sales Source columnist for the online magazine) shares some findings of a project he has conducted over a two year period with his peer, Howard Stevens. Reports on the project are available for free on the Chally website (HERE), so if you’re interested, you might want to download them (especially since there’s no guarantee they’ll be free forever.)

1. The Web will make salespeople MORE important.

Conventional wisdom says that the ability of customer to research products and buy them online should make salespeople less important. It turns out that the opposite is the case, and companies are hiring more salespeople than ever.

However, customers expect much more of the salespeople who contact and work with them. Customers now expect salespeople to have a expert’s view of the customer’s business, act as a manager of some crucial part of the customer’s business, and be effective at protecting the customer’s interests within the vendor organization.

2: Sales jobs will become further differentiated and specialized.

Conventional wisdom says that the best sales professionals are hard-driving mavericks who can drum up business, develop opportunities, and close deals like crazy. However,  according to Chally’s research, there is no “one size fits all” salesperson any longer.

While some sales jobs may demand the stereotypical “go-getter” behavior, other jobs favor employees with less showy strengths, like strong analytical skills, the ability to empathize with customer problems, or a deep understanding of complex business issues.

3. Universities and colleges will offer more courses on selling.

Conventional wisdom is that top sales professionals don’t need anything other than a high school diploma (if that) in order to sell. However, because selling is becoming more specialized, U.S. firms alone are spend $7.1 billion on sales training every year.

Given the demand, colleges are now ramping up dozens of sales-oriented business classes, many of which are producing exceptional graduates who “ramp up” 50% faster than the average candidate, and are 35% less likely to leave their employer.

4. Selling will be less of an art and more of a science.

Conventional wisdom says that sales is an art (aka “black magic”) that’s only measured by your financial results at the end of the quarter or fiscal year. However, sales-oriented technologies have now made it possible to use science to increase sales performance.

For example, using psychological assessment tests, it’s now possible to create an accurate map of a salesperson’s individual skills, competencies, motivational drivers, work habits and potential for developing new skills. Such metrics make selling (and forecasting sales) more predictable and therefore more manageable.

As you may be able to infer from the comments above, James sees the current flux in sales as monumental. He compares it, in fact, to a revolution, not unlike marketing advances in the 60s or computers in the 80s. The premise that online transactions will fuel the need for more sales is an exciting one. It will be interesting to see whether the need will be for technicians or consultants, or a hybrid. Enhanced consultative skills will be welcomed by purchasing professionals and consumers alike who cringe at the thought of having to interact with the stereotypical pushy salesperson. With a new sales training center, faculty dedicated to sales training, and a growing amount of resources being pledged to course offerings in sales topics, my MBA alma mater, Elon, is an example of a school that has picked up on the executive sales training movement.  Finally, the professionalization of sales through career development tools employed in other roles and fields is another encouraging development that should lead to smoother communication between sales teams and the remainder of corporate departments. What do you think about these trends as James has articulated them?

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