Has there been a Death of the Sales Professional as we had known it?
Forty years ago, my grandfather worked for Abbott Laboratories as one of New England's Top Pharmaceutical Sales Professionals. Although I never personally knew my grandfather (he died when I was just a baby) his memory was kept alive by the many stories told about his unforgettable character. The stories painted a picture of a man "that could and would talk to anyone," "a gifted influencer", "a keen listener", and "a man whose charisma walked through the door before he did". The consistent theme in these descriptions was that my grandfather was incredibly likable and had the ability to make an impact when he was in front of people. Many said, "the man was born to sell."
However, in today's market where the structure of sales organizations continue to change, would those gifts of my late grandfather hold much weight if he was unemployed looking for a job in today's Sales 2.0 Generation? What other qualities or skills would he need to have to be competitive?
I sought out answers to these questions and asked a handful of influential sales leaders what they felt were some of the most important characteristics of a successful sales professional in the Sales 2.0 Generation. This is some of what they said:
1. Process oriented approach vs early stage relationship selling:
In today's market, although it certainly doesn't fall off the list entirely, likeability may fall down a rung of the ladder of priorities when looking for successful sales professionals. Gene Fay*, the former VP of Sales and Business Development of Vkernal Software states that "Sales 2.0 is far more about meeting customers needs then the ability to be likable." The key difference seems to be a change in the buying process itself. Fay goes on to say, "even three or four years ago sales people would work with a customer to educate them on a new product. Now, people are going to the web and doing much of their own research. Then they are reaching out to co-workers, friends and their network [Twitter, Facebook, and industry forums] to find out what people know about the topic. It is after all of this work that a sales person would be engaged". Prospects are educated when they are engaged by a sales person. They come to the table already ready to ask specific questions that will help them compare and contrast the products they are considering from a variety of vendors.
Adam Bosnian*, VP of Products, Strategy and Sales at Cyber-Ark Software defends a similar opinion. "It is less about relationships in today's selling and more about impact within the buying process (vs. selling process). I think it is more about how the salesperson today is able to pull together all the research and work that the prospects have already done, identify what gaps of information or concerns exist, and then making sure that the right information is provided to address that gap/objection at the right time, to all the right people."
2. The ability to assimilate to new technology immediately and without training
Dan Fantasia*, Founder and CEO of Treeline states, "The most scaleable and successful sales professionals in the Sales 2.0 Generation, don't waste powerful selling time attempting to adapt to the use of new tools. For a Sales 2.0 Superstars there is no adaptation. Their ability to assimilate is immediate. New tools are a part of their everyday. These reps are not reliant on company training, they have adapted the ability to learn this stuff on their own, troubleshooting through the kinks."
3. The ability to find the competitive edge in a changing market
Noted sales leader Gerhard Gschwandtner*, Founder and Publisher of Selling Power Magazine, challenged that fact that there is not a concrete list of characteristics successful sales professionals need to have in this new market. Instead he stated that "the real story isn't that the world has changed, the real story is about how the new, changed world can work to your advantage."
Let's consider you are not one of my readers that was born into the Sales 2.0 generation, maybe you are more comfortable with heavy relationship selling styles. You may feel the new tools available to you seem to just complicate things. An opportunistic, positive sales person has that ability to make a decision to look for the opportunities presented in the challenges you face. Gerhard's attitude, his decision to focus NOT on the fact that "the landscape of sales has changed drastically in the last three years" but moreover, how the "new changed world can work to your advantage" is brilliant.
So in conclusion, what does this all mean? Was there a death of the Sales Professional as we know it? No, absolutely not. As the Sales Leaders in this article confirmed, the world of selling has changed, most notably the "buying process itself" and the tool belts of sales professionals are chocked full of ammunition to make the selling process smoother and more efficient. But teach my grandfather how to use a computer brief him on the new "buying process" and he may still be killing his quota. To quote the play Death of a Salesman, "Be liked and you will never want." Forty years later this still seems to hold true and all the intangible qualities that define a sales person remain the same. What seems to have changed are the Process and Technology. Garth Moulton*, Co-Founder of Jigsaw, sums it up very well, "the new Sales 2.0 Professional has to be more tech savvy, adaptable, and process oriented, but to me the top traits are the same as when your grandfather was in sales: persistence, personality, brains, talent, and charisma".
*To learn more about the contributing sales leaders check out their websites and blogs:
Adam Bosnian, Cyber Ark
Dan Fantasia, Treeline, Inc
Gerhard Gschwandtner, Selling Power Magazine
Garth Moulton, Jigsaw
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