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Six Emerging Competencies for Sales Success in the Age of the Empowered Buyer

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It’s been well-documented that buyer behavior is changing, with power shifting from sellers to buyers. The primary reason for this shift is the availability of and access to information.

The buyer is clearly in control and is dictating when, how, and what they want to buy. Even though sales roles are becoming more specialised, we believe the new balance of power requires three traits for all sales reps:

  • Be Transparent. Set the proper expectations with your buyers and existing customers. You and your team must be above board and focused on delivering on your promises while resisting overreaching or overpromising to win a sale.
  • Be Proactive. Proactively look for opportunities to create value. Don’t sit back and wait for the buyer to come to you, whether for a new account or existing account. If you wait, then you risk becoming a commodity that is constantly competing at dog-and-pony shows and struggling to differentiate yourself. Instead, get ahead of your peers and the commodity curve by being a first-mover. Be proactive, bring value and help customers understand how they can create value.
  • Be Fully Invested in Your Customers’ Success. This might sound obvious, but it’s not. It’s expected that sales reps will do what’s necessary to make the sale. The emphasis here is to demonstrate to your buyers that you have their best interests in mind beyond the sale. Let them know that you’re thinking about this as a long-term relationship and not a short-term sale. Whatever will make them happy will ensure their success and the likelihood that you’ll remain in good favor when the next sale opportunity or renewal comes.

The Rise of New Competencies Common across Sales Roles

In talking about this issue, my colleague Eileen Krantz has helped me to capture the impact of these changes and the consequences for sales teams and individual reps if they are to thrive as more changes inevitably occur.

Our recent work with organizations with subscription-based business models and significant dependence on inbound marketing has shown the following set of six competencies to be predictive of success. Simply put, top performers in this new environment are better at these behaviors than lower performers.

  1. Developing Sales Leads. Demonstrates the initiative to uncover sales opportunities; actively attracts the interest of potential customers; networks to increase contacts; stays on top of market conditions to uncover new leads; consistently follows up with leads to assess their interest in the product/service offering. You can’t sit back — you must be proactive!
  1. Qualifying Prospects. Uses a formula or series of questions to determine the prospect’s fit with the product; expects to sell to the majority of prospects because they are known to need the seller’s products; reacts quickly and objectively to the answers to standard probes by disqualifying the prospect or proceeding through the selling process. Be transparent with yourself — “Is there a legitimate opportunity here, or am I just dreaming?”
  1. Making Persuasive Presentations. Excites the customer with an enthusiastic presentation style; demonstrates value and actively promotes products and services by making an emotional appeal; holds the customer’s attention and interest by keeping the presentation content relevant; varies style to build toward a buying decision. Be able to differentiate yourself, realizing that there’s a fine line between being persuasive and embellishing.
  1. Committing Time and Effort to Ensure Success. Thrives on working; tends to achieve higher results in direct proportion to the time committed to work; remains focused on the goal and is not easily discouraged or distracted; uses work as an opportunity for interaction and incorporates interpersonal contacts into task accomplishment; sees work as a major source of personal satisfaction. This starts with a proactive approach that continues beyond the sale.
  1. Partnering as a Customer Advocate. Understands the customer’s business, empathizes with their problems, and sets a plan to meet their needs; tirelessly focuses on building strong relationships with customers by acting on their behalf to work the seller’s internal systems to meet their requirements; sees partnering with customers as the most efficient method to reach personal sales career goals. This demands a proactive approach, as well as being fully committed to your customers’ success — by helping them stay ahead of their competition, you’ll do the same with yours.
  1. Adapting Approach to Different Buyer Motivations. Gathers essential information to determine the benefits customers need in order to be sold; is willing to adjust sales approach to fit different buyer motivations; influences or persuades others by determining how the other individual can benefit and then communicates those advantages. Being objective and transparent is essential.
By comparison, the previous success models for hunters vs. farmers are shown below:

A comparison of the former hunter and farmer models shows that hunters were generally more opportunistic and proactive and farmers were more service-oriented and responsive. But we’re now seeing competencies that are common to both hunters and farmers that are becoming more common across various sales roles despite the fact that those roles are different. In essence, they are more proactively customer-focused.

While it is still necessary to pursue and win the business and then effectively service the account, it is not sufficient. Sales professionals in this marketplace of educated and proactive buyers must be advisers and advocates who can create and shape opportunities to add value to their customers’ businesses. They must then be able to leverage those successes and lessons learned to develop new business while maintaining and expanding business within their existing accounts.

Do your sales reps possess the right sales competencies to be as effective as possible in bringing in new business and nurturing existing clients? Help them to adapt and identify which ones won’t make the transition. This gives your sales strategy a clear direction and provides guidance for your sales training efforts, as well as coaching and mentoring objectives for your managers.

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