Differentiation is scarce.  If you genuinely have a new product or service which is ground-breaking and different then in today’s technological age, your unique selling point disappears in the blink of an eye, as your proposition is copied and often enhanced within months if not sooner. Your one guaranteed U.S.P. is your sales team and the way that they sell. That’s why organisations should invest in that resource to ensure they are the best version of themselves they can be.

Nothing happens until someone sells something.”

Henry Ford

But are we all clear about what or who the someone is?  As discussed in my last blog the profile has dramatically changed and we must steer clear of that stereotypical gushy, smarmy, pushy, dishonest image that the public associate with salespeople.

Let’s be honest, if you told your mother as a teenager “I want to be a salesperson” what do you think they would say?

Research by a Professor Grant found that neither extroverts nor introverts make the best salespeople – in fact we should be seeking “ambiverts”. Those are the people in the middle of that continuum between extroversion and introversion. The results in his research made a bell curve with the worst performers being the workers who were either extremely introverted, or extremely extroverted.

He explained “because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale” and reported that ambiverts are also “more inclined to listen to customers’ interests”.

This correlates with the Strength Weakness Paradox theory developed by renowned psychologist, Erich Fromm, that essentially over-use of our preferred behavioural style is unproductive and becomes our biggest weakness. For example, assertiveness becomes domineering or relationship building becomes sycophantic. We need a more balanced profile.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) using behavioural profiling tools is a critical part of the recruitment process, as is a competency-based assessment process including testing the skills in simulated role plays combined of course with a CV based interview to test the depth of experience. The cost of getting selection wrong is typically equivalent to a year’s salary taking into account recruitment costs, training and development, performance management, pipeline ramp up. Sadly, many sales managers rely on their own judgment in recruitment and don’t have the skills or tools to undertake effective selection processes. Their decision is also often influenced by unconscious bias.

The marketplace changes discussed already have made it even more complex. With the rise of procurement in the buying process we now ask salespeople to respond to tenders and specifications in a rigorous logical manner. Buyers expect that the people they deal with are product specialists with the technical knowledge of product managers. Yet historically we recruit, and probably still do, for relationship builders who have the drive and appetite for results to close deals. If we then address the trust element that we need to address the poor seller image we are looking for even wider behavioural preferences and skills.

Some organisations have chosen to employ technical and products specialists in the selling process and bid managers to respond to tenders, supplementing the skills but adding costs. That brings different challenges as when these people come face to face with customers, they often lack the relationship skills needed. This can harm a deal quickly with product specialists often seeing the world in black or white whilst the seller flexes with shades of grey.

Instead of the lone wolf of 10 years ago, the B2B sales role has become like the conductor of an orchestra bringing in, and managing, the resources effectively. Or, using a sporting analogy, like  the quarterback in American football. In this new world project management is now a core competency. From the buyer’s perspective, if positioned correctly, this is an ideal model as they seek to buy a widely skilled team not and individual. “Sell it and leg it” for sellers is gone forever too as buyers expect their main point of contact to be there through implementation too.

There is yet more complexity. In the last few years organisations have learned that expanding the wallet with existing customers not only costs some 10% of the cost of  acquiring new logo business, but it locks in clients, making then “stickier”. Whilst the strategy has changed the people often haven’t.  Strategic Account Management now needs people who can up-sell and cross-sell, network and close deals to create growth. But many traditional account managers see themselves really as customer service managers. Their historic role of resolving issues and keeping customers happy and retaining the contract has been replaced with that dirty word “sales”. 

Beware… fish out of water!

So what do we do?  Stick our heads in the sand and hope it all blows away? We need to look afresh at the competencies required for each role and assess the existing talent. Individuals need to understand  their own behavioural profile and impact on others, then learn how to optimise their selling behaviours through the development of  a personal behavioural development plan Most organisations develop skills, product knowledge and sometimes competencies but few manage behavioural preference. With this changing sales landscape the time has come to change that.  

Given the complexities of the behaviour we are looking for (deal closers: trust builders; relationship managers; logical structured selling), we need to help our teams. If we have a behavioural development plan we can manage whatever the gaps are, then supplement with any skills and processes they need … without it our teams will become demotivated and distressed and look for the exit door and we will lose great talent. If we then need to recruit, we must use effective recruitment practices and processes.  Being “anointed” by the sales manager because their gut instinct is never wrong is no longer acceptable!

Unconscious bias needs to head for the exit door.

Finally, given a better understanding of their behaviour and how to manage it, our sales population will grasp the need to adapt to others including colleagues and customers to get the success they desire, so becoming more receptive to adaptive selling techniques, which can then be grafted on.

Shaping your talent for growth is a critical success factor. Your salespeople and how they sell is the one genuine differentiator you have. Who holds this responsibility?

We all know Sales Managers are pivotal in growth success so look out for my next blog, “Sales Management – the role revisited” on their role and how they need to adapt to this changing sales landscape.