The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as saying that “change is the only constant in life.”
That was thousands of years ago, before the Information Age made change not only constant but unrelentingly fast. Sales is not exempt from the impact of the internet, which has brought new challenges – but also new opportunities – to the way buyers buy and sellers sell. These sales trends can be grouped into three categories: trust, technology and teamwork.
Trust: Providing Value to Customers
Richardson’s 2017 “Understanding Selling Challenges” report states that “the new customer expectation – regardless of industry – is one of value and trust.” It’s not enough for salespeople to present the same list of product features to every potential customer; they need to learn how to help customers identify their needs and then identify the solutions for those needs.
“There’s an interesting shift towards maintaining more of a win-win type deal,” says Andrea Grodnitzky, chief marketing officer of Richardson. It may not be possible to train someone to develop integrity, but it is possible to train someone on negotiation skills that build credibility and trust. What customers really want, she adds, “is somebody who can understand who they really are and help them navigate” all the information they have access to now.
Technology: A Vehicle, Not a Message
“Technology,” says Grodnitzky, “should be the vehicle. It should not be the message itself.” It’s too easy for salespeople “to jump to the right tool, the right demonstration, the right asset.” What they should do, however, is talk with their customers about what they need and then tell them about the technologies that will add value.
Sellers aren’t looking for more digital tools. Rather, they want to use the tools they already have more effectively. “There’s a plethora of sales and marketing enablement tools now,” says Grodnitzky, so people aren’t looking for more. Now, they’re focusing on using the data they can access more strategically.
Technology is also enabling more effective sales training. Grodnitzky recommends a “blended initiative that transfers knowledge perhaps ahead of an in-person workshop, and then [an in-person workshop] focused on application and practice.” Delivering bite-sized content on mobile devices ensures that salespeople can fit learning in between selling, even on the road.
In fact, in a recent survey by Allego and the Sales Management Association, sales managers ranked microlearning as one of the three most important but “least effectively utilized” practices.
“Salespeople don’t want to develop their skills in classroom settings,” says Mark Magnacca, president and co-founder of Allego. “Microlearning, particularly in a mobile world, is preferable and can effectively address the three segments of learning that sales training has to encompass to be successful: curriculum learning,” reinforcement and “just-in-time learning.”
Video can be especially effective in delivering sales training, and while “user-generated sales content is more YouTube than Hollywood in terms of production quality,” Magnacca says that it “allows teams to collaborate and share, despite geographic location and time zone.” Salespeople can record their practice presentations, watch the videos and then self-correct. Their managers can also watch the videos and use them to coach their reps, even remotely.
Team Selling and Team Learning
Buyers are increasingly asking to interact with subject matter experts and project teams, meaning that sellers increasingly must learn to team sell (and subject matter experts must learn to sell). Specific training is required for effective team selling, Grodnitzky says. “Venturing beyond [a salesperson’s] core team can feel challenging and uncomfortable for salespeople, but it’s really necessary if they’re going to be able to go out and make connections with people on their team to other buyers within the customer organization and be able to influence multiple buyers.”
Grodnitzky says the lead on the selling team must play several roles: a team member recruiter; a people and materials organizer; a team director; a captain who ensures the “game plan” is planned, executed and “adapted on the fly”; and a reorganizer who brings the group together after a pitch or meeting for a “thorough and cohesive follow-up” and encourages members to “facilitate professional growth for each other.”
On a related note, the majority of the managers who responded to Allego’s survey said peer learning and coaching provide the greatest ROI for sales enablement. “There is a treasure trove of value” inside different sales reps, says Magnacca, so it’s vital that managers facilitate collaboration “so that the treasure trove doesn’t just sit there … while everybody else has to go out and learn the lessons themselves – which often happens in front of the prospect.”
Buyer expectations and technology have made a significant impact on sales. Fortunately, they also open new opportunities for training to help salespeople provide value to customers. Training in selling skills like negotiation and teamwork using mobile microlearning and peer learning can help ensure that salespeople are equipped to face the new world they work in.