The Changing Sales Model: Sales Success in 2017

6 competency-based sales success models that scientifically link personal attributes, behavioral patterns, and competencies with performance across differing levels of sales complexity.

To say that the business environment is growing more complex for most companies is to understate a rather obvious truth, and the impact is perhaps most evident in the world of sales. There was a time when the sales professional could fill the room with personality and win deals through a persuasive presentation of features and benefits. In today’s information age, customers have become more sophisticated in conducting research, identifying their available options, and vetting and selecting vendors and partners. Despite this increased structure in the buying process, however, customers are more dependent than ever on the sales professional to help navigate the new complexities in buying decisions.

Today’s customer expects unique value, meaningful business impact, and measurable ROI from partnering with vendors. Success often hinges on the sales professional’s ability to package solutions and convey value in accordance with those expectations, acting as a “knowledge broker” and trusted advisor. To thrive in today’s environment, a salesperson must maintain—and convey—a deep knowledge of the needs of the customer or client organization, competitor activity, and consumer trends. Understanding how the product or service fits into the client’s strategic plans, addresses strategic issues, and helps the client hone its competitive advantage is critical, as well. And the salesperson also has to demonstrate return on investment both in terms of hard dollars and long-term business outcomes.

At the same time, certain traditional aspects of the sales personality continue to bring value to the process. Sales leaders still need representatives on their teams who can network for connections, build rapport and develop relationships, establish credibility and trust, ask questions, tailor communication to suit the audience, and then use personal impact to promote, in a persuasive and confident manner, solutions that are anchored in industry and functional expertise.

That sounds complicated, and it is. Hiring managers, whether running a small agency or working as part of a sales organization within a large corporation, likely are wondering, “How do we get there?”

Current Sales Models

Each industry, company, market, etc., requires differing levels of sophistication from sales. However, it has become clear that traditional “hunter” and “farmer” characteristics, while still important, are insufficient. Leveraging insights from extensive research and practice, we have identified six competency-based sales success models that scientifically link personal attributes, behavioral patterns, and competencies with performance across differing levels of sales complexity. These models are presented here based on increasing levels of complexity in the sales process:

  • New Business Development: This model is most similar to the traditional “hunter” role, as this “type” is expected to bring in new accounts through some combination of professional networking, cold calls, and following up on leads. Negotiating acumen is important, as well, as is persisting to close business.
  • Account Development: This model is most similar to the traditional “farmer” approach, as success often is based on relationship management and seeking new business through referrals and introductions. Top account developers collect and leverage information obtained through formal and informal communication channels and power relationships within the client company.
  • Account Service: This model is most effective when up-selling and cross-selling to existing accounts is the primary method of revenue generation. The person in this type of position should be adept at identifying needs, offering information, and building sales though trust established by strong customer service.
  • Consultative Sales: This model, developed in response to the information-age sales environment discussed above, requires someone who can frame the sales role to customers as a business partnership and work collaboratively on solutions. Top performers should be able to leverage the relationship to ask probing questions and to systematically uncover root causes of business issues, and then take ownership of whatever solution is applied.
  • Technical Sales: This model falls within the purview of the subject matter expert who can generate sales by leveraging deep, industry-specific knowledge and technical expertise few others possess in order to develop business solutions. The emphasis for this type of sales position is on analytical ability, learning agility, and business acumen. Those who specialize in technical sales might partner with a more traditional “closer” to finalize an agreement with a client.
  • Strategic Sales: This may be the model that works best in today’s business climate, requiring the knowledge broker mentioned earlier. Such salespeople not only display a deep understanding of products, industries, markets, and clients’ business practices, they also must bring new insights, as well as challenge assumptions and conventional approaches. In short, they must manifest competencies that are reflective of organization-wide, conceptual, big-picture thinking.

A New Sales Paradigm

Role boundaries and expectations that once dominated thinking in the world of sales have evolved significantly. Buyers can gather detailed information about products and the companies that sell them, read reviews, study alternatives, and even use software and spreadsheets to eyeball complex data at a glance. That is, they have bypassed the features-and-benefits salesperson.

The current environment requires sales professionals to do a deep dive into a client organization’s needs (to the extent of uncovering issues the client organization itself does not recognize), provide fresh insight into the buyer’s industry, and stay on top of market trends. The complexity of the current business environment blurs roles and organizational boundaries, necessitating that sellers and buyers collaborate more extensively than ever to navigate intricacies and achieve complementary goals. Today’s successful sales professional also will have to convey business value, not through charismatic persuasiveness but through true business impact. Hiring managers should look for knowledge brokers who bring insight and wisdom to the customer, as well as differentiate themselves by becoming true strategic partners for their clients.

Dr. Tom Schoenfelder is the senior vice president of Research and Development at Caliper, a firm specializing in pre-employment assessments and organizational-development services.

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