In a changing Sales Landscape you need these new skills
Geplaatst op 20 november 2017 door Ronald Swensson

This post is part two about Insight Selling™. Part one describes the changing landscape of buying and selling and why sales reps who bring valuable insights and ideas to buyers, win more sales. This post is addressing additional skills needed for sales professionals in a changing sales landscape. Addressing change requires different thinking on the part of the sales professional. Soft skills remain as a portion of the knowledge and abilities needed to succeed in sales but no longer are in a dominating position. Hard skills such as divergent thinking, insights and business acumen are necessary if the sales professional is to meet and exceed expectations. 

Divergent Thinking. It may seem unusual that a form of thinking is included in the modern sales professional skill set, yet with the variety of issues, changes and disruption that must be considered it is a necessary component. Divergent thinking allows one to see multiple possibilities and opportunities and be willing to take a risk by shifting perspective. The counterpart of divergent thinking is convergent thinking. Convergent thinkers function on the premise that there are a limited number of solutions to solve a problem. They are most comfortable with standards and SOPs, tradition and status quo. Convergent thinkers can run the plays they have practiced while divergent thinkers can run the plays and see the whole playing field. Some are naturally divergent thinkers while others must develop the ability. Expanding one’s style of thinking is an achievable goal using reverse thinking techniques to add an additional layer to your thinking. Perhaps the concept of working consciously to develop divergent thinking skills is the greatest delineation between what was expected of sales professionals from the past and those going forward. The phrase think outside the box has gained catch-phrase status in the business world. Sales professionals are continuously urged to think outside the box to sell more, to increase revenues, and to grow the bottom line. To think outside the box means that it is okay not to accept something at face value, and instead to deeply listen, ask questions and consider a different approach. 

Insights. Think about someone you seek out when you’re working through a challenge. They help you think things through and see what’s important. They ask the right questions. They listen. They don’t just give you answers - they help you come up with them. And yet, they’re not afraid to tell you what they think, share their ideas, and take a stand when they feel strongly about something. People like this make us better. They help us see what’s possible. That’s why we get so much from interacting with them. That’s why we seek them out again and again. Salespeople who are winning major sales these days are starting to look just like these people. With the rise of the Internet, today’s buyers have a lot of information and choices, but they don’t necessarily have more wisdom or confidence. They need people to discuss quick wins and to share new ideas and insights and help them to think it through. Yet this is where so many sellers are struggling, falling short and losing, while a select few are getting it right and winning. It requires a systematic approach to understand the customer and his organization. Understand what the customer is facing from competitors, their customers, and within their own organization means that the salesperson can reframe the discussion ensuring that the customer is asking the right questions, focusing on areas of concern, and gaining greater awareness of unmet needs. By providing quick wins and share new ideas and insights, sales professional encourages customers to step beyond their comfort zone and consider solutions they really need. 

Business Acumen. According to a Forrester report, only 27% of B2B buyers find that salespeople knowledgeable about the buyer's specific business. Additionally a study by Corporate Visions determined that customers believe that sales reps are 88% knowledgeable on product and only 24% on business expertise. These are big gaps in the selling process. Sales professionals must not only be able to ask the right questions, but ask those questions in the context of their customer’s business. They need to be able to position insights and value in terms of customer business metrics and in relation to a customer’s strategy. I define business acumen as a thorough understanding of how a company makes money and, from a selling perspective, how the customer makes money. It includes an awareness of what drives profitability, a market-focused approach to the business, and an overall knowledge of the business and its interrelationships. Developing a strong business acumen core enables sales professionals to understand the business side of selling. It helps salespeople recognize their customers’ business and business strategy. It teaches sales professionals how an insight relates to the value of the solution, and it allows them to be better prepared to respond to questions and objections to their insights by having a deep understanding of the systems of their customer’s business. They need to be able to take a dialogue framework and learn to ask appropriate business situational questions, business challenge questions, and business opportunity questions. The bottom line? With a strong business acumen knowledge base, sales professionals will improve their ability to position value from their customer’s business perspective and fully leverage an insight selling approach. 

The landscape of buying and selling has changed more in recent years than it has in preceding decades. Customers are more sophisticated and, thanks to the Internet, are awash in information and research. At the same time, companies are searching for new ways to innovate, compete, and improve their success. When sales reps bring valuable insights and ideas to buyers, they strengthen relationships, differentiate from competition, and win more sales. Training is necessary to create salespeople who are successful in this changing sales landscape. The Insight Selling training program (in Dutch and English) by Sellingnet teaches sales reps not only in soft skills but also in the above described hard skills. The Insight Selling Toolbox helps them to learn to think outside the box, to elaborate and use insights and to develop their business acumen.

To develop insights download the Insight Selling Map.

Reference list: 
Insight Selling: Surprising research on what sales winners do differently, Mike Schultz and John E. Doer (Rain Group), 2014; 
Insight Selling: How to sell value & differentiate your product with Insight Scenarios, Michael Harris (Insight Demand), 2014; 
The Challenger Sale: Taking control of the customer conversation, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson (CEB), 2011; 
SPIN Selling Revised, research paper, Ronald Swensson (Sellingnet), 2005;
Sales Skills Monitor, research paper, Ronald Swensson (Sellingnet), 2015. 
Insight Selling Map, Insight Sales Conversation Process, Insight Selling Toolbox: Ronald Swensson (Sellingnet), 2017.
See also our Jan L. Wage Library, click here.

This post is also published on LinkedIn.