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The Sales Game Is Constantly Changing. Here Are the 10 Skills You Need to Succeed

by Marc Emmer

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According to Forrester, 93 percent of B2B (business-to-business) buyers say they "prefer buying online rather than from a salesperson." Ugh. 


Today, the most successful salespeople are part technician, part tactician and part consultant. The most effective selling style differs from market to market and product to product. Yet there is an evolving formula most effective in the majority of markets where technology is embedded in every solution, and relationship selling has been devalued.

 

1. Be an analyst.

Among the most powerful differentiators today is information. The contemporary salesperson has access to data, and they know how to manipulate it in a form that is useful to customers. For example, exception reporting can trigger a response when a customer has not ordered something. You're more likely to impress a customer by showing you're paying attention.

 

2. Be tech savvy.

To deliver the most effective solution, salespeople need to understand which technology applies to which problems. One approach may companies employ is matching salespeople with engineers or other technical subject matter experts to ensure technical competency is being presented to every customer.

 

3. Be a consultant

While many companies talk about consultative selling, customers still try to put salespeople in their place. The consultative salesperson is an expert at "framing"- the art of demanding you are treated like a peer.

 

To do this, salespeople must frame every interaction. Before a meeting, they provide value-added information. During a meeting they manage how they are introduced, where they sit, what they wear, etc., with clear intention. For example, salespeople who offer only a few appointment times give the impression that they are in demand and not just available any time.


 
Once they have been framed as a consultant, they deliver the solutions customers value. This requires both technical knowledge and creativity. The most effective salespeople pull others into the conversation, such as Marketing and Operations. Often being a consultant within your company is as important as being one with the customers.

 

4. Know your market.

Understanding that some customers are left-brain thinkers, effective salespeople have research-driven data that support their positions. Fact-based selling brings validity to your offer.

 

5. Target the right prospects.

In most markets there is too much competition to be a generalist. Targeting niche businesses and overwhelming them with value is the key to standing out. For example, one of our clients has positioned as a private label provider to regional furniture stores, which do not command as much attention from major brands. They have the ability to yield very specific expertise to a narrow audience.

 

6. Be maniacal about pipeline management.

There are still some relics who dismiss the need for customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Their days are numbered. The complexity of today's sales process requires that companies have a central hub where they can manage customer information and leverage marketing automation to provide useful, targeted campaigns. CRMs offer salespeople many other advantages such as mass email templates, tickler campaigns and more.

 

7. Partner with the Marketing Department.

Sales productivity today is driven by a partnership between sales and marketing. Integration of sales and marketing departments drive a cohesive message, positioning a brand for relevance, and driving more effective selling.


For example, with the proper use of CRM, new prospects have already been dripped (email marketing) in advance of every call with specific messaging about the products or services they are interested in. When sales and marketing are on the same page, the company's SEO (search engine optimization) attracts the right prospects, and marketing provides useful tools likely to lead to conversion.

 

8. Demonstrate your social proof.

To be solution sellers, the salespeople themselves need to demonstrate subject matter expertise. Social media tools like how-to videos, customer evangelism pieces, white papers and case studies provide "proof" of a company's value, but when the salesperson originates them they position as the authority.

 

9. Master the art of storytelling.

While all the aforementioned methods are important to have in your tool chest, the best salespeople are great story tellers. It is a lost art.


Having a set of examples for every business solution is what separates the most enduring salespeople from the herd. Having both the substance and the delivery are of equal importance. Framing how you have solved other customers' problems is the number-one trait of a subject matter expert.

 

10. Close like a pro.

One constant that has not changed is that any good salesperson knows how to "ask for the order." Many of the ideas offered here may "break the tie" or may simply be cost of admission. People still do business with people they like. So make sure you have communicated clearly in every step of the process and positioned yourself as a go-to solutions provider.

 

Article written by Marc Emmer for Inc.com