How Sales Is Changing Before Our Eyes

By Herb Greenberg and Patrick Sweeney

The accelerated speed of communication and our ability to access information with just a few keystrokes is changing everything – including the way we buy and sell. In the meantime, our economy has become borderless as the reach of global companies has altered the competitive landscape. As consumers, we have access to more information, faster – and feel, as a result, that we can make many of our buying decisions without ever talking with a salesperson.

And when we do need to deal with a salesperson, statistics from Eric Berridge, cofounder of Bluewolf, reveal that 70 percent of a customer’s buying decision is made before the customer even starts that conversation.

The game is changing

To remain competitive, sales managers and sales representatives need to be fluent operating virtually, have a clear understanding of how the buying habits of customers are changing, and realize that how they succeeded in the past may have very little to do with how they will succeed tomorrow.

The salespeople who succeed today need to be bright, empathic, versatile, curious, flexible and able to connect with clients, in person and virtually, in all parts of the world.

And that’s just for starters. The relationships in sales will become, by necessity, deeper faster.

For a salesperson to succeed, he or she does not have to be incredible. But he or she absolutely has to be credible. Top-performing salespeople all possess the ability to connect with people, to read them, to understand where they are coming from. They are driven to persuade others, to bring them around to their point of view.

They need to view rejection as just something that happens, another learning experience, another bump in the road, something to overcome. Then they need to be able to carry on, even more determined than ever – to connect and persuade another prospect or client.

Our cross-industry studies demonstrate that fewer than half the people currently making a living in sales possess these essential qualities. Nearly half the companies today say that they need to improve their ability to consistently hire salespeople who succeed, according to Jim Dickie of CSO Insights, a research firm that has surveyed over 1,400 companies worldwide to reveal best practices in sales and marketing.

And even on the part of companies that are hiring the right people, there is a frustration with getting them up to speed. According to Dickie, just shy of half the firms surveyed reported that it takes in excess of 10 months to get a new salesperson to full productivity (defined as new reps generating the same amount of revenue as experienced reps).

Adam Unger, a talent consultant, says that uppermost in the minds of sales executives who are hiring right now is one thing: efficiency. “Everyone is interested in hiring the right people faster. And bringing them up to speed faster. And not making mistakes along the way.” What remains the same is the essential talent needed to succeed in sales – and the search for people who have what it takes.

In hiring and developing a sales force for today and tomorrow, the focus must be on identifying and developing an individual’s potential. It is that unique place where who we are aligns with what we are doing – where the personal and the professional connect.

Excerpted from “How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer, 2nd edition: The Qualities That Make Salespeople Great,” (2012, McGraw-Hill Professional); reprinted with permission of the publisher. Herb Greenberg and Patrick Sweeney are the the CEO and president respectively of Caliper, an international management consulting firm.