We all know the stereotype of the pushy salesperson: They’re aggressive and flexible about the truth, talk a lot, and only have one agenda: to sell to you, regardless of your needs and requirements (an ice to Eskimos kind of thing).
That description is, admittedly, a bit of a cliché (and has probably not ever been particularly true for good salespeople anywhere). But we’ve all met at least one of them in our lives. And while their one-dimensional method has been plain annoying in the past, as demonstarted in this Evolution of a Salesperson article.
The world has fundamentally changed. Whacking customers over the head won’t cut it anymore. Today, information is readily available and customers are more demanding than ever. They do their own research, they’re connecting with each other, and most importantly, they’re aware of their options.
These new information dynamics demand much more subtle sales skills, and a new type of sales personality: specifically not someone who’s simply an expert at selling. But a person who can draw on their complex body of knowledge to help solve a prospect’s specific problem. Here are the sales skills, techniques and personality traits that are indispensable to a good connected salesperson today:
It all starts with knowing what you’re talking about. Prospects today are sometimes better informed than salespeople themselves. Sales conversations start much later in the information gathering process than they used to – by the time customers first talk to a salesperson, they are already overwhelmed with information. Instead of a hawker, they need an intelligent advisor who helps them filter the clutter of information they’re faced with.
You need to know the market and your prospects’ pain points as well as you know your own product. You’ll only ever be truly good at it if you have a genuine interest in developing this knowledge. Modern sales skills demand spending more time researching prospects and learning about the market than other traditional sales techniques. This can inform every interaction you have with a prospect from first contact and nurturing to your sales pitch and closing the deal. The good news, you now have the tools you need to do this. For example, LinkedIn allows you to gather insights on sales prospects you never would have had access to in the past.
It’s “the age of social” – that doesn’t just refer to social networks, but also to a social skillset. If the salesperson of the past was a talker, the modern one is a listener, who is sensitive to customers’ needs and preferences. Good modern salespeople spend a good deal of time researching prospects on social networks – to learn about their professional role and issues as well as their personal interests. Whether it's on LinkedIn as mentioned, or even on Twitter, it helps get to know your prospect as an individual, and establish a personal, meaningful connection. The pushy salesperson’s attentiveness is, at best, cosmetic. A great salesperson’s interest is sincere. And customers appreciate that effort, even if you get it slightly wrong.
Salespeople have always had to be confident – but there’s a big difference between confidence fueled by ego and confidence backed by facts and research. Today’s informed buyers don’t want to be sold to – if they sense empty rhetoric, they’ll put up their defenses. Solid facts and personal relevance will earn their respect.
The best way to learn what moves prospects is by talking to the people who know – other salespeople. Where “the lone wolves” of the past had their own secret pitch, the most successful salespeople today are great collaborators: they share best practices and give advice to each other – and they understand that offering their own unique insight will get them something equally valuable in return.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have for engaging with people. Experienced salespeople are an incredibly rich source of real-life anecdotes that can demonstrate use cases, issues and possible complications. No two sales conversations are the same – but the ability to draw upon experience and selectively present relevant stories is a highly creative skill that helps establish a real connection with prospects.
Few people will admit to like being sold to. But we all welcome an intelligent partner – a fully rounded personality that’s not just selling but connecting with us, empathizing and helping us solve a problem.
Great salespeople have always instinctively known and practiced these things. But it’s the connectedness and information saturation of today’s world that make these ‘renaissance’ selling skills imperative today.
So there you have it, the essential sales skills of a modern salesperson. To find out what the world's sales leaders have to say about the current state of sales, check out our 2015 State of Sales research report.