Considering the fact that sales representatives primarily interact with customers and are the engine of driving revenue, most distributors have surprisingly neglected providing them with core sales skills training. Buyers don’t need salespeople for simple or transactional sales functions as they once did before. Therefore, reps must have knowledge beyond what their product does and deliver solutions that speak to the impacts buyers face and their values.
In distribution, sales forces that aren’t adding value beyond their product and offering a great customer experience are increasingly at risk of being commoditized.
Shifting Focus from Product Expertise to Sales Skills
There are several reasons for the benign neglect of sales skills investment. A couple of reasons include the historical B2B buyer-seller relationship and the lack of foundation set in place for sales enablement.
Historically, industrial B2B buyers didn’t necessarily need their sellers to be highly skilled at selling.
Their purchases were largely needs-driven – not discretionary – and so the core need was product or technical expertise and order fulfillment. For this reason, virtually all systematic sales training in distribution was focused on products and applications (not selling skills or competencies).
Most distributors haven’t done the foundational sales enablement work that’s now necessary.
Sales enablement involves identifying key buyer personas, mapping buying processes, and developing buyer-centric sales processes. Without clear sales methods, it’s difficult to clarify sales roles and organization structure – and hence to identify the core sales competencies against which training investments should be focused.
What’s Important to Modern Buyers
Today, e-commerce and online resources have enabled a clear shift in buyer behaviors. For many purchases, buyers readily find the information they need and order online, without engaging a seller until late in the buying process, if at all. Buyers don’t want to talk to sellers about product or application information unless the purchase is new, complex, or risky.
When buyers do engage with sellers, their expectations have shifted. They want to talk about value beyond what’s in the box: process improvement, financial or business impact, strategic value.
These are very different conversations from what sellers were traditionally trained to have. In simple terms, different buyer conversations will require different sales competencies. Which means there is likely a competency gap between where sellers are today, and where they need to be to serve the modern buyer.
Distributors who promptly identify or implement this necessary skill migration will achieve a differentiated competitive advantage in buyer experience. They also will find it more feasible to attract a new generation of sales talent – those who place a high importance on investment in their careers and professionalism. And, distributors will reap the benefits of higher productivity, new customer acquisition, share-of-wallet, customer retention, and profitability.
So, how can distributor sales teams upskill their sellers to effectively serve the modern buyer? A data-driven approach is required that clearly links seller competencies to the buyer personas they serve, and to the sales processes that help buyers remove friction from their buying processes.
Determining Today's Critical Sales Skills
Different industries, companies and specific sales roles certainly require different skills. Thankfully, identifying which skills are worth focusing on is a relatively simple process:
Step 1: Identify the key buyer personas that sales will serve.
In many markets, it’s important to understand the increasingly committee-driven buying process, which requires understanding not only the individual buyer personas but also the complex dynamics among them.
Step 2: Map the buying process for each persona (and/or for committees).
This step, which requires buyer research, ensures that sellers are supporting (and not subverting) the buyers they are dedicated to serving. Building the sales process to align with, and remove friction from, the buying process is the key to success.
Step 3: Determine the sales roles that will support the sales process.
Today, those roles have diversified away from traditional outside/inside models to a more specialized ecosystem of roles. This new organizational structure unlocks significantly higher customer satisfaction, sales productivity and efficiency, and resulting revenue growth.
Step 4: Identify the sales competencies in each role.
Once the key roles are in place, identify the competencies that, when learned, retained, coached, mastered and applied in daily workflow, do the following:
- Serve the modern buyer
- Add distinctive value in every customer interaction
- Remove friction from the buying process
Once we have a clear map of the sales competencies required for each sales role, we can finally laser in on the sales skills training that close competency gaps. Although the most critical competencies will vary from one vertical to another, they broadly involve the core human-to-human (H2H) sales skills that add value beyond the transaction:
- Consultative, buyer-centric selling
- Customer business acumen
- Relationship management
- Emotional intelligence
Diagnose First, then Prescribe
It’s important to measure the existing sales team and screen new hires for the sales mindsets, traits and sales competencies needed for success. This is where an objective, unbiased assessment becomes necessary.
The results of a sales team evaluation will broadly identify sales competency gaps that fall into three types:
- Broad, group-level gaps
- Specific, sub-group clusters
- Personalized learning gaps
Better Serve the Modern Buyer with a Buyer-Centric Sales Force
The approach we have discussed here is built to predictably produce the modern sales force that will serve the modern buyer and add distinctive value in a dynamic economy. Market leaders will need to take a fresh look at how they invest to align their valuable and costly sales resources with the buyers of today and the markets of the future.
Product expertise doesn’t add enough value for today’s buyers. Consider a more formal sales talent development strategy that leads to a differentiated, value-adding sales team. Learn more about our sales training solutions.
Modern Sales Foundations
Use a buyer-centric approach to improve sales results.
What it takes for salespeople to deliver value has changed significantly as the modern buying process has evolved. Modern Sales Foundations™ (MSF) is an end-to-end sales training program that teaches sellers the buyer-centric strategies and approaches needed to excel in today’s marketplace.