Salespeople tend to be an infinitely practical lot. Over two decades of coaching and training has made me realize that usually sales professional want to know the fastest ways to be successful, and what they should do to learn those skills. “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!” is a common refrain.
If you’re always looking for ways to improve your game, there’s no reason to change the habit. What does have to change is what you are learning. In the past, salespeople would look for the “magic bullet”. They wanted to learn that one sales close, objection-handling statement, or discovery question that would create instant results. But finding success in the future isn’t about having one special secret. (And let’s be honest, the secret bullet that solves all your problems has never existed).
Embracing a Complex Sales World
In Hyper-Connected Selling, I talk about the importance of being a Sales Sherpa™. The sales professionals that stay relevant are going to be the ones that learn how to guide their prospects and clients through an ever-evolving and increasingly-complex landscape. People already have access to all of the information they need. Now they are going to need someone who can help them make sense of it.
It’s not a world that’s conducive to simple tools and answers. And the necessary skills are a lot different than even ten years ago. In a world of technology and outsourcing, the secret to staying relevant will be to focus on skills that humans are uniquely suited for.
It’s very easy to see that the ability to connect and engage with our customers on an individual level will be important. The human brain is still the most highly developed computer for sharing thoughts and interpreting the signals that other people are sending.
But beyond people skills, what will it take to succeed in the sales world of the 21st century? Here are three areas that aren’t usually associated with selling that are going to be critical for success. Hone your abilities in these areas now to make sure you are positioned for relevance in the modern economy.
3 Necessary Sales Skills for the Future
Every salesperson, heck, every person, has been in a situation where things have abruptly and completely changed. It’s called life. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, and as much as we try to, we can’t get rid of it.
In the traditional sales model, the salesperson controls the process and the prospect simply follows along. However, in the modern Sales Matrix™ there could be tens, hundreds, or thousands of different pieces of information during the decision-making process. Now, the prospects are in the driver’s seat.
In this environment, the salesperson who can adapt and change to evolving circumstances is going to be in demand. If you get bewildered or defensive every time the variables change, it’s going to be tough to move your sales relationships forward.
There are a lot of ways to build flexibility, so take a cue from the ways you would build physical flexibility. You would stretch, you would move your body in different ways, and you wouldn’t sit in the same position over and over. It’s the same with developing your mental flexibility.
Continually look for new ideas and information. Be aware of the places you are in a rut. And look for opportunities to stretch beyond your comfort zone. Deliberately meet new people and new environments. Pay attention to how you react in uncertain situations in all parts of your life, and practice calming yourself down. Be like the martial artists who learned to flow with energy around them.
Not everyone can write a poem or paint a picture, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can’t be creative.
Creativity at its essence is the ability to combine different elements into new forms. In a sales situation, creativity can mean showing a current prospect how a solution that a previous customer tried would be perfect for them. Or it can mean finding a new analogy to help a decision-maker understand the impact of not taking action.
Creativity doesn’t have to be learned as much as it has to be unharnessed. If you don’t think everyone is creative, talk to a toddler. When we’re kids, we are unbridled fonts of creativity, but we learn to put it away and only let it come out at certain times. Or worse, not at all.
You want to develop the habit of looking at situations in new ways and allowing yourself to entertain solutions that might be out of the box. The author James Altucher recommends writing down 10 ideas a day about something, anything. You could write down a list of 10 new uses for your product, 10 new ways to introduce yourself, or the 10 things you’d do with a massive commission check.
You can also exercise the muscles of creativity. If the secret is finding new ways to put existing things together in novel ways, practice it before you are in a high-pressure business situation. There are a lot of great resources that can guide you, including Sarah Thurber’s The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker: How To Make Connections Others Don’t.
A word that is coming up often in my conversations is context. It’s important that sales professionals understand the environments that their prospects and clients work in, and then take appropriate actions. They have to understand when their prospects are ready to move forward, and when they aren’t. They have to accurately assess situations and then take the best course of action.
In other words, they must have good judgement. Luckily, judgement can be learned. That’s why you have friends who are good at making decisions, and ones who just suck at it. improvement starts by paying attention to how you make decisions.
In fact, the best way to get better at making decisions is to:
- Make Decisions
- Analyze Them
- Learn What Could Be Improved
If you’ve ever sat down with a friend and a bottle of wine and gone through your list of ex-romantic partners in an attempt to find out where you went wrong, you’ve gone through this process. Now you can apply it to your work world.
In business, the easiest way to do this is by performing post-mortems on your interactions with your existing prospects and customers. You can do it on your own or with the help of a colleague, manager, or mentor. Go over the conversations that you had and the actions that you took, and then be honest about the results that followed. You’ll develop a body of experiences that allows you to steadily improve the quality of your future engagements.
Be the Successful Sales Sherpa
In the past, sales professionals liked to think that the world was simple. It was easy to think that there was a linear sales process, a step-by-step framework that defined all of our sales activity. That’s not the case anymore. In fact, I don’t think it was ever the case, but we can’t pretend any longer.
The sales professionals that continue to thrive in the mercurial business world are the ones that have developed the soft skills to succeed. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to look in the mirror, assess where you stand in these areas, and pick one to improve.
Be the person on the team who can handle changing situations, come up with new and novel solutions for your customers, and consistently make the right call in challenging scenarios. When that happens, you’re going to have your pick of positions and customers are going to love working with you.