The role of the sales person is changing–we all know that. The way customers buy is changing, the complexities of our own products and solutions, the broad range of people involved in the customer buying process mandates a different approach to selling and careful reconsideration of how we define the role of account and territory managers. My posts, Sales Role Agility and Separating The Challenger Sales Person From Insight Delivery, stimulated many comments and conversations.
Increasingly, for complex B2B solutions, no single person can master everything needed to drive customer success. In mid sized to larger companies, the sheer breadth of solutions we offer makes it impossible for any single person to master them. Being able to deliver and defend insightful or challenging conversations across a broad number of business issues becomes difficult. Expecting the sales person to have personal credibility in each area is unrealistic.
We need to reassess how we deploy our sales teams to maximize the value we bring to customers. Larger organizations leverage specialists, pre-sales support, technical specialists and others. Smaller organizations can leverage people in other functions–marketing, product management, engineering/development, or others. In many cases, we leverage strategic partners to help provide the breadth and depth of skills needed to drive customer success. Account manager might focus on maximizing share of customer, but cannot be expected to have deep insightful conversations with a broad number of customers within the enterprise, across a broad number of business issues and solutions.
The sales person becomes an orchestrator or resource manager, establishing the overall opportunity strategy, then putting the right people from both the customer and their own organization. The sales person keeps the deal moving forward–helping the customer’s buying process, while managing the sales process.
The goal of the salesperson is to maximize not only deal performance, but to maximize overall share of account and territory. They are responsible for identifying new opportunities, then engaging the appropriate resources in each deal. It may be nurturing some customers or prospects through content or other activities. It may be calls by members of the team.
So all of this has massive implications for the type of people we hire, the skills we develop–both within the sales team and across the organization. Some areas to think about:
- Collaboration: Collaboration within the organization, with customers, and partners becomes a prized skill for not only the sales person, but also other members of the team.
- Problem solving: We need to have strong problem solving skills, helping the customer identify, define, evaluate, and implement solutions. Within our organization, we have to be better in organizing ourselves to help customers solve their problems (both pre and post sale.)
- Project management: The selling/buying process is a specialized form of project management, with the salesperson acting as a project manager (co managing the project with the key individuals from the customer.)
- Change management: I’ve been saying this for years, it’s interesting no major sales training vendor is offering change management as a major element of their programs. Our jobs as sales professionals is to help our customers change–whether through providing insight, collaborating on a problem, or something else. If the sales person is responsible for keeping the buying and selling process moving forward, they need to understand change and how to manage change.
- Knowledge transfer: This really crosses multiple domains–knowledge transfer and skill building within our own organizations and knowledge transfer to the customer. Deploying the right people, with the right message, at the right time, to the right customers helps with the latter. We need to think about knowledge transfer internally. For example, while a sales person may not have the depth of knowledge and understanding to drive a specific solution sale today, or toe deliver certain types of insight, we need to think how we build their skills, over time. (I’m a fan of “sunsetting” most specialist organizations after 2 years.).
- Business acumen: Still lacking, still critical, sales people need to constantly build their business acumen–about their customers, industries, markets, and about how “business works.” Business acumen is, in fact, table stakes to all the rest of this. And all the traditional selling skills underlie all these.
Without a doubt, complex B2B sales has become a team effort. We need to look at how we invest in the “team,” not just focusing on skill development for sales people, but with all others involved with customers. We need to continually reassess our deployment models, looking at how we most effectively and efficiently engage the customers. We need to provide tools more broadly to support the teams in execution–this means people other than sales have access to CRM. We need to reassess the profiles of people we hire in each role, the definitions of roles and responsibilities, and how we measure each person.
The worlds of buying and selling continue to evolve, we need to evolve not only the skills and roles of our sales people in managing the buying and selling processes, but those of the entire team supporting them.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.