The sorts of skills that are needed to succeed in sales have undergone a massive evolution, with 21st century in-demand talents barely even resembling those needed throughout the 80s and 90s. The ability to travel door-to-door selling encyclopedias, for example, isn’t exactly high up on job descriptions these days! But don’t be getting too comfortable here, because the next wave of change is due to hit in 3…2…1…
Sales evolution can be looked at a little like this:
The Past — The Informational Age
20th century sales techniques were primarily based on information; informing prospective customers of available products and/or services. The ability for a sales rep to clearly communicate this information was essential, as without widespread Internet access, product details were difficult to access.
The Present — The Digital Age
With widespread internet adoption came greater access to information, so it became less important for sales reps to inform, and more important for them to incorporate narrative, and make use of interactive marketing methods in their sales strategies, such as storytelling, problem solving, and guidance.
Many visions of the future of the Internet abound. Some have talked about Web 3.0, the so-called ‘semantic web’ that is driven by data interchange. Others emphasise machine learning and artificial intelligence. It is expected that the sales world of the future will have heavy ties to AI and big data, with a growing need for sales reps to anticipate their audience’s needs.
Based on this, there are a few skills that the sales reps of tomorrow will need to excel at:
1. Marketing & Promotion
Although sales and marketing often go hand-in-hand, there is another type of promotion-related skill that future sales reps will find useful: self promotion. With the average consumer becoming increasingly knowledgeable, they’re looking to buy from those whom they deem to be experts. In fact, one quarter of consumers claim that it is important for a sales rep to be seen as a ‘leader’, according to a LinkedIn research report. Sales reps will need to promote themselves as leaders via online channels.
2. Insightful Questioning
Google’s new search algorithms aim to derive meaning from basic search terms, assigning context to keywords to deliver relevant results. Sales reps will need to be able to perform the same function – manually. This can be done through insightful questioning; asking the right people the right questions at the right times, to collect valuable audience data. This can be used to determine sales qualified leads (SQLs) and help sales reps to identify prospective customers who are most likely to make a purchase.
3. Data Interpretation
Data collection will undoubtedly play a big role in tomorrow’s sales techniques, but perhaps of even greater importance is the ability to interpret this collected data in order to derive the most value from it. Analytics has been becoming increasingly important in sales for quite some time, and a vital skill for future sales reps will be the ability to utilise available technologies to maintain, analyse, and track this data. The data can then be used to predict sales trends and customer behaviours, to boost performance and increase sales.