If you think that selling has not changed that much and with a few tweaks you can remain competitive, think again. Customers have taken control of the sale making it increasingly difficult to not only reach them but to add to what they already know.  The challenge is to demonstrate that you can bring value beyond what customers cull from search engines and social networking that will result in growing their businesses.

The barriers between customers and your sale message continue to mount.  I remember a few years ago learning about hospitals that were considering charging salespeople for sales calls.  Most recently Coke announced that the majority of its people opted not to use land lines which of course will make it more difficult for salespeople to get through to them.  All of this is a far cry from Neil Rackham’s visionary concept that customers should be willing to pay for sales call because of the value salespeople bring. What Neil foresaw was the transition of the sales role from “selling” to consulting.

To support the transition marketing departments are hard at work to establish their brand, provide sales with value messaging, and deliver content marketing aimed at increasing the quality and number of leads.  A key role for marketing is to pave the way for salespeople to connect with customers or more likely customers connect with sales.

That the barriers between salespeople and customers will only increase was reinforced by a prototype product developed by four University of Pennsylvania students.  While at this point their product is not commercially viable they have created a way to block real-life ads before they reach the buyers’ eyes.  They named the prototype headset Brand Killer: Adblock for Real Life”.  It is every marketer’s worst nightmare by blocking company logos from a buyer’s view when they encounter them in the real world. With this product buyers can opt out from corporate influence. This foreshadows the kind of new sales challenges we can expect.

Just imagine when this type of product is commercialized the impact it will have on marketing and sales.  Einstein proved that time is relative, not absolute.  While it would not pass scientific scrutiny it seems to me the Internet has speeded up time. Einstein concluded that the past, present, and future are one.  In sales we are in the future.

So what does this mean for you as a salesperson today?  It is expertise that creates value and despite technology and marketing advances it is the interaction with you as the salesperson that is high on the customers buy or not buy decision list. The question is what must you do to retool for the demands of today and into the future.

I have found that there are several essentials for b2b salespeople.  It is not that each of these has not existed in some form in the past but in no way did these amounted to do or perish:

  • Boost your brain with new learning every day. Commit to getting smarter. Becoming an industry and customer expert is not a nice to have. The Internet is a fabulous source for learning if you use your time reading the right things. Customers want to talk to experts and specialists that bring a depth of experience and knowledge to them.  If you cover many industries and deep industry knowledge is not possible you must at a minimum develop functional knowledge and strong relationships with team members who will support you with the level of expertise your customers now demand.
  • Develop strong internal relationships to bring the resources you need to your customers and leverage the knowledge and experience of your team. Collaboration increases learning.  Share information, experiences, invite team members to participate and create a benefit for them.
  • Leverage social networking to brand yourself. Write blogs, answer and ask questions, be the first to share relevant information… When customers do a search for a topic make sure they find more than your name and biography.
  • Live where your customers live, read what they read, follow who they follow…to be relevant to them.
  • Select and maximize a few sales tools that will educate you and help you connect with customers.
  • Strengthen your sales, presentation, and negotiations skills to maximize every conversation and opportunity.
  • Keep tabs on your emotional IQ. The human connection, how you communicate your message, and the relationships you build, will be your key if not sole differentiator.
  • Try something new. Don’t be afraid to challenge your thinking and take a chance.
  • Give yourself time to reflect on what you have learned and what you have done.
  • Ask for coaching from a manager or a peer (and with some customers, a customer).

Don’t just envision the future.  Be ready for it.  We don’t have to be Einstein to know it’s already here.