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4 skills every salesperson will need in the future


written by Chris Bourne

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I’m calling on all salespeople to start thinking about how you approach your job, because in a few years’ time, you may be in danger of losing it!

I know it’s a harsh statement to start a blog with, but according to Forrester, of the 4.5 million B2B salespeople in existence today, one million will be net displaced by 2020, particularly ‘order takers’.

The reason? Buyers are more informed and self-sufficient than ever before and don’t need your help as much as they used to.

So what can you do to avoid becoming irrelevant?

1. You’ll need to be able to ‘de-educate’ prospects

Buyers are smart and have access to a wealth of information.

According to a study by the Acquity Group, 94% of business buyers research a product first before making a decision. This can range from online comparisons, customer testimonials, brochures, product overviews and more.

As time goes on, buyers are only going to consume more information before they purchase.

Sadly, not all of this information will be accurate and a good amount probably won’t work in your favor.

To ‘de-educate’ prospects, you’ll need to take an advisory role and figure out where their knowledge is limited or incorrect and set the record straight. This approach of challenging the prospect is difficult to master but the end result is a trusting, strong relationship with your buyer.

You’ll need to avoid calling them out as wrong at all costs, because this will instantly make you seem like a know it all.

Instead, use phrases like “that’s correct to a certain extent but it’s important to bear in mind that” or “that certainly used to be the case but in the current climate…”. This way you disqualify their information but do so without saying that they’re in the wrong.

2. You’ll need to be able to interpret data

Whether you like it or not, data has become an integral part of sales and is definitely here to stay. To be a successful salesperson in the coming years, you’ll need to learn how to leverage data to make more informed decisions.

Do you let your gut make your decisions? Or do you combine your instincts with data-backed insights? Combining your experience and intuition with data is what’s required for the salesperson of tomorrow.

By utilizing data in your selling you will be able to understand which sales activities are working (and which aren’t), which products are effective, where your products are sold and when as well as predict future sales based on previous trends.

If you don’t utilize data though, you’re just another person with an idea, opinion or gut feeling.

3. You’ll need to be a question master!

It’s the questions that a salesperson asks that sets the top talent apart from the rest.

The ability to get under the skin of a buyer and understand their pain points so that you can find a solution will be a common denominator for all salespeople as your buyer will be able to get an explanation of your product from case studies, how to videos and other content.

But, how to videos or case studies can’t ask the right questions to diagnose a buyer’s pain.

Every buyer is different and has unique challenges – this is where the future salesperson will have to spend their time finding out.

4. You’ll need to be able to write, not just talk

Unfortunately, face-to-face communication is slowly being replaced by written communication.

Email, Facebook, live chat and text messaging are replacing (or, already have) the old school face-to-face meeting.

While this is a positive in the sense that your market is now not only limited to the places you can travel to, mastering written communications is now a key skill you’ll need to learn.

Every salesperson will need to be able to string a well written, thoughtful message together at every turn.

Bad at spelling? Struggle to write a clear sentence? Waffle too much instead of being to the point?

If you said yes to any of these, you’ll either have to learn or risk being one of the million displaced salespeople.

For more selling advice, read our feature page ’19 sales tips you’d be stupid to ignore’.

  • esanford

    I am surprised that these items are for the future and considered new. I have been in sales and sales management in both the low tech and high tech worlds for over 40 years. The best salespeople always had these skills. The remainder were just plain “hucksters”. In fact, Wilson Learning, the author of Spin Selling, did a 20 year study from the late 60s to the late 80s which concluded that the best salespeople did more asking and listening then telling and demonstrating. This is precisely the reason why 20% of sales people make 80% of sales.

  • A great write-up on how sales people must also up-skill with the four mentioned skills that are to be “essential” in the near future. “Top Questions” really speak to me in terms of probing and timing it right after assessing the knowledge and market stance of the potential customer. It is the culmination of listening, proposition and timing.

  • Mark T Sr

    I agree with all EXCEPT the idea of finding a clever way to tell the client they are wrong. Sales folk that want to retain strong relationships and get re-invited back to the table have long used questions that include data that help the client to correct themselves. This would sound like: “Recently I’ve seen news releases that suggest product X may be healthier than product Z. Would that impact your buying decision?”

Written By -

I’m the Marketing Manager here at sales-i and being in marketing I obviously love crayons and of course I have a toy Chewbacca on my desk (fully equipped with the ‘Maaaaaarh’ noise!

I have worked in the technology industry for over 7 years and have a good grasp on what’s happening in the industry. I also enjoy* the technical side of software development.

*The term ‘enjoy’ relates to the very few occasions where the techy side actually goes to plan, otherwise replace with the term ‘gets frustrated’.

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