The Future of the Sales Executive

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Dyanne Thorn Leeson has gained a breadth of experience in sales management, coaching, and leadership, while working for Kodak, Xerox, Canon and IBM. Dyanne recently completed her MBA degree with a specialization in International Sales and Key account management. From her genuine interest to inspire and motivate others she shares her unique perspectives gained from her experience in sales, her background in training, coaching individuals and her most recent academic development. She continues to develop herself and aims to remain up-to-date with current thinking in the sales arena.

The sales executive of the future will be a strategic thinker with business insight, a team player with financial knowledge, a relationship builder and expert negotiator. Information management and knowledge management will become critical in companies and will determine who can serve the clients best. Selling knowledge is the profession of the future and consists of creating value for clients by expertise, experience and well connectedness. The most successful sales executives are going to be those who are able to co-create and co-develop with clients.

The Challenge

The Sales Executive Council, Dixon and Adamson (2011), has launched a global study of sales productivity amongst more than 6,000 sales representatives across about 100 companies in multiple industries. Many organizations have focused on relationship building for many years. Their research surprisingly highlighted that the so-called “Challengers” win most of the time, and it indicated that “Relationship Builders” only represent a low seven percent of all high performers.

Every sales professional can be categorized into one of the following types based upon a set of skills and behaviours that define their way of interacting with clients.

Relationship Builders are mainly focused on developing strong personal and professional customer relationships. They easily invest time, aim to serve well the client’s needs, and are prepared to work hard to resolve any obstacles in the relationship.

Hard Workers are eager and industrious; they present themselves early, are willing to work until late, and are always ready to go the extra mile. They are most likely to render more phone calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than anybody else.

Lone Wolves have a strong self-confidence, and are the so-called “rule-breaking cowboys” of the sales team – they do things either their way, or possibly not at all.

Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the client’s point of view, very reliable and detail-oriented. Their focus is on after-sales service, in order to ensure that any service matters with regard to implementation and execution are resolved swiftly.

The Challengers

Challengers have a profound awareness of their client’s’ organization and current challenges and they allow and use their thinking to take control of the sales conversation. They are not hesitant to convey even potentially contradicting insights and are assertive — with both their clients and their superiors.

Challengers are top performers. The research illustrated that on average representatives are equally divided into these five profiles but the Challenger representatives dominate in the high-performer population, making them close to 40 percent of the best performing sales representatives in the entire research.

A focus on the particular traits of the Challengers indicates three predominate skills:

Challengers coach their clients. Their sales dialogue is not only about specification and advantages of the product or service to be sold but includes insight and brings a unique (and typically provocative) perspective to the client’s challenge. Challengers are able to bring new concepts to their clients, which gives them ideas for making or saving capital — often opening up new possibilities the client did not think of before or even realize as being possible.

Challengers adapt their sales pitch to the client. They have a divine sense of the specific client’s objectives and use this awareness to position their sales goal and aim towards the stakeholders within the organization.

Challengers take charge in the sale. Challengers lead the sale situation assertively and feel comfortable with the pressure of the situation, consequently staying calm and wisely filtering which client’s demand to follow and which not to countenance. If the situation requires it, they are able to urge their clients to do or leave certain actions and decisions — especially when it comes to matters like terms and conditions, or price.

The research surprisingly highlighted that Challengers win most of the time, and it indicated that Relationship Builders only represent a low seven percent of all high performers.

It can be argued that this conclusion does not relate to the fact that relationships are no longer important in B2B sales but that the nature of the relationships matters. Challengers outperform the other profiles, because they urge their clients to follow a different way of thinking; they build a tension in the process of the sale, which makes the sales process more constructive. Relationship Builders, on the contrary, relieve tension by being very service-minded towards the client’s demands. Challengers force clients out of their comfort zone, while Relationship Builders aim to maintain a convenient state of affairs. The Relationship Builder is concerned with the client’s convenience, while the Challenger is aiming for the client’s objective. Ultimately, the meeting with a Relationship Builder can be professional and pleasant, but it is not as effective as the connection the client has with a Challenger. The Challenger is focused and driven to produce good progress towards the client’s highest objectives in the deal.

Challengers rule in the new age of complex “solution-selling”

As selling is becoming increasingly more complex, sales representatives need to transform themselves and embrace the Challenger approach to be more successful. The best performing sales representatives — the ones who stood by their clients and carried them throughout the market downturn — aren’t just the top performers of today but the top performers of tomorrow, as they are far better able to drive sales and deliver customer value in any kind of challenging environment (Dixon & Adamson, 2011).

In summary, because more sophisticated and deeper information is needed at an ever increasing and faster pace, sales executives do need to change and adjust their operations to remain up to speed and become expert consultants in their specific area of expertise. At the same time, they need to remain abreast of all modern developments in technology and resources available to assist them in this challenge to serve their clients better than any other sales executives can.

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