Sales capability transformation for the digital age

by Marty Nicholas

We recently introduced our ‘Rep of the Future’ blog series, which outlined what organisations and their salespeople must do to stay relevant in the digital age. Throughout this series, we gave an overview of the four critical initiatives required for sales transformation, and discussed in-depth the first three of those initiatives – evolving organisational design, sales process transformation and sales technology transformation. Today’s post will cover the fourth and final initiative of transforming sales capability; which describes the shifts needed in sales training to build sophisticated skillsets that can exceed the expectations of today’s buyer.

Thus far much of the focus in this blog series has centred on the organisational shifts required to support salespeople in today’s buying environment. These shifts included evolving organisational design to enable more value-adding and lower cost sales interactions; transforming sales process to integrate workflows and support consistently high quality interactions; and leveraging technology and data to optimise sales effectiveness and efficiency.

Whilst these shifts are all critical to create the infrastructure to support success and embed new ways of working, ultimately salespeople themselves also must evolve dramatically to remain relevant to today’s customer. Today’s buyer is expecting far more insight and value when they choose to bring a salesperson into their process. Salespeople must also be equipped to work in a far more data-driven and technology-dependent operating environment.

We observe that for many businesses, reinventing sales capability for this evolving future is a difficult transition. With the imperative to support their salespeople in making this shift – what are the key capabilities organisations should focus on?

Our view is that the three areas below should be top of your list to equip your salespeople to thrive in the digital age.

1. Uplift commercial acumen

With buyers more informed than ever, salespeople must add more value, more immediately in each interaction. Deeply understanding customers and their business, providing unique perspective and insight, as well as having the ability to genuinely solve business problems have become critical determinants of success. 

Substantial expertise must be built across industry, functional or solution lines to support salespeople in challenging their customer’s thinking, and making the key shift from product conversations to strategic business conversations.

2. Build digital + data savvy

Whilst technology can now provide salespeople with unprecedented data on buyer activity, effectively utilising this information requires a new set of skills and mindset. A focus on customer data is critical to helping salespeople keep up with what their buyer is thinking. This data also helps salespeople pinpoint their highest potential opportunities and more effectively anticipate and prepare for likely customer needs.

Targeted development is required to build data interpretation skills and ensure salespeople can leverage the key technology and social platforms required for success.

3. Build ‘decision navigation’ skills

Buyers have shifted to a far more risk-oriented and consensus-based decision-making approach, with broad consultation commonly being sought with all impacted parties before a purchase is made. With greater complexity for both buyer and seller, highly nuanced selling skills are required to manage broad sets of stakeholders and successfully navigate their various needs.

Amongst the various skills which form this capability, the ability to leverage networks to gain access to the right stakeholders, coach customer’s through the buying process and connect the appropriate parts of the business with the customer at the right time are all key to facilitating decisions in today’s buying environment.

With the four broad shifts required to start building the ‘Rep of the Future’ now covered, in the next post we’ll look at the maturity process through which organisations typically implement these shifts, as well as the incremental benefits they can expect to unlock across the transformation.