What should you be training your salespeople on in the new world of sales?

For the first, oh, ten thousand years of sales, the priorities for salespeople didn’t change much. They had to be good multitaskers. They had to work hard. They had to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to buyers. And above all, they had to know how develop leads.

According to stats from Growthplay and published in a recent article in the Harvard Business review, those were still the top sales competencies that companies were looking for as late as 2000.

But then the world changed.

It changed for a lot of reasons, of course, most of them related to the Internet. Buyers had more information at their fingertips. Markets were no longer defined by geography, but by search terms. Anybody anywhere could buy from anyone at any time. Big data changed how companies looked at customers. E-mail changed how they prospected. And the old paradigm of hard-working reps plugging away within a defined territory to dig up new buyers was now less relevant.

In 2000, for example, 30% of job profiles for salespeople cited some version of “developing sales leads” as a key competency. By 2010-2014, that figure had plummeted to 8%. Similar declines were seen for “commits time and effort to ensure success,” “qualifies prospects with standard probes,” and “willingness to deal with multiple tasks.”

So what moved up on the list? The sorts of high-level business skills that you might see in C-level and senior management positions. Specifically:

  • “Prioritizes tasks through logical analysis” rose from 10% to 17%.
  • “Embraces strategic vision/implements corporate direction” and “ability to learn the business” — both of which ranked solid zeroes before 2000 — rose to 13% and 10%, respectively.
  • “Controlled work approach” (which I take to mean following a defined sales process) increased from 5 to 8%.

These figures suggest a very different pattern for modern salespeople. Sure, they still have to work hard. But they have to work at a much higher level. They have to think like mini-CEOs running a company of one.

And they have to know how play in the big leagues. As their customers’ organizations become flatter — eliminating the ranks of midlevel employees where most routine buying and selling once took place — salespeople increasingly find themselves talking the top brass. They need the savvy and confidence to take a seat at that table.

The question for sales trainers: Are your programs keeping up? Do they reflect this new reality?

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