The internet has fundamentally changed the role of today’s salesperson, and this is a reality that can’t be ignored. In a world where consumers can purchase anything from diapers to high-end jewelry with a simple click of the mouse, the contemporary salesperson must adapt. So how can salespeople harness the power of fast-paced, online platforms to help them achieve sales success? What do salespeople need to do differently, and what are the strategies that work?
These are some of the questions posed by author David J.P. Fisher in his new book, Hyper-Connected Selling: Winning More Business by Leveraging Digital Influence and Creating Human Connection. Fisher is a sales expert, speaker, and author who coaches individuals and companies on how to build their networking, sales, and entrepreneurial skills. The book provides an overview of the challenges faced by today’s salesperson, offering ideas and advice about how to turn these challenges into opportunities.
InfoWorks spoke with Fisher about the book’s key insights. He outlines strategies for social selling and leveraging the power of the network, but also underscores the need for establishing human-to-human connections. While looking towards the future, Fisher is also mindful of the lessons of the past. He argues that the ability to build trust (which we at InfoWorks value highly and have discussed here) is critical to success in business, and will become even more important in the future.
InfoWorks: What are the new challenges that salespeople face in today’s hyper-connected business world?
Fisher: I think the biggest challenge is an evolving business environment in which technology is fundamentally changing the relationship between buyers and sellers. We tend to think of that relationship as static, but it’s actually gone through a number of changes in the past 200 years, and we’re right in the middle of another one.
In the second half of the 20th century, salespeople held most of the power. They held the information that customers needed to make decisions, and they controlled the flow of the sales process. Technology, in this case the internet, has allowed buyers to access all of the information they need whenever they want. This has caused salespeople to lose their monopoly on information…and also the control.
Technology is also replacing the routine tasks in the sales role. Why hire someone to make calls all day or send hundreds of emails when a computer program can do the same thing more easily and cheaply? The salespeople who were only information-deliverers and order-takers are going to see a squeeze, and will probably lose their jobs to technology solutions.
InfoWorks: In this fast-paced, information-rich environment, how can salespeople add value and differentiate themselves?
Fisher: There’s a common misconception that more information leads to better decisions, but research has shown that is far from the truth. It’s true that easy online access has flooded prospects with more information than ever before, and they’re using that to become more informed buyers. But as this plays out in the real world, we find that this process is rarely easy and never simple.
In the past, salespeople provided value by being the providers of information. In the future (which is already here), they will provide value by being the interpreters of information. I call this being a Sales Sherpa™, where sales professionals act as guides for their prospects. They know that the buying journey is full of pitfalls and obstacles, and their job will be to help their prospects navigate the data.
The value of sales relationships is going to increase. Instead of looking at the process as simply transactional, sales professionals will need to bake themselves into the buying process. Technology is driving a lot of this change, and it also provides a host of communication tools that allows salespeople to start and cultivate relationships with their prospects and customers. Salespeople need to harness these tools and build trust with their customers so they can be seen as a valued advisor.
InfoWorks: In your book, you say that salespeople “create” the sale. What is the role of creativity in the sales process?
Fisher: I think the idea of creativity in sales is woefully undervalued. There’s an old adage in sales that “nothing happens until a sale takes place,” which I think touches on the idea that salespeople actually start something, that they are the generators of activity.
I see two places where creativity comes into play in the sales world. The first is in the act of bringing something new into being. When I was a young sales rep, I was also playing in a band and performing slam poetry. And I saw a definite connection between writing a new song with my bandmates and selling to a customer. It might sound a little Pollyanna-ish, but selling something gives meaning to all the other activities that go into that product or service. What’s the point of building cars if nobody buys them? That would be a lot of unemployed people.
And in the more common sense of the word, creativity is needed to find new and novel solutions. If technology is going to take care of the rote and routine tasks, salespeople are going to remain relevant by focusing on uniquely human skills, one of which is creativity. In an on-going sales relationship, they will be tasked with not only leading their prospects through the buying process, but with finding and offering new routes and ideas for their prospects to pursue.
InfoWorks: In the future, automation will impact many careers, including sales. What do you think this means for the salesperson of tomorrow?
Fisher: Up until recently, we’ve only thought about how automation will affect blue collar jobs like manufacturing, but I think technology will have a tremendous impact on knowledge workers, including salespeople. I think we’ll see tools like AI and marketing automation come in to take over the routine tasks that can be mechanized, and this will fundamentally change what sales professionals do.
But I don’t think this will spell the demise of the sales profession. Rather, I think salespeople will do what machines aren’t good at: uncover new solutions, create novel opportunities, and connect empathetically with other people. In the end, new technology will become a tool that helps sales professionals do what they’re best at. The calculator didn’t get rid of the need for accountants, but it did change what you needed an accountant for.
So rather than seeing the demise of the sales role, we’re going to see the demise of certain tasks within the sales role. I think this can open up some exciting possibilities as salespeople have more time, attention, and data to focus on partnering with their customers.
InfoWorks: What are the most important skills that salespeople will need in order to be successful in the years ahead?
Fisher: If you’re going to be a Sales Sherpa™ and guide someone through their buying process, you have to be able to create trust. And the ability to create that trust is going to be a highly-valued skill. Instead of relying on brute force and the ability to deal with rejection, salespeople will need to refine and boost their ability to connect with their customers and lead them through a world with massive amounts of information.
It will be imperative that salespeople continue to refine their abilities to build relationships. This means working on their interpersonal communication skills, their problem-solving skills, and their ability to improvise. These have always been useful, but they’re going to become indispensable.
The one overarching ability that salespeople should master is mental and emotional flexibility. We’re entering (really, we’ve already entered) a period of great change. The more someone can adapt, and help the people around them adapt, the more successful they will be.