If you sell for a living, technology can be your friend or your enemy. It’s up to you.
Automation has been impacting other types of roles for a while now, but it has finally caught up to sales. With so much information in consumers’ hands, and e-commerce software enabling self-checkout of even big-ticket items like automobiles, the transactional sale between salesperson and customer is on the endangered list—if not going extinct altogether.
Software is also getting better at sorting information for clients; qualifying their needs, interests, and budgets; recommending products; and generating and tracking leads. Before long, it will do those things more effectively than we can. But don’t feel ashamed; robots are soon going to best us at driving cars, flying jets, and performing bypass surgery as well.
All this sounds ominous, but I wouldn’t recommend going rogue, Sarah Connor style, just yet. For good salespeople, there are many ways to not only survive but thrive amid all these changes:
- Be Agile – Embrace technology instead of fighting it, and explore the emerging ways it can support your sales efforts. Let your smartphone manage your appointment schedule and contract administration, and stay on top of the latest business apps for the independent professional.
- Leverage Social Media – Instead of saying “I don’t get Twitter” and thinking Instagram is for narcissists, use those and other platforms to build up a network for promoting your products and services and winning referrals.
- Engage in Complex Sales – Transactional sales may soon be a solo act for consumers, but long-cycle, complex sales that involve technology and engineering still require a human touch. Become a trusted advisor to your accounts, and shore up your project-management skills. You don’t have to be an engineer to provide general installation oversight and to serve as the main point of contact for stakeholders throughout the process.
- Practice a Consultative Approach – Account management may not provide the thrill of the close, but by being a supportive resource to existing accounts, you can maintain and grow the relationship through cross-selling and expert recommendations.
- Hone your Negotiating Skills – Software algorithms can detect sales trends and patterns, but they aren’t great at grasping nuance or reading body language. The art of persuasion and influence is always going to be an essential component of business, even beyond the world of direct sales.
- Learn Analytics – You’ve seen it in sports and in organizational development, and it’s a big component of sales planning. Gain some expertise in this area and make technology work for you.
- Marketing – Thanks to modern technology and software, marketing teams are gradually supplanting sales teams as direct-revenue drivers. Explore what’s going on in this field and then start filling in your skill gaps.
- Channel Partnerships – Bundling products and services in partnership with others can dramatically extend your reach and add value to what you already offer without significantly increasing your overhead… and you share the workload.
These are just a few of the directions in which today’s salesperson can adapt and evolve. Next time, we’ll talk about the behavioral competencies that sales managers and talent-acquisition specialists should be looking for when hiring new reps and developing teams.