The B2B sales world changes drastically from year to year with the introduction of new tools and the quick-paced nature of the digital landscape.
As a sales professional, it’s important to stay on top of trends to make sure you’re connecting with people in the way they expect and to make sure your techniques are on tip-top form.
But it’s not just important in ensuring your business and techniques are in line with the times and ahead of your competition, it’s also because B2B sales jobs are in danger. In fact, a report from Forrester Research shows that around one million B2B sales roles will no longer exist by the time 2020 rolls around.
This means it’s vital for sales professionals to stay on target and not fade into the background. Now, more than ever, it’s time to start honing those sales skills in order to future-proof your career.
So, what are the most important skills B2B sales professionals will need to hone in the next 4 years?
1. Reverse educate prospects
The internet age has bought about countless opportunities for prospects to educate themselves on various topics, but not all of the information is accurate or authentic.
What’s more, buyers are smarter than they’ve ever been before. A study run by the Acquity Group shows that 94% of business buyers research a product before making a decision. That means many prospects will already know the details of your business before you pick up the phone to talk to them. They have the tools they need to research what your business is all about and how well you’re doing.
According to this report, the majority of buyers read three to five pieces of content about a product before even talking to a sales rep.
While this means you can focus on how your product can help those prospects rather than going into detail about what you actually do which, let’s face it, can take a lot of time, it also means that prospects have access to information that may not be correct.
It’s then your role as a B2B sales professional to set the record straight.
So yes, buyers are becoming more in control of their purchases as they increasingly have access to tools and information, but the information they are coming across may be confusing, contradicting, or just simply untrue.
It’s the B2B salesperson’s job to set the record straight on any information that may be wrong. In 2020, “de-educating” prospects will be a much-needed skill, where you’ll need to consider what knowledge they already have, what is accurate and what is not, and set the record straight.
How to do this: The Challenger Approach
In the book The Challenger Sale, there are five different profiles that sales reps fall under, including the Hard Worker, the Lone Wolf, the Relationship Builder, the Challenger, and the Problem Solver.
In order to disrupt the set thoughts that prospects might have, the book recommends sales reps take on the Challenger approach, where they debate and push customer’s views of the world while also having a strong understanding of their prospect’s business.
2. Strategic Demo Skills
For many B2B sales professionals, demos are the icing on the cake – as in, they are the one chance sales professionals have to show prospects how their product will solve a pain point.
Not only do sales professionals need to understand the product, but they must be able to demonstrate its capabilities effectively to prospects.
This means finding out what a prospect’s acute pain points are and using the demo to tap into the answer. Reps need to get more strategic with their demos – rather than throwing out every feature and benefit of the product, they need to hone in on the specific aspects that will benefit specific prospects and be able to show this off in a demo call.
But while being able to understand in excruciating detail how their products can help prospects, providing a good demo also means sales reps have to have an understanding of the “bigger picture”.
Glenn Donovan, founder of Sales Coach for Startups, believes that by the time 2020 comes around, every sales professional will know exactly how their role fits into the company’s overall strategy. “This trend will completely change how reps sell,” says Donovan.
Most sales professionals know that the first contact they have with a prospect will probably lie somewhere with a mid-level HR professional who would then bring in the decision maker.
But now? These HR professionals are becoming savvy to what you’re offering. They already know what it is you’re selling through the new, digital tools they have access to. Instead of simply being a sales rep to them, they need you to step into the role of consultant – which means, in simple terms, that you need to show them how your product works for them in specific, rather than how it works as a whole.
These HR professionals have goals they need to hit each year, and they need you to show them how your product can help them reach said goals.
This means sales professionals will need to know not only how their product can solve the pain points of their prospects, but also how their product fits into their prospect’s individual goals and overall company strategy.
3. Be a Question Master
In the future, most B2B prospects will be able to get the information they need via tutorials, case studies, and interactive videos as numerous companies take on the automated business model, saving time and money.
But there are things these materials can’t do. They can’t build rapport with prospects and they can’t build a good customer support system that’s individually crafted for each and every prospect.
This is left to the skills of the sales professional. To do this, they must ask questions that tap into the overall goals of the prospect and their pain points. They must show they understand the problems the prospect is having and craft questions and a spiel that’s personal to the individual needs of each call.
As Appcues director John Sherer puts it, “Sales reps will need to be able to give or facilitate high quality customer support in order to maximize the value they can add to a prospect in a sales process.”
Yes, automation and readily-available digital tools will make research easier for prospects in 2020, but it also becomes less personal the further away they get from an actual person. Which means it’s important for sales professionals to step up their game and provide the personalised value that case studies, videos, and tutorials simply can’t.
Tips for asking the right questions:
- Ask your prospect’s permission: ask if it’s okay to talk about certain things. “May I talk to you about X?”
- Start broad and then really start to hone in on your prospect’s pain points. Start by asking them to describe their business, and then get more specific by asking questions about their bottom line or their biggest struggle each month.
- Use the same language as your prospect: utilise any industry jargon that they have touched on to show you understand their business and their pain points.
- Focus on the desired benefits: the vast majority of prospects you speak to won’t know how it is you can help them. Focus on how your product can solve some of their specific pain points.
- Keep questions simple: you don’t want to confuse your prospect by asking questions loaded with other questions. Keep things simple by asking one question at a time and building your follow-up questions off the answers given.
4. Data Interpretation
The vast majority of SDRs have access to data that they can mine to help them in the B2B sales process, but in the next 5 years it is thought every sales professional will have access to this information, so it’s important they learn how to interpret it in the right way to stand out.
Leveraging the data will become a vital part of a sales professional’s job, from understanding the whole story to figuring out which tactics are working and which aren’t.
“Combining experience and intuition with data is the best mix,” says Donovan. “Without good judgement, the data may mislead you.”
This means sales professionals will not only need to be able to read and analyse the data, but they’ll also need to hone their skills in decision making by determining which metrics are the most important and using these to craft stories and strategies that will tap into the individual needs of prospects.
The next 4 years will prove pivotal in the sales world because of the increasing rate at which new tools and techniques are coming out.
To stay on top of the game, sales professionals not only have to keep track of the strategies they should be employing, but they also need to work on their skills if they want to provide a personalized, authentic experience for their prospects – basically, an experience that leads to a sale.
Let’s recap quickly on the skills that will be most important in 2020:
- The ability to reverse-educate prospects
- The ability to give strategic demos that tap into a prospect’s individual pain points
- The ability to ask questions to determine what exactly a prospect needs
- The ability to read, understand, and interpret data for a more personalized experience
Are you and your team ready for 2020?