Tomorrow's sales managers will be able to do more, much more
Nothing is as constant as change. There is arguably no field where this famous saying by Greek philosopher Heraclitus is truer than in modern sales. Products and services have to be adapted to the needs of those who use them, and these needs are evolving ever more rapidly. Buying behaviors are constantly changing—and this applies to B2B as much as it applies to B2C. So, what will tomorrow's sales managers have to bring to the job in order to be able to achieve long-term success against this complex backdrop?
In the following article, Prof. Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, analyzes the 4 key sales skills that will make managers fit for the future.
1. Not just up to date but one step ahead
Being talented helps. So does “having a way with people”. This will not change in the future. However, it is often overlooked that apart from possessing sales talent, professionals in this field need to master a wide variety of indispensable hard skills, such as a repertoire of methods and tools, e.g. for key account management or strategic sales management purposes.
“It is only thanks to this methodological know-how that sales managers can communicate the benefits and value of products and services in such a way as to create win-win situations for their businesses and their clients in challenging times. They have to be able to think in terms of alternatives and develop innovative strategies, always assessing their financial implications,” explains Prof. Barbara Stöttinger, and adds: “Constantly updating your knowledge by attending specialist events, (online) seminars or an MBA program is a sine qua non these days. Tomorrow's sales managers will need to be not just up to date but one step ahead.”
2. Experts, partners, consultants — putting collective success before individual success
The role of sales managers has fundamentally changed. No longer are they just sales experts primarily interested in closing their next deal and reaching annual sales targets. Their clients, whom they treat as equal partners, and their clients' benefit and individual requirements are the focus of the sales managers' attention. However, sales managers will be unable to know exactly what their clients need unless—apart from understanding their own structures, products and services—they intimately know their clients' business and bring extensive subject-matter and industry expertise to the table.
Prof. Stöttinger: “Sales managers who are expert partners and consultants—this approach has enormous future potential. Think, for instance, of businesses that join forces with their clients and organize what is known as ‘design thinking workshops’. The purpose of these co-creation sessions is to engage in an in-depth dialogue with a view to jointly forging the strategic way ahead and using the outcome as a basis for specifying the targets to be reached. There are even sales managers so committed to always finding the best possible solutions for their clients that this is what they do even if it means their own products or services will not be in the forefront. This approach is authentic, helps build trust and enables sales managers to demonstrate that they are unbiased expert partners their clients can rely on in the future.”
3. Networking 4.0 — sharing knowledge and building trust
Tomorrow's sales managers will be not only experts but also invaluable information hubs: Willing to pass on their knowledge, provide tips and share their personal experience with others, they will be ports of call for their clients and partners as well as for their in-house colleagues, offering them guidance and support, even if doing so will not result in making a sale. The advantages of this approach will be manifold: It will allow sales managers to make a reputation for themselves, both in house and outside their companies, as supportive expert partners, meaning they will have the trust of their clients and colleagues. Moreover, it will be easier for them to gain access to information from other departments and even industries, which may prove extremely helpful in the context of their own sales activities. On top of all that, tomorrow's sales managers will not regard other sales managers as their competitors but will, on the contrary, be interested in regularly comparing notes with them.
“The knowledge and skills that sales managers acquire as a result of pursuing this approach will allow them to gain a much better understanding of what makes the industry tick, what the latest trends are and what they can do to be even more of an asset to their clients when it comes to supporting them in reaching their goals,” explains Prof. Stöttinger.
4. Flexible multitaskers — sales professionals turned all-around experts
For sales professionals, too, it is becoming increasingly important to be flexible and versatile. The days when they would have a profound knowledge of just one area are definitely over. Tomorrow's sales managers will look at the big picture as a matter of course. Their understanding of marketing and product development will be as good as their knowledge of logistics and administrative affairs. They will first and foremost be committed to creating value for their clients—and the better they understand their own companies, their clients' companies and the market environments they operate in, the more their clients will benefit at the end of the day.
“Understanding what makes others tick, what strategies your clients and your colleagues pursue and that, ultimately, they strive for the same goals as you, helps you develop additional knowledge and enhance your efficiency. Let us not forget that the central question you need to address in sales is this: Do you want to satisfy your clients, or do you want to thrill them?” concludes Prof. Stöttinger.