It’s no secret that for years most distributors have neglected core sales skills training for their sellers.

There are several reasons for this benign neglect of sales skills investment. First, historically, industrial B2B buyers didn’t necessarily need a highly skilled seller. Their purchases were largely needs-driven — not discretionary — and so the core need was product or technical expertise and order fulfillment. For this reason, virtually all systematic sales training in distribution was focused on products and applications (not selling skills or competencies).

Today, however, the internet, e-commerce, and online resources and communities have enabled a clear shift in buyer behaviors. Most buyers can readily find the information they need and order online, without engaging a seller until late in the buying process. Fundamentally, buyers don’t want to talk to sellers about product or application information unless the purchase is new, complex or risky.

Buyers Want Value from Sellers

When buyers engage with sellers today, it’s late in the buying process and their expectations have shifted. Buyers want to talk about value beyond what is in the box: process improvement, financial or business impact, strategic value. These are very different conversations from what sellers were trained to perform. In simple terms, different buyer conversations will require different sales competencies. Which means there is likely a competency gap between where sellers are today and where they need to be to serve the modern buyer.

Since not all distributors will promptly identify or implement this necessary skills migration, those that do will achieve a distinctive advantage in buyer experience and a differentiated competitive advantage. They also will find it more feasible to attract a new generation of sales talent, one which places high importance on investment in their careers and professionalism. And, they will reap the benefits of higher productivity, new-customer acquisition, share-of-wallet, customer retention, and profitability.

So, how can distributor sales teams upskill their sellers to effectively serve the modern buyer? A data-driven approach is required that clearly links seller competencies to the buyer personas they serve, and to the sales processes that help buyers remove friction from their buying processes.

Invest in Sales Enablement

Step 1: Identify the key buyer personas that sales will serve.

These could be purchasing or sourcing managers, contractors, industrial facilities managers, OEM product managers, process engineering managers, etc., with variability across vertical markets and organizational layers. In many markets, it’s important to understand the increasingly committee-driven buying process, which requires understanding not only the individual buyer personas but also the complex dynamics among them.

Step 2: Map the buying process for each persona (and/or for committees).

This critical step, which requires buyer research, ensures that sellers are supporting (and not subverting) the buyers they are dedicated to serving. This step is all about aligning with the maxim that sellers sell more only when buyers buy more. Building the sales process to align with and remove friction from the buying process is the key to success.

Step 3: Determine the sales roles that will support the sales process.

Today, those roles have diversified away from traditional outside/inside models to a more specialized ecosystem of sales campaign managers, business development reps, account managers, outbound-calling inside sales reps, technical specialists and customer service reps. This new organization structure unlocks significantly higher customer satisfaction, sales productivity and efficiency, and resulting revenue growth.

Step 4: Identify the sales competencies in each role.

Once the key roles are in place, identify the competencies that, when learned, retained, coached, mastered and applied in daily workflow, do the following:

  • Will serve the modern buyer
  • Add distinctive value in every customer interaction
  • Remove friction from the buying process.

Once we have a clear map of the sales competencies required for each sales role, we can finally laser in on the sales skills training that will serve the modern buyer personas and processes. Although these competencies will vary from one vertical to another, they broadly involve core human-to-human (H2H) sales skills:

  • Consultative, buyer-centric selling
  • Customer business acumen
  • Relationship management
  • Negotiation
  • Emotional intelligence.

Serve the Modern Buyer with a Modern Sales Force

To migrate sellers up the sales value pyramid, it’s important to measure the existing sales team and screen new hires for the Sales DNA and sales competencies needed for success. Diagnose first, then prescribe.

The approach we have discussed in this post is built to predictably produce the modern sales force that will serve the modern buyer and add distinctive value in a dynamic economy. Market leaders will need to take a fresh look at how they invest to align their valuable and costly sales resources with the buyers of today and the markets of the future. Learn more about our sales solutions and please reach out if you’d like to set a brief call to explore with us.