Hire for sales attitude and aptitude – not technical knowledge?  Are we witnessing the commencement of the turnaround?

When I started my career in sales in the good old days of the mid 80’s, the world for B2B sales organisations and professionals was so, so different to now.  We would not have believed it possible back then, but it was so much easier in those good old days.    The two worlds differential can be simplified and summarised …

Product/service differentiation was greater back then

  • Competition lower and less global
  • Perceived commoditisation lower
  • Markets tended to be more fragmented, less consolidated and centralised in terms of supplier choice decision making
  • Market disruption less threatening
  • Internet and e-commerce power less ubiquitous
  • Digital communication less ubiquitous
  • Outsourcing options more scarce and less global
  • Migration from external to internal sales trend less well developed

All of this has led to the B2B sales teams suffering progressively and insidiously reduced productivity, increased costs to mobilise…and worst of all, lower relevance – both to customers and their employing companies.  Notions of the trusted advisor and the Challenger Sale seem to ring louder and truer for these sorts of sales teams to survive and return to relevance.  But how does the archetypal B2B sales team transform its customer relationship platform to that of the trusted advisor and/or challenger sale?  At a superficial level, this requires a refocus away from customer conversations heavily weighted toward sales of the company’s widgets and wares toward applying technical advisory to assist the customer key personnel in how they should do business better / perform their function better.  And how they can be helped.

More deeply, this shift is likely to require a rethink on the conventional wisdom that stood us in good stead through the period of the good old days … that being to hire for sales attitude and aptitude, rather than technical expertise in terms application re the product/service on offer.  The logic was that you can teach technical expertise, but you can’t teach sales attitude. Now the technical difference between many competitive products has diminished to commoditisation point.  I believe that as products and services become more commoditised, the ability for a sales team to add value and restore relevance will be in hiring for technical and business consultancy and advisory attitude and aptitude, rather than sales expertise.