Sales organizations in a number of industries are experiencing unprecedented levels of change. Markets have become more global and the degree of connectedness across different economic areas is increasing dramatically. Technologies are facilitating new ways of working and opening up new ways of co-creating customer value. These and other trends are gradually accelerating the evolution of the role of the sales professional from one characterized by a predictable and structured set of activities to a more complex and dynamic role.

What are the aspects of selling roles that will not change?

Establishing trust
Trust is an important element of relationship quality. In addition, trust in business relationships facilitate information sharing which is needed to accurately identify customer needs and increase the opportunities to add value.

Increasing customer satisfaction through gained legitimacy
Sophisticated customers will seek to engage in relationships with experienced sellers. Customer satisfaction will be associated to the extent to which a seller is perceived to be knowledgeable and expert in his/her company’s products and services and the customer business.

In-depth customer understanding for sales effectiveness
Time has always been a valuable (and scarce resource) for field sales forces. Therefore, sales reps who are able to distinguish valuable customers from transactional ones and who are able to invest resources accordingly, tend to be more effective. In-depth understanding of the customer will continue to enable sales professional to make informed decisions about where and when to invest time and relationship efforts. Nurturing the right prospects and the right sales opportunities will pay off and help increase sales performance.

The emerging new dimensions in the role of sales professionals

Value-effective interactions
Buyers, like sales professionals are busy people and seek to get a return on the time investments they make in meeting with sellers. Before the internet era, in industrial markets, buyers used suppliers as a source of information and insight. Much of this knowledge is nowadays freely available. Therefore, the sales professional will have to provide tangible value in her/his interactions with buyers to avoid ‘exchange inefficiency’, in other words, the buyers’ perception of wasted time in excessive interaction with suppliers.

Identifying loosely defined customer needs
The sales literature is conclusive in the importance of identifying customer needs in the sales process. Traditionally, customers would articulate their requirements if a well-structured questioning approach was employed by the seller. However, in today’s complex organizations, needs and requirement are rarely explicit but often loosely defined and unrecognized. Sellers will need to develop abilities to understand processes of human perception, customer’s underlying motivations, and the subtle barriers to the fulfillment of the customer business’ mission. This will be clues to identify customer needs.

Addressing new opportunities for value co-creation
Our appreciation of what customer value is has increased significantly over the last decade. Value is individual and therefore, one needs to understand a wider range of individuals in the customer organization, not just the decision makers but also the users. Sellers need to be aware that value is co-created through usage processes (i.e. does not reside in the product), which suggest the need to engage in understanding how the customer utilizes your product/service to know how value is created. Sellers need to be prepared to react to customer’s changing evaluation of value. The criteria used to assess value delivered are dynamic and multi-dimensional; sellers need to understand the dimensions their customer use in evaluating sellers’ value adding activities.

Ways of ensuring value appropriation
Given the complex nature of business needs, suppliers engage in discussions with customers, often resulting in proposals that contain valuable design solutions and suggestions. Value for the customer is being created before the purchasing commitment. Sellers, if willing to maintain sustainable business will need to create mechanisms to capture value for them, either financially or non-financially. Sellers will need to anticipate when the customer might engage with world-class suppliers to design a solution and then buy the solution from a low-cost vendor.

Part 2 of the THE EMERGING ROLE OF SALES PROFESSIONALS will address issues of buying teams, the role of knowledge in business relationships and selling across cultures.