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A new breed of B2B sales: relevant many-taskers

A previous articles “Why B2B sales jobs are getting more complex” ended with a “call for a new breed of structured IT-savvy sales people who combine sales competencies with business development, product marketing and application engineering skills.” To coin a term to describe these all-round sales professionals: many-taskers.

Now, some will argue that all-rounders will lack the depth needed to excel in many or any of these competencies and they are right. Unlikely four many-taskers have the expert level in any of the disciplines that the combination of a sales person, a business development manager, a product manager and an application engineer will have.

However, given the changing (or changed) business environment and limited resources you are not the first to wonder if the company is better off with two sales persons and three functional experts versus four all-round sales persons and one functional expert.

The need to instantly show value

There are markets and industries that still play the game according to the “old rules”. Niches, where technology is a strong differentiator or industries that are not (as) transparent yet. For the others we need to assume though that the customer has collected already every bit of information from every available source, before any sales person is or will be involved. 

Better-informed customers are more sceptical towards sales people and their “sales talk”. Better-informed customers are more demanding. They know what is out there and once the sales person walks in, they want proof that he can deliver on his promises and of course, they want a guarantee of having the best deal. 

At the same time, because of work pressure and an overload in information, these same customers are also faster to dismiss any sales person that was not able to tune in to the actual issue, or who was not able to provide instant relevant answers and solutions.

The shift from rapport to relevance

For a long time companies valued the relationships and rapports that sales people had or had developed over time with their customers. It was a kind of guarantee for success. The new reality however is different. Good rapport does not equal to good business.

Undeniable, a good rapport with an engineer or buyer will still provide a small advantage over competition with respect to timing or quality of information. It is temporary and of little use if not exploited.

More and more customers value relevance, a relation to the matter at hand, rather than rapport, which is a harmonious or sympathetic relationship. This may sound like playing with words but it is a fundamental shift in the relationships between customers and suppliers. 

Good rapport can get you ahead in the queue. It does not guarantee a seat in the front row. The front row is only for those that bring relevance. The challenge for the “new” sales person is to show more relevance in lesser time than competition.

The new sales job requires many-taskers

“Instantly showing relevance", leaves not much time to mobilize others. The only way for a sales person to buy time is to show a minimum level of relevance as fast as possible. Sufficiently to create a situation in which the customer is eager, or at least willing, to continue the discussion. 

Sales people need to do their due diligence, ask relevant questions and truly listen to the customer. If done well, they have acquired the insights that help them to formulate solutions or responses that matter most for the customer using knowledge of the solutions, services, processes, and people in their company.

If the sales person is a many-tasker, he has an advantage over the others. Because of his broader range of competencies – and we assume here a reasonable level, not necessarily expert level – he will not only be able to engage deeper, but also able to create personalized and relevant solutions for his customer in the shortest possible time, possibly even on the spot. Though he is not the expert, he showed relevance and earned with that a seat on the front row.

Every company needs different many-taskers

Technology or products are lesser and lesser a differentiating factor in many industries. Nevertheless, other factors can differentiate one company from another: being green or having a specific inventory management process, a design advantage, a secure manufacturing process or a niche research area: All or any of this can be relevant for the customer. 

To translate that effectively in a relevant solution in the shortest possible time for the customer, the sales person needs to be competent on "green", "inventory management", “application design”, "secure manufacturing".  Trained up to a level that he can talk with confidence on how these differentiators are relevant and help the customer.

This goes deeper and beyond the (semi) annual or quarterly product or company update presentation and it is not the sharing of a deck of slides that only a few in the company can decipher. It is about genuinely building competencies and for every company, possibly for every region or market segment, these competencies are different. 

Yes, there will be sales people out there that have the natural ability to many-task, evolve and develop new competencies as business requires. This is a small group though. All the others... are better to be thoroughly developed.

Just ask customers or have a look at current top performers. Everything being equal, it is the sales person makes the difference.

Jack van Mook
© 2012 EnFeat