3 Attributes of Smarter Selling

Brian Williams, PhD

In the 1980s Oldsmobile ran a series of pretty cheesy, but memorable ads with the tag line, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile”. Despite the fact that, your father’s Olds, probably looked way cooler than the models from 1980s, the ads were actually pretty effective in reminding us that times change. 

 Sales is getting smarter

Sales is one area where things have really changed from what your father may have known. The fact is that the old stereotype of a pushy, insensitive, and frankly not very smart salesperson are completely outdated. To be successful today, reps need to have a very different mindset and a different set of skills than the sales people from the past.

So let’s talk more about what this profile of a new sales professional looks like. What characteristics do these reps need to succeed today? Research with thousands of buyers has reinforced the importance of smarter selling. No more blindly following a script. Today, information is everywhere and naturally, buyers are more informed. In fact, 60% of prospects have already researched your product, your company and your competition before they even talk to you. In your father’s generation, sales people may have gotten by just being robotic, walking talking brochures. But that approach obviously doesn’t work today. 

Smarter selling and business acumen

As table stakes, you need strong business acumen and an ability to adapt. Things never play out exactly as you planned them. You have to pay attention to what the prospect is really saying in your customer conversations. You have to be ready to pivot and shift your questioning in new directions. This is clearly a thinking person’s game. Great sales people have the ability to think through a customer’s problem. They are great at uncovering patterns in the information that they collect. And they are always thinking about new ways to add value. You want every customer to walk away from a discussion with you believing that they have learned something new and useful. In this way, you are considered more of a business advisor than a walking brochure. 

One recent study found that prospects believe that only 1 in 8 meetings with a sales person is actually valuable. In other words, in 7 out of 8 meetings the prospects are walking away thinking that the reps are just wasting their time.

Smarter selling and emotional intelligence

Beyond traditional intelligence, sales people also need emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes things like emotional awareness — your ability to accurately identify your own emotions and the emotions of others. This includes being good at reading other people’s non-verbal clues such as body language or facial expressions. This is also the key to authentically connecting with others in building rapport.

Second, you need to be good at managing emotions. This includes maintaining control over your emotions and responding appropriately to the emotions of others. Let’s face it, you are going to hear “No” a lot in sales, but you can’t take it personally. You have to keep your emotions in check.

 Third, you need to be good at reasoning with emotions. This is all about harnessing your emotions and then applying them to tasks like thinking and problem solving. Emotions can help us pay attention to certain things and direct our thinking in certain ways.

Smarter selling and curiosity

Okay, so maybe that makes sense. What else does a sales professional need to be successful today? Well, a really important attribute is curiosity. You need to be motivated by learning new things and solving problems. You need to be a master of information gathering and always energized about new ideas and information. And you need to be genuinely excited about sharing them with others.

Traditional intelligence and skills can be improved by training and by practicing. Improving your emotional intelligence and your curiosity requires real focus. But with the right investment, they can also be improved. So recognize where you stand in these areas and make a plan to get better.

The world of sales is clearly changing and smarter selling will be critical. Continuous improvement is essential. Commit to improving all of your capabilities: mental, emotional and, perhaps most of all, your curiosity.

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.