What Makes A Great Salesperson In The Automated Age?
More than a few of you cheered when I pointed out last February that automated media bidding and buying would not eliminate the need for salespeople any more than the advent of computer traded financial products eliminated the need for stock brokers.
But did you think about the implications for sales management and sales skills in a world where the advertiser doesn't have to call you to get a price quote? Are the skills salespeople need or sales management should hire for, or develop in their sales team, different than they used to be? It is easy to say salespeople need to "add value" in the process, but what does that mean? And what skills does it take in the sales process for the buyer to perceive, and to receive, this added value?
I can't count the number of conferences I went to this past year where buy-side panelists said some version of "we want partners who know our business." What are the skills or characteristics we can seek or teach to salespeople that make them good "partners" in the media decision-making process? And is it only a "media" decision these days, or are "partners" invited to suggest new ways to execute creative through crowd-sourced and media-specific creative that may be developed outside the traditional agency scenario?
In the new media sales environment what skills should salespeople be concentrating on? And what training or resources for sales should management be investing in?
Recently Jason Krebs wrote here about how he looks for sales talent over experience because it is "more difficult to accumulate meaningful experience" in an industry that changes so fast, adding that he likes to hire "great businesspeople with the relevant industry expertise." OK, fine. But what is it that makes some salespeople great? Krebs mentions the ability to enjoy a job where you "rarely get a phone call or email returned, and you barely receive feedback when you don't make the plan." So a certain amount of TOUGHNESS and self-confidence to keep working despite rejection might be a key factor.
Inc. magazine says that one key attribute of successful salespeoplle is that they are "happy losers": executives who can remain upbeat like baseball players in the face of swinging and missing over and over. Happy losers see rejection as the start of the process, not the end. And they celebrate their victories since they represent overcoming the odds, or the resistance.
Jay Lauf, publisher of The Atlantic, a recent online success story, wrote that he has hired many women because he has seen more "caring" from women he's interviewed. He believes caring about clients is a key attribute in a relationship-driven business. But does caring really matter if salespeople can't translate their empathy into a sale? And what other skill or motivation does that take?
Others would say that in a world where salespeople are told the parameters of what to propose through a Request-For-Proposal, the key sales attribute is creativity: the ability to package and repackage essentially the same thing or few media elements differently, in appealing new ways. Is it all about repackaging a more or less standard group of alternatives into an original sounding solution when answering an RFP? Can media be successful simply striving for a high RFP flow with a low success rate?
But what if the RFP is written to favor a competitor, or a completely different media category? Isn't the salesperson's job to try to influence the parameters of the RFP before it is finalized?
And where does creativity spring from?
Some would say that valuable creativity springs from insight: original thinking that contributes to understanding. Can media salespeople bring insight to clients and agencies through their knowledge of their markets and the potential customers in their markets that will add value to the sales process? Can sales reps learn enough about how to use research, or even create simple research, to help buyers view the market in a new (and more favorable?) way that adds value to the client and increases sales?
Persistence? Caring? Creativity? Insight? What is most important? Or is it something else? What about old-fashioned sales skills like cold-calling, engaging, persuading, relationship building and closing? Tell us what you think is most important on the comments board!