SALES CLINIC: The changing face of sales

In 1996 Siebel MultiChannel Services began interviewing companies representing a variety of industries, including biotechnology, chemicals and plastics, computer software, consumer products, electronics, financial services and insurance.

A recent study compared customers' perceptions of the importance of the emerging sales competencies as opposed to traditional sales competencies with those of salespeople and sales managers. It also looked into the effectiveness and frequency with which such competencies are actually delivered.

· Emerging competencies were identified as:

· Aligning customer/supplier strategic objectives by identifying new opportunities and applications.

· Listening beyond product needs by seeing business process improvement potentials.

· Understanding the financial impact of decisions on both the customer's and the salesperson's organisations.

· Consultative problem solving to create new solutions.

· Establishing a vision of a committed customer/supplier relationship.

· Engaging in self-appraisal and continuous learning.

Traditional competencies identified were:

· Building and executing strategic account penetration plans.

· Cultivating basic selling skills.

For every organisation represented in this study, customers have viewed the emerging competencies as "very important" to "absolutely essential", but have reported them as being used less frequently than traditional competencies.

In essence, the traditional competencies have become the "entry ticket" required for a relationship while the emerging competencies are differentiating. Not surprisingly, customers recommend greater use of the emerging competencies to a far greater extent than they do the traditional competencies.

Perhaps the most compelling finding of the study to date is the remarkable correlation of the use of the emerging competencies with salesperson effectiveness.

Customers, managers and sales colleagues were instructed to rate the overall effectiveness of these salespeople relative to all others whom they have ever observed. Those rated as more effective (the upper half of the sales population) were reported as using the emerging competencies to a far greater extent than those in the lower half. The emerging competencies are, therefore, a profoundly important differentiator of the more effective salespeople.

After two years of development, we created a sales practices questionnaire aimed at enabling organisations to quantify sales performance.

The questionnaire is used to compare performance data from high-performing sales organisations. Normative data on hundreds of salespeople can be used to identify sales competency gaps so that training can be targeted.

This study's findings confirm the importance of the emerging competencies as well as the growing disparity between current practice and training efforts, and what is actually needed for success.

These early findings do not diminish the importance of traditional competencies. Customers still value them and they are still relevant to acquiring and growing business.

Failure to sufficiently embrace the emerging competencies provides an opportunity for other sales companies to gain a significant competitive advantage.

Carol Johnson is managing partner of Ontarget Australia and New Zealand. Reach her at