The Sales world has and will continue to change. The new generation of sales superstars are moving on from fast talking and hard selling to a much more customer-centric model. Business insight, creativity, an understanding of technology and new channels, and most importantly a commitment to helping the customer succeed are forcing out the old model of handling objections, glad handling and gunning for an early close.

As the economy continues to accelerate away from the recession, it’s vital to build the best sales operation possible – one that’s more proactive.

Key differentiators in candidates are qualities such as professional maturity and emotional intelligence. In today’s business environment, salespeople need to be more agile with their approach and thinking. Modern techniques such as understanding social media are important too. At the top level, business acumen and the ability to bring new insights to the table are what will spark interest amongst C-suite decision makers.

So where do you find such people? In the past, salespeople usually fell into their career by chance and their professional sales development was often patchy.

Today, it’s important to employ salespeople with the right attitudes and approach: experience alone – the traditional criterion by which salespeople have been recruited – is not an effective indicator of future sales performance.

A quality assessment tool will help, as will using the right recruitment partner and development process. Nevertheless, a shortage of good candidates remains a problem.

“We never have enough good people, although the situation is definitely improving,” acknowledges Nick Christian of Turnstone Sales. “In the United States for example, sales is perceived as a very good career. Things have changed in the past five years since the recession: candidates who previously might have chosen financial services are now looking at sales.”

A trend that has been established for several years now is for sales operations increasingly to focus on recruiting graduate sales trainees.

The right recruitment methodology needs to be backed by effective skills development and support for new salespeople in the early stages of their career. The old “sink or swim” approach simply no longer makes sense especially when coupled to tired sales training methodologies that won’t cut it anymore. Graduates or graduate-calibre people often tend to have the ability to think creatively when it comes to solving problems, along with the maturity and attitude necessary to succeed.

This view is echoed by a number of recent business graduates. One graduate from the University of Portsmouth reported “I’ve been through quite a lot of sales training and it’s often been a little bit clichéd. At Portsmouth, I was able to consider the science behind the various methodologies.” Academic study is considerably more in-depth and “so much more rewarding than training” and it “also tells you something about yourself.”

Another took part in the World Collegiate Sales Competition – a US competition – and this proved a valuable learning experience. “It was quite intense. There were so many levels and stages you had to go through. Yes, it was particularly challenging!”

The world of sales is, indeed, changing and more challenging, it seems. In short, professionalism is the key to sales performance in the future.

Nick Christian argues that there is a growing gap between “the best and the rest” when it comes to sales organisations. His company now spends a major proportion of its time advising clients how to build high-performing sales teams and helping them to put their strategy into practice by sourcing and developing graduate and graduate-calibre salespeople.

Turnstone recently released a white paper detailing the changing environment as well as 6 Key Principles to help organisations transform and shape their sales talent pipeline. You can download the White Paper here.

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