What is the future? Five minutes, five weeks, five months or five years from now? Ready or not, it’s coming to you.
Consider that “ready” means believing in your ability to craft a future that positions you as your customers’ No. 1 resource. Believe it to see it, then be it!
Many rep associations have crafted surveys, interviews, reports and whitepapers serving as the baseline asking, “What is the rep of the future?” Unfortunately, many of the published suggestions, as valid as they are, are a continual remix and re-blending of once tried and true, but now questioned, tactics.
As a “Rep of the Future,” are you agile enough to shift focus and create a versatile value-driven role as a specialized solution provider? This is not a complete reconstruction or reinvention of yourself or your firm. You already use solution positioning and selling with some manufacturers, with some partners, with some customers. Now is the time to take it up a level.
Tackling your Biggest Challenges
• Digital sales and business capabilities. This includes a fully responsive website, your digital footprint allowing customers to see who you are and how you are responding to market needs.
Invest and use mobile-ready technology sales tools, such as customer relationship management, marketing, online line cards, competitive information and analysis, territory information, whitepapers and case studies.
Use these tools to engage in an active conversation stream with current customers, prospects and referrals.
• Specialization: technology, product and application. Your customers are changing daily. You can’t afford to stay put!
Represent products and services that customers will need first and fast when they are in trouble. Be easy to contact when they are knee-deep in a crisis. Move beyond phone and email. Be known for your dependable crisis management.
• Multigenerational issues. Hire right and develop deliberately. By now, you have read all kinds of articles and listened to a constant barrage about the difficulties of attracting, hiring and keeping Millennials. Are you deliberately doing the following?
1. Sell well, leave well. Have your departing experts mentor younger employees. Grab and transfer the intellectual property your retirees spent years accruing.
2. SWOT your sales teams. Young salespeople and experienced salespeople call on your buyers. You know what happens when experienced sales call on experienced buyers and you know the challenge of young sales calling on those same buyers. Show your entire sales team what to do when they are in unfamiliar multigenerational situations.
3. Maximize information. Capitalize on the technical focus, bottom-line profitability knowledge, communication expertise and goal-oriented vision in your sales team.
4. Develop deliberately. Provide opportunities for your team to acquire the skills they need.
Don’t forget about channel consolidation or highlighting the market value of reps — these will continue to be issues we face in the future.
Selling in the Future
• New game, new rules. Do you prefer chess or poker? Are you a strategist, anticipating two or three moves ahead of where you are now or do you play your cards close to the vest? Regardless of how you choose to play in the future, the only way you can fully control your business is by “owning” the rules. Differentiate yourself — identify how you bring the greatest value to your customers, then prove it with every interaction.
• Technology above relationships. None of us want to believe that key relationships will take a back seat to technology, losing value in the future. Whatever side of the fence you stand on, know that everyone has become instant information addicts.
Collect, sort, quantify, measure and analyze information. Use that analysis to bring value to your customer. Give them trends, insight into what is in the R&D pipeline and competitive info.
Use new and valuable resources to continually up your game. My suggestion is to read “Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success” by Shane Snow.
• Specialized system/solution sellers. Stronger reps get stronger. Smaller reps are vulnerable. Market research confirms the specialized system/solution sellers are the only ones who will consistently thrive.
Specialized reps do more than promote application opportunities for their synergistic products. Use every available tool to create new demand and make it easy for your customer to implement it. Provide analysis and measurement to support new solutions.
Move beyond your current buyers. Find the engineer, contractor, owner or end-user to frame the opportunity, provide the specifications and open the platform for your specialty — your ability to provide and deliver.
On your website, mobile app and other digital solutions, provide more than what your customer can find on any general or industry search engine.
Unless you have a crystal ball, becoming a successful Rep of the Future requires hard work, deliberate action, strategy and dedication to your profession. Regardless of what you see as your biggest challenge or how you define your key differentiators, there is no question that the Rep of the Future will respond to the market as a specialized solution provider. Believe it to see it — then be it.