3 Sales Trends and 4 Sales Books

The best salespeople across all industries will tell you that successful selling is both. It’s also perhaps the hardest business skill to perfect, which is why the greats never stop learning.

For one thing, the many variables involved in a successful sale demand regular reinforcement of best practices while markets and customer expectations continuously change. For another, our own drive and motivation to sell at the top of our game require constant renewal.

Today, selling is harder than ever because traditional tactics just don’t seem to work. Customers don’t want to do business with a stereotypical salesman. They are well-informed before you even show up, they have tremendous choice and little patience, and they’re dealing with scarce resources. They want a knowledgeable, trusted partner who’s in tune with their needs. The current literature on selling reveals these three trends for top-performing sales professionals:

1. Sales professionals are “challengers.” The “challenger” mindset means continually pushing clients out of their comfort zones with new ideas (see “The Challenger Sale”). This is about creating healthy friction, teaching the client new ways to be successful, tailoring the solution and message, and leading the client through the sales cycle.

2. Salespeople are becoming advisors. Instead of pushing a product on a customer, salespeople are continually working to earn a seat at the table to influence decision-making by becoming a trusted partner invested in the customer’s success (see “A Seat at the Table”). This means earning clients’ trust, showing them you care about meeting their needs (not just making the sale), and showcasing your valuable knowledge. This is how you become a part of their team and get the inside track.

3. Salespeople are becoming invested in the higher purpose of their offering. (See “Selling With Noble Purpose.”) Instead of focusing on a product’s features, salespeople are increasingly focusing on the problems it solves. Think, “We will provide you and your family financial security,” rather than “This insurance policy will only cost $1,000 out-of-pocket and pays back damages within 90 days.”

Selling with a higher purpose requires salespeople to see the world through the prospect’s eyes and understand how to make him or her successful. They are authentic and sell with the intent of “doing good” for the customer. As a result, the sales professionals themselves are more fulfilled and successful while creating meaningful relationships with their clients.

Here are some things I’ve learned recently from books on sales that have been validated in client meetings all over the world:

Here are some things I’ve learned recently from books on sales that have been validated in client meetings all over the world:

1. Selling can be a noble profession. Sales coach Lisa Earle McLeod establishes this in her book, “Selling with Noble Purpose.” The products and services people buy are often vital, but sales reps may forget to talk about the “why” (purpose) and talk too much about the “what” (product features). Think, for example, of medications that make a better life experience possible. Using powerful stories, McLeod shows why salespeople who sell with a noble purpose outperform those who don’t. She believes selling is one of the highest callings you can have, and she shows the power of that belief for getting sales results.

2. Salespeople don’t always match stereotypes. Despite how they’re portrayed in movies and TV shows, salespeople aren’t all charismatic smooth talkers like Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” According to “The Challenger Sale” book, successful salespeople can fall into several categories: hard workers, relationship cultivators, lone wolves, reactive problem solvers, and challengers. Each type of salesperson has his or her unique method. Know what (mix) you are, and work toward the characteristics of a challenger. They can be taught!

3. Always ask more questions. That’s the burden of “Slow Down, Sell Faster!” by sales trainer Kevin Davis. Most sales books focus on techniques, but this step-by-step guide explains why you need to know your customer’s buying process: so you can plan your sales activities accordingly. The more you know about how your prospects make their purchases, the easier it will be to sell to them. To win the sale, Davis writes, always identify the key players — ROI authority, super user, user, power broker, gatekeeper, sponsor, and anti-sponsor — and then decide whom to target.

4. Great salespeople make it R.A.I.N. In “Secrets of Great Rainmakers,” Jeffrey J. Fox suggests building rapport with potential buyers, working to uncover and address their afflictions and aspirations, showing them the financial and emotional impact of buying your product, and portraying the great new realities customers will experience after they buy. This book is short and accessible, but it’s powerful and should be part of any salesperson’s reading list.

Sales, as a profession, has changed dramatically in the last few decades, but it’s still a challenging and rewarding field. These books helped me understand the science of selling and appreciate the beauty of it, and they can help give you an edge, too. Whether you’re a sales novice or a seasoned veteran, there’s always something new and exciting to learn.