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Have the Competencies for Success in Sales Changed Over Time?

May 9, 2013


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When I present at sales effectiveness conferences or on webinars, people often ask me if the competencies for success in sales have changed or evolved over time.  My response is no - the core competencies of what it takes to be successful in sales have remained stable for decades.  

For instance, being driven and focused on achieving goals has always been one of the most important characteristics of successful salespeople.  That's been the case as long as goods and services have been sold.  

Having said that, however, how these competencies manifest themselves and their relative importance has changed.  Two competencies that come to mind are:  Adaptability and Reading People.  Without question, both of these have always been important in sales.  But, over the past decade the workplace has become more heterogeneous and global which makes these two competencies more critical.  

Consider for instance that you are a salesperson and your selling audience or target market consists of predominately people who had similar upbringings and backgrounds as you and who have similar views on the world.  While being able to read people, or understand another person's perspective is not a given and some people are inherently better at it than others, it's certainly easier in a relatively homogenous environment.  Also, the types of behaviors that you are likely to see are somewhat restricted because of shared values, norms, etc. and therefore adapting to novel situations is less important, because the range of differences is less.  

Now, consider that instead of selling mostly to people who are similar to you, your customers have wildly divergent backgrounds, races, gender, religious beliefs, world views, customs, etc. Your ability to "read people" and to adapt become more important, primarily because there is more variability in the environment.  You can no longer assume that someone is thinking a certain way because "most people" think that way.  

In essence, the environment has become more unpredictable.  Those who can adapt to that environment and make sense of subtle cues are more likely to be successful.

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Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. was the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International, which was acquired by PSI. For more than 20 years, he was a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business best-selling book, Hiring Great People.