Three ways sales professionals can stay relevant

Selling for a living in the 21st century requires dealing with hard-to-anticipate changes in the areas of technology, marketplace trends and client and customer agendas. Falling behind in any one of these areas means losing relevance and, with it, your competitive edge. Here are three simple things you can do to make sure you stay up-to-date and relevant in the world of your ideal buyer.

• Create a solid personal development plan. Start with setting goals that will help you expand your own skill set. What new skills should you target for mastery 30, 60 or 90 days from now? What is your overall goal for 12 months from now? You may want to focus on developing your skill set when it comes to leveraging information platforms that you can use more effectively to connect with customers and prospects. For instance, many salespeople haven’t yet bothered to create a repeatable process for using LinkedIn to generate targeted referrals or, perhaps, yet created videos that will set themselves and their company apart. Rest assured that your competition is making an effort to sharpen their skills in these areas. That means you should too.

• Identify issues and challenges facing key industries you serve. This requires identifying the news sources most likely followed by your best customers, and ideal prospects, and keeping up with those news sources to stay on top of the hot-button issues they identify. Find out what your top three customers are reading for industry news, then read what they read, and watch what they watch. It should then be easy to incorporate those “hot button” issues into your conversations. For example, if you know there is a shift toward increasing reliance on artificial intelligence in an industry that you serve, you might ask a prospect or referral source: “A lot of your counterparts in other companies are looking at the impact of AI on their business plan. Is that something on your radar screen?”

Identify appropriate best practices you can share. A big part of staying relevant in your competitive space is being aware of best practices that can add value to the lives of your customers, prospects and referrals. You can’t, of course, share trade secrets, proprietary processes or anything else that might damage an existing relationship or be construed as unethical or illegal. But you can share good ideas that aren’t confidential, or industry-specific, with contacts who are likely to benefit from them.

For example: One of the recruiting secrets we’ve learned is the practice of securing multiple, in-depth, voice-to-voice discussions with past employers before finalizing a sales hire. In other words, don’t base a critical decision to hire a salesperson (or anyone else, for that matter) on a single hastily written “reference” that may not accurately reflect the candidate’s skills or experience. This is a simple best practice that’s easy to understand, easy to follow and easy to benefit from in any industry. There are likely dozens of other examples you could come up with, from your own world, that will be relevant to buyers.

Most of your contacts will have a strong sense of what’s going on in their own companies, but they won’t necessarily have a fix on what’s going on in other companies that could help them stay ahead of the competition. They’ll appreciate your keeping them in the know.

By following these three simple steps you can keep your skill set up to date, stay on top of the big issues facing your most important buyers and instantly add value to those lucky enough to have you in their orbit. In short you can boost your relevance, and your earning power, and stay a step ahead of the competition.

Jim Marshall is owner and president of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or

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