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Put Down the Crystal Ball for Future Skill Needs

By Michael Katz | September 13, 2022 | 0 Comments

SalesSales Enablement

The sales environment has changed massively over the past several years. The pandemic-imposed shift to virtual selling, increasing customer preference for digital channels, and the proliferation of high-quality information have led both sellers and sales leaders to question the relevance of traditional sales skill sets. 

On the buyer side, gone are the days where customers struggled to find quality information to make purchase decisions. Now, customers struggle to navigate the sheer volume of trustworthy information available. In 2019, 50% of buyers in a Gartner survey reported being overwhelmed by the amount of trustworthy information during a purchase. This number grew to 75% in 2021. 

At the same time, buyers show a strong preference for digital channels, and a growing tendency for using self-service functions. A recent Gartner survey of B2B buyers showed that only 28% of buyers completed a recent significant purchase using the traditional rep-led method compared to 30% that used self-service digital commerce (Gartner subscription required). The other 42% of buyers used rep-assisted digital commerce. Multichannel buying is here to stay and reps now have to facilitate buyers’ journeys through multiple channels.

These dramatic changes have altered how sellers and sales leaders view the skills necessary to succeed in the sales world. In a 2021 survey, 49% of sellers reported that they expect the skills they currently use in their role will become outdated over the next 2-3 years. Meanwhile, recent Gartner research focused on sales job postings and desired skills noted a large shift over the past two years. Sales leaders are now seeking skills related to omnichannel selling and cross-functional collaboration, problem-solving and proactive selling.

Given this environment, sales leaders are wondering: How can we keep up with this ever-changing environment and stay ahead of the curve on skills? 

While it may seem advantageous to try and predict the necessary skills for 2-3 years from now, this predictive approach is likely to fail. On the one hand, the pace and severity of disruption over the past several years (i.e. global pandemic, international conflict, supply chain shocks) has made prediction nearly impossible. While some sales leaders might have accurately assessed that virtual selling skills would grow in importance in the future, few expected that it would happen so rapidly and in response to a global pandemic. And still fewer leaders would have predicted both virtual selling skills and supply chain expertise would be so critical in 2022. And even if one accurately predicts future skill needs, the pace at which those needs change is so rapid that they may be obsolete by the time an organization rolls out a comprehensive training and onboarding curriculum around them. 

Instead, sales leaders must build a dynamic skill system, capable of sensing and rapidly responding to shifting skill needs. To do this, sales leaders should take the following three steps:

  • Build a skills-sensing network among groups across the commercial organization. 
    • As the multichannel buying journey continually blurs the lines between commercial roles, multiple partners across sales, marketing, and customer success must provide information on evolving customer needs and their impact on skills. Meeting periodically with cross-functional partners to evaluate the degree to which current skills align to the buying journey and the revenue process enables sales leaders to identify skill shifts early. A robust skill-sensing network should also focus internally – building a robust snapshot of current skill sets across the sales force, including those skills not currently in use, makes it possible to identify and leverage internal sources of expertise rapidly.
  • Use skill accelerators to develop skills at the time of need
    • Skill accelerator strategies leverage existing resources beyond formal training to allow sellers to learn new skills more quickly on the job. Many sellers bring skills and knowledge from previous work or education that can be used to rapidly address emerging skill gaps. Sales leaders can shift employees into adjacent roles disrupted by shifting skill needs or use those employees to train co-workers in new skills. 
  • Empower sellers to assess and identify their own skill needs
    • Sales leaders should equip sellers with tools to assess their strengths and weaknesses and provide platforms and opportunities for them to address skill gaps proactively. For example, many organizations have skills or coaching marketplaces to connect those in search of coaching to those with the desired skills. Such marketplaces typically involve an employee self-assessment, a skill endorsement system, and a matching function to connect employees according to demand.

 

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