In our book, "The Collaborative Sale"1, my colleague Keith Eades and I explored how buyers’ expectations of salespeople have changed over the last few years. Our research shows that buyers have more access to information than ever before. As a result, they feel fully empowered to control their buying process, with significantly less interaction with salespeople, especially in the early stages of a purchase evaluation.

Buyers want to interact only with sellers who understand their business, challenges and opportunities. They no longer have time for generalists. They want to work with expert specialists who can offer additional insight, beyond what the buyer has already discovered in their research, and who can help to solve buyers’ specific problems and create unique value.

Buyers quickly dismiss sellers who fail to meet their rising expectations. Increasingly, buyers now lose patience rapidly with ‘relationship sellers’ who focus first on building rapport and interpersonal bonds, and then try to leverage that goodwill into a sale. Buyers tell us that salespeople using this old-fashioned approach generate little credibility. Such sellers are out of step with today’s fully empowered buyer.

Research conducted by McKinsey2 explains why this is so – it shows that the buyer journey has changed in a fundamental way. Emotional bonds with a solution provider come after a buyer recognizes value, not before. ‘Likeability’ is a good quality to possess as a salesperson, but it is not a guarantee of sales success – or even a requirement. The old adage, ‘People buy from people they like’, is no longer always true. Today, it is far more productive for sellers to be seen as highly credible experts than to be liked.

How to build credibility

This fundamental change has profound significance for sales professionals. In order to build high levels of credibility with modern buyers, and thereby sell more effectively, sellers need to invest in four key disciplines:

  1. developing a personal brand;
  2. demonstrating situational fluency;
  3. communicating collaboratively;
  4. enabling customers to achieve consensus.

Almost all salespeople tell us that selling is harder today than it was just a couple years ago. When we look at sellers’ behavior, however, we often find that the challenges they are encountering are not a result of buyers becoming more difficult, but of their lack of adaptation to current buyer preferences. Selling to the modern buyer requires a new set of competencies. The good news is that the disciplines needed to align with today’s buyers can be learned and mastered by any dedicated professional.


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