Selling for a living in the twenty-first century requires coming to terms with a dizzying array of interconnected, hard-to-anticipate changes in the areas of technology, marketplace trends, and client 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 to do make sure you stay up-to-date and relevant in the world of your ideal buyer.
STEP ONE: CREATE A SOLID PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN. Start with setting goals that will help you expand your own skill set. What new skills should you identify as targets for mastery 30, 60, or 90 days from now? What is your overall goal for 12 months from now? You will probably want to focus on developing your skill base when it comes to leveraging information platforms that you can use more effectively to connect with prospects in your targeted industries. For instance, many salespeople we work with haven’t yet bothered to create a repeatable process when it comes to using LinkedIn to generate targeted referrals, or created videos that will set themselves and their company apart from the competition within a specific niche. Rest assured that your competition is making an effort to sharpen their skills in these areas. That means you need to, as well!
STEP TWO: IDENTIFY THE RELEVANT CHALLENGES FACING KEY INDUSTRIES YOU SERVE. This requires identifying the news sources most likely followed by your best customers and ideal prospects in a given industry, and then consistently keeping up with those news sources to stay on top of the hot-button issues they identify. Again, it’s surprising how few salespeople do this. Find out what your top three customers are reading for industry news, and the sources they check multiple times during the work week. Then – read what they read and watch what they watch. It should then be easy to incorporate the “hot-button” issues into your discussions! Also, be particularly curious about the impact of new technologies.
For instance, if you know there is a shift toward increasing reliance on artificial intelligence in a given industry that you serve, your opening questions with prospects and referrals can incorporate that: “A lot of your counterparts in other companies are taking a step back and looking at the impact of AI on their business plan. Is that something on your radar screen?”
STEP THREE: IDENTIFY APPROPRIATE BEST PRACTICES YOU CAN SHARE. A big part of staying relevant in your personal competitive landscape is being aware of best practices in Industry A that can add value to the lives of your customers, prospects, and referrals in Industry B. You can’t, of course, share trade secrets, proprietary processes, or anything else that might run afoul of ethical or legal guidelines, or damage an existing relationship. 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 I’ve learned from my work with successful tech companies is the tactic 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 experience, fit with your organizational culture, or skills. This is a simple best practice that’s easy to understand, easy to follow, and easy to benefit from … in pretty much any industry, so I make a point of sharing it. This is just one example. There are likely dozens you could come up with from your own world that will be relevant to buyers.
The point here is that most of your contacts will have a strong sense of what’s going on in their own companies, and a fairly good idea of what’s going on in the news headlines, but they won’t necessarily have a fix on what’s going on in other companies that could help them to stay ahead of the competition. If you make a point of keeping them in the know about that, they’ll love you.
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.