Conventional wisdom says that it is easier to sell to an existing customer than to a new prospect. This was confirmed by the 2013 Sales Performance Optimization (CEO Insights) study data.

Successful salespeopleOnly 23.8% of the firms reported challenges in renewing business or generating repeat orders. However, farming new deals from existing customers and penetrating other business units are proving to be challenging for sales teams.

This challenge should raise the red flag for management – what essential sales skills and characteristics do professional salespeople need to grow existing customers that are different than the past? In other words, what are top performers doing these days to be top performers and differentiate themselves? Markets and the environment have changed. The criteria for high performance must be modified. Selection standards and development must evolve to keep pace. The essential competencies required by salespeople are different.

Sales skills such as prospecting, qualifying, and closing were often enough to achieve top sales in the past.  But with a new playing field and new rules of engagement, new skills are needed. The four top competencies delivering maximum impact based on new research by SHL include:

  • Prioritization
  • Teamwork
  • Organizational Awareness
  • Problem Solving

Knowing that prioritization and problem solving are essential competencies requires hiring managers to shift their focus from the technical skills to the ability to assess a situation, adapt, and think.

In addition, the days when sales reps could rely on an internal champion to make a deal happen are a thing of the past. On average, professional salespeople engage 4.5 decision makers to get to yes. This creates challenges as they attempt to move an opportunity through the sales funnel. Reps are required to tailor presentations and proposals to multiple stakeholders, each with multiple agendas.

CEO Insights also reported that nearly two-thirds of companies plan to expand the size of their sales teams this year to ramp up revenues.  A word to the wise – it’s time to reassess the criteria upon which hiring decisions for salespeople are made. Essential sales skills like teamwork, problem solving, and organizational awareness were likely not even on the sales manager’s radar. Now they are top priority.