One of the greatest challenges facing executives is how to modify the way they engage their current and future clients; especially within industries attempting to reinvent themselves.  Mature verticals that are experiencing significant upheaval in their revenue and profit generation strategies must continue to hold on to the old while trying to reconfigure the new. Compounding this challenge is the traditional view of how businesses progress through well-defined stages.  In his recent article, Managing the Life Cycle of the Business in What They Think, Wayne Lynn described the third phase in building a successful business as follows: “Create a different business for a different future.”

If you are struggling with defining new markets, new products and services you will undoubtedly be faced with creating a talented and effective sales team; a sales team that will definitely look different than your current sales team. In the past you most likely recruited and hired sales people that had a “book of business” with the expectation that the bulk of their business would move with them. So how has that worked for you? Survey after survey of printing company executives have indicated that while it might have worked in the past to a degree, those days are over.

“If you are struggling with defining new markets, new products and services you will undoubtedly be faced with creating a talented and effective sales team

In earlier days it was important that sales people had a high degree of printing process knowledge and while that might differentiate them for a while, print has become much more of a commodity and the selling process basically transactional. In today’s business environment it has become far more important to become a valued strategic resource to their clients. The sales professional must have a solid understanding of business, be a competent negotiator, enjoy working as part of a team and be a life-long learner. They must possess formidable interpersonal skills. In fact, every job description you review requires that “they must possess great interpersonal skills” but what does that really mean?

A simple definition of interpersonal skills includes “the life skills we use every day to communicate and interact with other people, individually and in groups.” So why is that so important? As I continue to survey senior executives at conferences as well as while working with clients engaged in transforming their businesses, it has become increasingly clear that the role of the next generation sales professional requires the ability to engage their prospects and clients in meaningful dialogue. And that means they must possess the ability to ask thoughtful questions and be an active, empathetic listener. In all my years of recruiting, hiring and above all training sales professionals, this competency is not typically exhibited by sales people. They may think they are good communicators but we all know that's not the case and very little, if anything is done to correct this lack of competence.

As a behavioral competency, interpersonal skill consists of numerous traits that we should be looking for. These traits include but are not limited to:

  • Frankness and Diplomacy
  • Outgoing
  • Assertive and Helpful
  • Influencing
  • Collaborative
  • Optimism About the Future
  • Self-Acceptance and Desire for Self-Improvement
  • Warmth and Empathy
  • Certainty and Open-Reflective
  • Tolerance of Bluntness
  • Flexible and Organized

The ability to engage in thoughtful discussions is not a new competence but one that was not focused on when selling was defined as primarily being product focused. This meant the sales representative’s job was to present and promote his product and service. Now we must become more client focused, meeting with multiple levels within a client’s business and attempting to engage them to learn about their current state of affairs and the inhibiting challenges they face to achieve their desired expectations.  Our approach requires the ability to study their industry’s challenges and business metrics, the comfort to ask thoughtful questions, listen very carefully and challenge the status quo. This approach can certainly re-position an accomplished sales professional as a strategic partner to their clients. No doubt a tall order!

This method of engagement is certainly not new, in fact the Greek philosopher Socrates (469 BC – 399 BC) was famous for his approach to inquiry and debate between people with differing viewpoints. His approach was based on asking and answering questions to encourage critical thinking. Applying the Socratic approach to the selling process enables:

  • Conversations or discussions to assist in finding new answers
  • Seeking wisdom by working towards better understanding
  • The use of questioning and active listening leading to dialogue and greater rapport
  • A change in perspective and the ability to influence decisions

Enabling a sales professional to engage clients this way requires that we assess candidates or existing sales people for the behavioral traits that are essential while creating a coaching strategy to develop the necessary competencies that may be lacking. The skills we must evaluate include their ability to ask questions that foster dialogue and to actively listen. Both of these competencies are easily taught and coached, however, they require the right attitude. During interviews or sales meetings these skills can be assessed and practiced. I strongly recommend that role plays be conducted during interviews with prospective candidates so that you can test their competency. You should also use role playing with your current sales team so that you can determine how coachable they are. 

Transforming your business’ model, structure and focus is incredibly challenging but you will undoubtedly have to transform the structure and focus of the approaches you integrate to expand your revenue and profitability; and that includes the role of the new generation sales professional. That begins by defining the job and your requirements, skills and abilities (eligibility) and the behavioral competencies they must possess (suitability).

If you would like to begin this internal assessment process you can use the FREE - Peak Focus Listening Skills Assessment  with all of your employees and even use it with candidates during their interviews. And if you would like more information about how to assess your current sales team as well as candidates for your next generation sales professionals, please contact Jerry Scher at [email protected] or call at 404-931-9291. You can also learn more about our assessment technology at

Stay tuned to this continued series to assist you in building your next generation sales team.

Jerry Scher has been engaged in the graphic communication industry for over 35 years. Jerry’s primary goal – make those around him more successful.