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The radical transformation of business commerce in recent years has driven major changes in the selling landscape—requiring salespeople to adapt rapidly as well. Yet with the ground continually shifting under your feet, figuring out how to survive and thrive in the brave new world of business commerce can be tough.


So what are the main trends impacting sellers? And what tactics work best to navigate your way through them? At Ariba LIVE 2011, Rick Page, best-selling author and CEO of sales consulting and training company The Complex Sale, offered answers to these questions based on his work with hundreds of corporations. Below are highlights from his talk, including insider tips you can use to succeed in today’s volatile economy. To read the full story, please register for Supply Lines --our quarterly eNewsletter, at


Top Six Trends Affecting the World of Selling

For many years, little change occurred in professional sales; the focus was on price, product, and personality. The 1970s began a new era, however, with the onset of scientific studies on sales approaches exemplified by books like Neil Rackham’s Spin Selling—dramatically altering sellers’ jobs and evoking major changes in the way they dealt with buyers. Since then, the field has continued to transform, with a constant stream of new theories, tactics, and technology driving major efficiency increases and changing the face of what it means to sell. The biggest shifts driving today’s “new normal” business commerce environment include the following:


  1. Sales focus has shifted from product to solutions to strategic. While most sellers recognize the need to sell solutions rather than products, incorporating strategic selling is also essential to avoid being commoditized. The most effective approach involves having multiple channels and multiple solutions—some strategic, some competitive, and some commodity-based. “Buyers want different things from sellers these days,” Page says. “What’s really changed is the buyer-seller relationship—buyers want to move salespeople from the coercive or congenial category to a more collaborative and co-management type of role.”
  2. More competition and commodification. Many large companies such as Walmart have shifted to a commoditized purchasing approach that requires sellers who want to work with them to solve their business problems, such as supply chain issues, logistics challenges, and competitive threats. Only sellers who meet this goal receive preferred vendor/trusted advisor status, and the rest are eliminated. In this environment, attempts to build relationships the old-fashioned way—on the golf course, in restaurants, and at events—carry little or no weight.
  3. Procurement has gained greater power. During the 2000 recession, the role of procurement became increasingly strategic and assumed a more powerful gatekeeper function, a change that remains in place today. The reason? Companies realized that money saved goes right to the bottom line—and that every dollar cut from procurement equals about $2 to $10 in revenue. This dramatically increased interest in reducing costs and increasing productivity, turning the old maxim that “you can’t save your way to prosperity” on its head. Through tighter procurement control, today’s companies are increasing profits while revenues stay flat—which means they actually have saved their way to prosperity.
  4. More sales involving political and competitive strategy. Many sales today involve head-to-head competitions in which sellers present to committees of buyers to win large contracts. “These are expensive for the seller, and the stakes are high, because you can work on one for a year and lose it in a day, and second place pays zero,” Page points out. Still, sellers may need to participate to get new business and bigger-ticket sales, so using the right people and approach is crucial to maximize wins and minimize losses.
  5. Some sales functions are moving to eCommerce. Many functions formerly handled by sales staff—such as providing company and product information, handling orders, and configuring products and services—are being moved to the internet, changing the nature of what sellers do on a daily basis and allowing companies to sell even complex solutions online. This frees up salespeople to do more competitive selling and build loyalty with strategic accounts, which is a more effective use of their time.
  6. Salespeople who don’t add value disappear. Salespeople who don’t add value, charge too much for what they offer, or fail to reengineer their skills and strategies to accommodate the realities of the current environment are being replaced by eCommerce or eliminated altogether. Within the United States alone over a million sales jobs have disappeared, with another million outsourced overseas—making the competition more fierce and the right skills more essential for the positions that remain.



This article is part of the current issue of Ariba Supply Lines, a quarterly newsletter for eCommerce decision-makers and practitioners who want to increase revenue, drive process efficiencies, cut costs, and manage cash more effectively. To receive the newsletter directly in your inbox, please click here.


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