“With more informed buyers to contend with and data as their most powerful sales weapon, sales teams are incorporating more STEM backgrounds within their ranks,” Jared Lindzon writes at Fast Company, in a piece exploring how data and technology skills are becoming as important as interpersonal skills for sales professionals, if not more so:
According to a 2017 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seventh most popular career for STEM graduates in the United States and most popular noncomputer related role is in sales. … “We are seeing thousands of jobs across the United States in which sales teams are looking for people with STEM related skill sets,” says Glassdoor community expert Scott Dobroski. According to Dobroski the job listing and recruiting website has seen a huge spike in postings for positions that blend sales with STEM skills. …
The demand for STEM skills within sales teams is representative of a seismic shift in sales strategy. This transition has been enabled by technology and the availability of information, both on behalf of the buyer and seller. While the salesperson used to be the primary source of information for their products or services, buyers increasingly have access to specs, samples, and independent reviews. At the same time sellers are able to access information and insights about prospective buyers that would have previously been only accessible through personal interactions.
The nature of the sales role has indeed changed in today’s business environment, especially in B2B sales, where the typical buyer is now most of the way through their decision-making process before engaging with a supplier. This means salespeople need to be comfortable wielding more facts and figures, but also must be adept at managing relationships.
From our research at Gartner, we have developed a model for B2B sales representatives who can sell effectively in this new, more complex buying environment, which we call the Challenger. The Challenger salesperson disrupts a prospective customer’s assumptions about what they need and deliver commercial insights that change the customer’s understanding of their own business. Rather than going into a sales meeting, asking the customer questions about their needs, and apply their products and services to those needs, the Challenger salesperson takes control of the conversation and teaches the customer new ideas about what’s affecting their business, tailoring their pitch to the customer’s specific pain points, including some they might not yet realize they have.
The Challenger sale is certainly data-driven, as salespeople have to go into meetings armed with more and more specific information about their customer. Meanwhile, increasingly technologically sophisticated products and services require more technically savvy salespeople to explain their value to customers, so it’s not surprising to see more talent with STEM backgrounds going into the sales function as strategies shift in this direction. Especially in B2B sales, representatives can no longer rely on relationships and confidence-building alone to succeed.
This doesn’t mean interpersonal skills no longer matter, however. Our research has found that successful Challenger salespeople have strong communication skills and are able to interact and negotiate with customers in ways that respond to their priorities and decision-making processes, creating a partner relationship. Gartner for Sales Leaders clients can check out our starter kit for applying the Challenger sales model. Corporate Leadership Council clients can learn more about Challenger selling here.