How technology builds trust in the new age of selling

From the pages of Raconteur's Sales Performance Report in The Times this week: LinkedIn’s Becky Schnauffer on how digital technology is changing buyer relationships

June 21, 2019

How technology builds trust in the new age of selling

Editor's Note: This article originally featured in Raconteur's Sales Performance Report in The Times. You can see the full report here.

This week, I had the opportunity to appear in Raconteur's Sales Performance Report in The Times, to discuss how technology is changing buyer-seller relationships. It’s a fascinating subject – because the more you explore it, the more you realise that this isn’t a case of tech tools automating the sales process. Analyse what the data on buyers and sellers shows, and it’s clear that traditional selling skills still matter. What technology has changed is the scope and impact of those skills. In a digital world, buyers’ trust in sales people takes different forms – and it’s earned in different ways. The role of the seller has been elevated, and so has the value that it can provide on both sides of a transaction.

What does this mean in practice? Here’s my take – from the interview that appeared in Raconteur's Sales Performance Report in The Times:

How has technology impacted buyers’ trust in sales people?

Trust has always been essential in sales - and that hasn’t changed. Sales people themselves know that it’s the most important factor helping them to close deals. They prioritise it and they work very hard to earn it. Technology certainly hasn’t made trust any less important. What it has done is change what buyers are placing their trust in.

A decade ago, sales professionals were often the only source of information that a buyer had. The trust they felt or didn’t feel in a salesperson was based on whether they believed what they were being told... or not. Today, things are very different. Buyers are self-directed and self-informed. They can get a lot of the information they need from websites and social media before talking to a salesperson – and they can certainly check the validity of almost anything a seller tells them. What they want from a sales professional is bespoke insights that are based on a real understanding of their requirements, what their business actually needs, and the role a particular service or solution can play for them. It is within this expertise that they need to place their trust.

What are the most important changes that you’re seeing in sales?

With buying cycles becoming more complex, sellers are being much more consultative in the way that they sell. They’re no longer focused on telling people about their products and solutions; instead they put the emphasis on how those solutions fit into the market and how the market itself is changing.

Technology has a vital role in empowering this consultative approach. Sales intelligence tools and social media help to build a seller’s understanding before they reach out to a prospect. This enables them to deliver greater insight and value from the start. We can see the impact of this in the impression that buyers now have of sales people. In LinkedIn’s State of Sales research, 81% of UK buyers describe their sales contacts as trusted advisors.

In this new world of technology, do traditional sales skills still matter?

People buy from people, so it's not that the fundamental sales skills have changed. It's that sales tools are now there to elevate them. They provide sellers with levels of insight they wouldn’t otherwise have, and this enables them to create far more relevant, personalised experiences for their buyers. Technology takes sales performance to another level, but it’s still the sales person who’s performing. I like to call this Augmented Intelligence. Technology can dramatically multiply the impact of traditional sales skills – but it can’t replace them.

No matter how much insight you have, you still need the ability to reach out in compelling ways, build trust, read people’s responses, empathise with their needs and communicate value. These things haven’t been automated, and that’s why LinkedIn data shows skilled sales people have never been in greater demand than they are in 2019.

Other than trust, what characteristics separate top sales people today?

Top sales people don’t just have the skills. They use those skills in a positive, consultative and constructive way. Sales today has nothing to do with manipulation or tricks, it looks nothing like the Netflix show White Gold. It’s about forming genuine relationships, based on genuine understanding that can deliver genuine value on both sides.

If you want to be a top sales performer, pay attention to your listening skills. They’re the basis of rapport and trust, and they also establish authority far more effectively than a one-sided conversation can. Being an informed listener starts with your understanding of a business and its market. This enables you to ask meaningful questions that lead to meaningful answers. Listening-led conversations provide you with the insight to make personalised recommendations, and they earn you the right to make those recommendations.

Because buyers actively search for insight on social media, these conversations often start in this space. But you have to respect the rhythm of social too. Don’t attempt to sell straight away. Focus instead on establishing rapport and shared interests. Respond when your prospects comment on content on LinkedIn, read their posts, reference a shared experience, or point them to a piece of third-party content that you know can help. You can also use your network for warm introductions that establish trust and give you the opportunity to listen. Finally, and I know this sounds like an obvious thing for me to say, but you also need to make sure your LinkedIn profile is building the right kind of selling brand. Buyers will head straight to your profile to validate what kind of person they’re dealing with. If they find it’s focused on how much revenue you generate or how many deals you close, they’re going to conclude that customers’ interests aren’t really your priority. Focus your profile on the value you create for others – and you’ll dramatically increase the likelihood of buyers seeking value from you.