The Changing Role of the Sales Function in 2020

Posted in : HR Updates on 16 January 2020
Paolo Ruoppolo
Think People
Issues covered:

Not long ago, the successful salesperson was a product expert, a features master and, if she or he was a real winner, would have known their competitors’ products in as much detail as their own. Relationship was king; with sales success often based on past experiences and trust built during ‘coffee meetings’ and ‘golf days’. The sales person held the knowledge and customers had little information. 

The Changing Habits of Buyers

Buyers have radically changed how they approach the buying process. Harvesting the many different forms of information available, they are able to complete at least 70% of the buying journey before even contacting a business. They are gathering just as much information as the sales experts in a short space of time, using brochure style websites, social media, targeted advertising, reviews and ratings on products and companies, influencers on social media, and consumer’s blogs. Videos are the norm to review and advertise or simply share the buying experience.

Often without realising, we are already living the following reality - where artificial intelligence analyses our web searches, our vocal commands on Alexa and Siri, how much time we spend on a specific website, our social media interactions and personal data. This personal information is combined with Big Data from weather forecasts, current news, politics, exchange rates etc. to propose to us our next best-priced dream holiday… or, in the case of Cambridge Analytica, the next leader of our country.

What a Successful Commercial Function Looks Like in 2020

So, in all of this, what is the role of a salesperson? A successful salesperson won’t be the one just selling a product – Whatever the product is, I can buy it online without even speaking to a person, and it will probably be cheaper.

A successful salesperson in 2020 will be the one that will get to know me as an individual,

show me maximum value (whatever that means to me) and provide me with solutions to my specific problems.

The sales role is evolving to become an influencing role - a business consultant, an industry expert and, even better, a partner. He/she will be the custodian of their own professional brand, along with their organisation’s reputation, and only the most creative communicators will stand-out amongst the noise of the information age.

With the ability to search, compare and refine options easily online; off-the-shelf solutions are a dime-a-dozen. Salespeople need to be providing tailored, added-value solutions while understanding their customer’s business, industry and competition, all the while predicting their future needs.

Salespeople need to be masters of information in order to articulate the reasons for the proposed solution to all the various stakeholders involved in the decision and help buyers navigate a busy and loud marketplace. Salespeople can no longer rely on intuition and a nice smile to move through the sales process. Until recently, data and sales were viewed as two separate disciplines; now the sales profession has really embraced data and acknowledged that it is not only a pillar for success, but a necessity to stand-out in a global economy where next-day-delivery is available from the other side of the planet.

The two most essential skills to master in order to evolve and succeed in this new sales arena are:

1. Personal effectiveness. With such high levels of global competitiveness, it is practically impossible for your product or service to stand-out on its own. To differentiate yourself from your competitors, salespeople must be able to promote meaningful relationships, grounded in empathy and trust with customers, colleagues and stakeholders, along with a genuine desire to help solve your customers’ problems. To communicate in a world where new digital tools are released daily, we need to have an appetite for continuous learning and innovation, assess risks and opportunities, and generate highly creative solutions.

High levels of emotional intelligence are required to be aware of personal strengths and areas for improvement, manage emotions and relationships, and drive self-motivation. In such a competitive environment, it is essential to develop the ability to handle stress and build personal resilience and perseverance.

2. Professional effectiveness. This entails high levels of curiosity and knowledge about your - and your competitors’ - products, applications, business and sales processes, relevant industry and other factors that can affect the purchase process. It also requires analytical and interpretative skills related to data, and the effect of external factors such as economics, politics and society. Finally, but most importantly, professional effectiveness requires a customer centric approach when conducting business transactions.

Your Organisation’s Role in Transitioning to ‘Sales 2020’

Is this a challenge posed only to the commercial teams? Of course not.

Obviously, marketing has a tight-knit role with sales in filling the sales funnel, and keeping prospects moving through the funnel. IT and cyber-security experts should be kept up-to-date with your data processing procedures. However, the real driving force in equipping an organisation to keep up with change is human resources:

  • When was the last time your recruiters spent time ‘on the road’ with your sales people to really understand what skills, competencies and roles they are advertising and recruiting for?
  • We need more technological and data driven sales people, so where are we going to find experts with these skills?
  • Does your recruitment process meets the needs of the different talent you are trying to attract? For example are you sending a cumbersome paper application form when you are actually seeking people that are digitally savvy?
  • When was the last time you reviewed the interview process to ensure that you are discovering the right information about your candidates?
  • What competencies is your recruitment process trying to uncover? Do you have a Competency Framework for the commercial team and has it been updated to include the creative, digital and data processing competencies you really need?
  • Do you have processes in place to recognise when these skills are lacking, and a learning and development programme to upskill key salespeople?

Finally and most importantly, are your sales managers equipped to lead this new type of sales team? Do they understand the new skills their team have, and give their team the freedom to utilise these skills? It is likely a pointless exercise to recruit more sophisticated professionals when they are going to be led by an obsolete ‘command and control’ management style.

A high-performing sales manager is firstly a coach and a mentor, who puts learning and development at the centre of the relationship with their teams. They need to be passionate in helping their people to refine, grow and develop the type of skills, knowledge and attitudes that are needed to be successful in sales today.

It is an exciting time for the commercial function!

Are you ready to upgrade your sales function for our digital, global economy?

Start your upgrade now, by joining Think People at our “The Changing Role of the Sales Function” seminar. This seminar will take the learnings outlined in this article, and turn them into practical exercises, in-depth expert discussions, and real-life examples.

When:  20th February 2020; 9.30am to 12.30pm

Where: Think People Consulting, Belfast.

Cost:     £169.00 plus VAT

Register Here (

If you are unable to attend our seminar, I am happy to answer any questions you have about improving your sales function on:

+4428 9031 0450


This article is correct at 16/01/2020

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Paolo Ruoppolo
Think People

The main content of this article was provided by Paolo Ruoppolo. Contact telephone number is 028 9031 0450 or email

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