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The New Consultative Salesperson

For a very long time, successful salespeople had a very specific set of competencies. These sales skills served them well for decades and decades. But changes in society, technology, and the business environment required new sales competencies. And so, the stack of competencies grew.

In the last couple of decades, the world of business—and sales—has been racked by ever more disruptive change. Success in sales requires more—and greater—competencies.

And it requires that you, the salesperson, have the whole range of competencies.

Foundational Competencies

Salespeople have always had to ask for commitments.

They have always had to prospect for new business.

They used to have to overcome objections, which has transformed into a higher-level skill of resolving concerns and limiting risk.

Salespeople have always had to demonstrate the value of the goods, services, and solutions that sold, even though we no longer think of features and benefits alone.

They have always had to tell stories, to present.

Each of these skills is still necessary to succeed in sales. As sales grew more complex and more complicated, additional skills were necessary.

Second Level Skills

As we moved into selling solutions, the ability to diagnose, to understand a prospective business client’s needs, became critically important. Like the foundational skills, this skill is still critical and necessary.

As different solutions were sold, the ability to negotiate also became more and more important, especially as competing companies created very different levels value and different results.

Because this is true, it can be difficult to distinguish one solution—and one company—from the next. It became critical that the salesperson possess the ability to differentiate themselves and their offering.

As selling has become more complex, even the abilities to diagnose, differentiate, and negotiate aren’t enough. A still higher level of skills is required.

The New Consultative Salesperson

While all of these skills are still necessary to creating and winning opportunities, the new consultative salesperson requires additional competencies.

The primary competency for salespeople now is business acumen. None of the foundational skills or second level skills is valuable without business acumen. Of all of the skills and competencies required, business acumen reigns supreme. Business acumen is the new sales acumen.

Without business acumen, it is difficult to know how to help your clients produce better business outcomes. That’s the new game. It’s not product. It’s not features and benefits. It’s not solutions. It’s business outcomes.

Getting those business outcomes requires change. The consultative salesperson has to possess the ability to mange and lead change in their client’s organization, and in their own. The new consultative salesperson manages change.

Managing this change requires leadership skills. A salesperson may do a lot of the heavy lifting by themselves or with their small sales team, but the execution belongs to a team of people on in the salesperson’s company and in the client’s. The new consultative salesperson is a strategic orchestrator; they lead the change by leading the team.

Like no time before, when you sell it, you own it. You sell outcomes, and that means that you own those outcomes. Managing the outcomes is what new consultative salespeople do. They don’t own the transactions; their team does. But they own the outcomes, and they ensure that their clients get the benefit of their bargain by acting as part of their client’s team.

This is what is required of the new consultative salesperson.


What are the foundational skills that salespeople have always required?

What changes have required salespeople to need to acquire new skills?

What are the new skills that consultative salespeople need in order to succeed in sales?

What new skills do salespeople require to succeed for their clients?



  • AdamLehman

    Nailed it! At work, we’ve been going through the book “Changing the Game” by Larry Wilson. Written in the 80s but so timeless. Talks about the nature of ever-changing business and gives sales professionals key principles to develop to stay atop the game. 

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Hey Adam, thanks for the comment. I don’t know that work by Larry Wilson. I am going to pick it up, if I can find it on Amazon. I like timeless principles. They are timeless for a reason!

  • Jim Burns, Avitage

    Anthony, I’d like to suggest you continue with these ideas as “Level 3″ skills rather than “new”. In fact, as your commentator mentioned re: Larry Wilson (great book, I add my rec, and founder of Wilson Learning) there is nothing new about this.
    I also suggest we need clearer distinctions than “leading change.” Change what? I suggest examples are: change buying criteria, urgency, buying team members (among many others.) Whether for self-improvement or selection, specifics — not concepts — make all the difference. Your posts are great, and you set a high bar for yourself. Thanks for your insights.   

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Hey Jim, I like level 3, but I am using “new” to signify that they are now required. In my opinion, these ideas make up the new sales acumen, the new minimum. (“new” sells, I think). 

      When it comes to leading change, I am thinking about helping to move the client’s organization from where they are to their future. I am thinking about building consensus, managing constraints, managing trade offs, creating an urgent case, creating buy in and ownership, and other skills that are more and more required of the salesperson. 

      You are correct about specifics (although I already write long blog posts!). 

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I appreciate it! 


  • Jay Oza


    I like your post, but how new is this?  You lost credibility very quickly in complex sales in the past (even a decade ago)  if you did not possess business acumen. 

     I believe the area that has become very important is how you can compress the time it takes from thought to business and profit.  This requires more than just business acumen, but requires an understanding of marketing, partnership, technology understanding (even for non tech companies)  and agile/lean approach.  

    It keeps getting tougher for sales.  

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Jay. Great question. I believe that it is new in that is an absolutely, mandatory, requirement now. It’s no longer a nice-to-have. I believe these skills are now the base level, foundational skills required of B2B salespeople.

      Of course there were salespeople that were easily differentiated by these skills in the past. There are still many that are differentiated by their business acumen now. But those without are now more certainly doomed to fail and fail faster.