Adapt or face almost certain extinction. Like it or not, that is the ultimatum facing salespeople today.

Over the last decade the way that people shop and buy has fundamentally changed. While salespeople used to be the first points of contact for prospective buyers, the position of power has shifted and customers are now in the drivers seat. But, in order to truly serve customers in the best possible way, organizations must also shift how they think about selling--both in terms of process and what makes a successful salesperson in today's day and age.

I started my sales career in 1990 at Parametric Technology Corporation as the secretary to the vice president of sales. Ten years later, I was a senior vice president of sales.

As a sales rep in the '90s, relative to the prospect, I had all of the leverage in the sales process. If the prospect wanted a reference, she came through me to get one. If the prospect wanted to figure out our pricing model, she came through me. If the prospect wanted to talk to PTC's CEO, she came through me. I did my best to extract a pound of flesh from the prospect in exchange for each of these requests, and took full advantage of the information asymmetry.

But, today the buyer has all the same information the sales rep has, and sometimes more. And, they're not afraid to use it. CEB estimates that 57% of a customer's buying decision is made before he or she even speaks with a sales rep. Buyers are used to the accessibility that tools like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp have provided them across all facets of their lives and they not only expect, but demand, the same transparency from organizations and their salespeople through social media, websites, pricing pages, and try-before-you-buy solutions.

This information balance has transformed what was once a 'buyer beware' world into a "seller beware" world where sales reps need a fundamentally different skillset to do their jobs effectively.

At PTC, I had five criteria for hiring reps, but the No. 1 was without a doubt "aggressive." Gone are those days. Now, it's more imperative than ever that salespeople have sharp minds over sharp elbows. The anatomy of a modern salesperson should look something like this:

  • Smart: Today's salespeople need to use brains over brawn to see around the corner and be prepared with the information and answers that will delight prospects when they need it most.
  • Motivated: You can't win without hustle--motivation has always been a core tenet of selling success, and the best reps are highly motivated to earn trust and business.
  • Ambiverted: Success used be all about having sales people that were super extroverted backslapper types. But today the best sales reps need to be a perfect blend of introvert and extrovert.
  • Helpful: "Always be helping" should be the guiding principle behind everything interaction that today's salespeople have with prospects.
  • Transparent: Today successful sales reps must be totally transparent about the inner workings of their products so that they can skip right to the helping phase.

Thanks to the shift in consumer behavior, reps today get involved later in the selling process when prospects often knows as much as the rep does by the time the conversation happens. Therefore, salespeople today benefit most from inbound selling, being totally transparent about information on things like pricing, packaging, and product specs in order to be helpful resource for prospects rather than a road block. In short, they need to be more of a hand holder than an arm twister.

Unsurprisingly, 99% of customers feel that it is important that vendors come to a first meeting well prepared and that they already understand the customer's business and industry. So, rather than focusing time on fighting the fact that prospects are getting involved earlier and earlier in the process, reps should spend their time sharing relevant content, helping the prospect tackle their greatest challenges, and interacting with highly engaged leads. At HubSpot, our sales reps use Sidekick, our freemium sales tool, to deliver more context with every prospect interaction and measure what's working and what isn't.

While some of these changes will be uncharted territory for many salespeople and may seem daunting, there is one key criteria that will never change: motivation. Success has always hinged on having highly motivated salespeople and that is still true. But now, a sharp mind trumps sharp elbows every time, so sales reps need to adapt accordingly.