Hybrid sales meetings. Slower sales cycles. Buyer paralysis. There’s no doubt the sales landscape has changed again in the last few years—and APAC sales leaders know they’ll need a different approach to keep up.

According to Korn Ferry’s 2023 survey of 600 sales leaders around the world – including 180 in Australia, Singapore and Japan—the majority believe their sales team’s skillsets will be obsolete within five years.

Two-thirds of APAC respondents said the sales cycle has lengthened since the pandemic—in general, taking two to six months longer to convert a deal.

“With buyer FOMU (Fear of Messing Up) replacing FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), building trust and strengthening relationships is more important than ever,” says Adam Thorp, who leads Korn Ferry’s Sales Effectiveness and Transformation Advisory practice in Australia and New Zealand.

“However, the ways that successful salespeople are approaching trust and relationship building is shifting in line with changing buyer behavior and requirements.”

The changing sales landscape

Our survey results signal the need to pivot towards a more human approach to relationship management. But waiting five years to train, recruit, coach and embed these behaviors might be too late. In a more challenging market, these three traits are crucial for sales success today.

1 Sales affiliation: aligning everyone towards a shared goal

The traditional idea of the high-pressure assertive salesperson has its roots in the Challenger approach, which in the wrong hands can be confrontational for customers who don’t appreciate being told what their problem is.

Most buyers know what their problem is. They’re looking for a collaborative, problem-solving partner. And that’s where affiliation can make the difference – it makes it as easy as possible for the customer to buy.

“As a behavioral trait, it’s the antithesis of the ‘lone wolf’ sales hero,” explains Thorp. “Instead, it’s the salesperson as a ‘broker of capabilities’—someone who can bring people together to make things happen quickly for the customer.”

Almost two-thirds of APAC respondents agreed that salespeople who are involved with multiple functions of the business will increase in value because internal influence and understanding will, in turn, bring value to customers. This makes it easier for sellers to win sales.

But this is not a new phenomenon. In 2017, Microsoft used Workplace Analytics data to inform its own sales model reorganization. In the process, it realized its top performing salespeople had larger, more inclusive networks—on average, an additional 26 people in their internal networks. This helped them get the right people around the table to solve the problem for the customer.

2 Agility in sales: always ready to adapt and respond

Salespeople have long been expected to be adaptable, curious, commercially minded, and able to think outside the box when there is ambiguity and risk.

Agility is the trait that helps salespeople respond to decision-making roadblocks, especially when it is combined with empathy.

With a growing number of risk-averse stakeholders involved in the purchase, it’s important to understand that each individual values you and your solution differently. “One person at the decision-making table might be looking for a quick fix so they can shine before their next promotion. Another is concerned only with costs, because that’s how their performance is measured,” says Thorp.

Sometimes agility means being able to pivot when new data emerges. Sales leaders increasingly need to act like analysts, translating data into sales strategy and a value proposition in real-time. But agility could also mean failing fast—moving on when you realize you cannot please everyone around the table.

There’s also learning agility, given 65% of APAC respondents agreed that a hybrid model of selling requires more diverse skills to seal a deal.

With hybrid selling here to stay and the technology getting better every day, Thorp notes, “buyers are becoming more sophisticated, and sales leaders can render up models in real-time. But the underlying human skills are the same: know your customers and know how their market is impacting them.”

Sales Effectiveness

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3 Empathy: enduring sales relationships built on deep understanding

This brings us to empathy. It’s surprising that empathy wasn’t cited as a top three trait needed for sales today, given 69% of APAC respondents said selling should be seen as relationship management rather than sales.

Too often, salespeople only scratch the surface when it comes to understanding what is happening within a customer’s organization, as well as their market—from changing expectations among their own customers to economic headwinds or regulatory changes. Perhaps they are stretched too thin, as research indicates time with customers matters. If you’re managing dozens of accounts, that time is simply not available.

Thorp says it’s just as important to have empathy with the underlying (and often subconscious) motivation that will drive the buyer decision.

Three motivators for buying

“Our extensive research identified three typical motivators: logic buying, benefit buying, and fear buying. Of these, fear is the most powerful for B2B decisions—and will be the driving force for the next 12 to 24 months,” says Thorp.

  1. Logic buying – unfortunately the weakest from a motivational viewpoint, logic buying is about commercial sense. Strategic and deliberate, its goal is to develop and build on a position.
  2. Benefit buying – best associated with the peak of an economic upturn, such as just prior to COVID-19: organizations and individuals had abundant resources at their disposal and there was minimal concern or risk if it didn’t pan out.
  3. Fear buying – as businesses and governments begin to execute strategies to defend, diversify, disrupt, or fast-track, this will become a critical motivator – but fear can also stall buying decisions.

“In today’s markets, fear of waste, extravagance, or future cash flow pain could fuel B2B buyer paralysis, especially if a salesperson is too assertive. It can also lead to discounting and margin erosion, which is a race to the bottom,” notes Thorp.

Without empathy, you cannot understand what will change the buyer’s mind—regardless of what is motivating their decision. And you need affiliation and agility to then execute new ideas that solve problems for that customer.

3 sales traits for the future: a powerful combination

Despite all of the market challenges businesses face, an overwhelming 88% of sellers in Australia, Singapore and Japan said their sales win rate has increased since the implementation of a sales methodology. Sales methodology is the key to building trust, delivering consistency, avoiding confusion and most critically, creating the right culture, while also allowing you to measure performance and identify opportunities for skills improvement or talent gaps.

Methodology is the foundation for assessing and developing the strong relationship management skills salespeople will need. Combined with the right sales culture, this gives you a powerful platform for driving successful sales outcomes.

To learn more about how Korn Ferry can help your sales teams exceed their potential, get in touch or learn more about our Sales Effectiveness solutions.

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