The results are in: Complexity of the Sales Role was most often cited by MFTM readers as the biggest challenge to sales professionals (check out complete survey results here). The diversity of skill needed for success in the sales role is widely recognized; less obvious are the consistent weak spots that exist in this broad skill spectrum. There are two functional requirements that differentiate sales from other professions:

Scope of expertise: Consider the knowledge required in other professions compared with the sales role: Every job requires a certain level of expertise relative to one's own responsibilities, employer and industry. Sales professionals must have expertise in their product/service, plus extensive insights on each of their customers' organizations, competitors and respective industries. The amount of knowledge needed to be effective is exponentially greater for the sales professional.

Interpersonal/relationship Building Skills: Many careers also require interpersonal skills; at least enough to effectively communicate and collaborate with team members. Now consider the interpersonal skills needed by sales professionals to engage prospects and to cultivate productive and collaborative partnerships with customers, it's an entirely different undertaking. Relationship-building is the weak link in sales effectiveness because it isn't as straightforward or as easily defined as product/service features. Command of relationship-building skills can't be found in a three-ring binder. You can't buy an annual subscription for productive customer relationships. As a result, sales professionals and sales leadership continually try to bridge the sales effectiveness gap with product knowledge, customer relationship management (CRM) technology and sales force automation. As Carew CEO Jeff Seeley stated in his recent keynote speech at the Selling Power Sales 2.0 Conference, "CRM is not a customer relationship."

The "how to" of building trusting and collaborative relationships don't have to remain a mystery. There are proven processes and methodologies that can be learned and applied by any sales professional. In the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at specific relationship-building and selling skills tools that are needed in today's business environment; and while this weekly message cannot replace sales development, the insights may raise awareness about what's missing from your sales process.