One of my favorite B2B sales books of 2012 was Scientific Selling, by PI Worldwide President & CEO Nancy Martini.

Sales will always be a mix of art and science, but we have technology and insights available to us now that make it far easier to precisely diagnose and respond to prospect needs. This book goes even further, and helps organizations understand the unique drivers of their internal sales staff, helping them sell at peak productivity and results.

I caught up with Nancy last week to talk a bit more about her book and what it means for sales organizations heading into a “fresh start” in 2013. In the interview below, Nancy addresses the balance between art & science in sales, as well as how science can be directly leveraged in sales organizations nationwide to accelerate early results in the New Year.

Sales has always been thought of mostly as an art, but you make it clear (with proof) that it’s also about science. How do successful sales professionals balance the art & science of selling today?
Sales is an incredible balance between art and science. One way to think about this is the balance between nature (art) and nurture (science), regardless how much each factor contributes to a sales reps success – today we know that both are measurable.

The best way to understand and navigate the two is to leverage science and apply it to the business of selling. Sales skills data lets you know exactly what your reps “know” and behavioral data informs you on how they will “execute” on that knowledge. I like to call this the “scientific power-pack” for sales managers – an unstoppable combination of sales analytics to increase sales performance.

How has the science that’s helping us sell better impacted the role of the human element in sales? Does Willy Loman’s job still exist today? Will it be here in 20 years?
The scientific analytics used with sales reps today helps keep the human element in the forefront of exceptional sales. The more competitive your market and the more your product becomes a commodity, the more critical the human element becomes. Science ties the two together.

For example, let’s say there are very few differences between your product and your competitor’s – the human element becomes the primary differentiator. The current research shows that 57% of the buying decision occurs prior to a prospect talking with a rep, that is a huge adjustment in how a rep works.

The impact results in an increased importance of how your rep manages the sales process, interacts with the prospect, adds value and creates an overall favorable experience. Into 2013 and beyond, the reps role will become more important, not less important.

Are these theories and processes primarily for large companies, or can small companies and small sales organizations take advantage as well?
Thankfully these tools are completely scalable. The tools that the larger organizations use around the world are totally accessible to small and mid-size companies. Whether you have 10 reps or 10,000, your managers will gain the same insight into performance across the board. I’m a huge advocate in enabling sales managers with data that makes their job more efficient and effective.

Sales analytics that provide sales skills data and behavioral data tell a manager exactly how to motive their reps and where to invest their time and energy to get the sales results they are after. Companies around the world spend roughly $1,000-$2,000 per rep, per year on training and development, a small percentage of that invested in analytics will provide information to ensure that the remainder of the investment delivers results.

How should marketing professionals think about this book and its concepts? How could these principles apply to marketing’s world as well?
The best insights Marketing professionals will gain from Scientific Selling is a strong overview of the application of science to sales, how the sales rep’s world has changed and how they in turn need to adjust. For example three of the top ten trends covered in the book include:

Trend #1 Buyers Have More Information.
Today’s buyers can access a wealth of information in a matter of seconds which changes both their needs and expectations of their sales rep. They can gather hard data (products, company, competition, industry) from web sites and they can find soft data from friends, colleagues and strangers (anonymous reviews) on social media sites.

Bottom line, buyers are theoretically better educated before they talk to a rep or at least they think they are. Marketing teams can position the company prior to the rep interaction with a strong on-line presence and by entering the “conversation” with prospects early.

Trend #2 Selling is More Demanding.
Today’s buyer has less tolerance for old selling tactics and today’s reps need to possess all the core sales skills of a top consultant, intelligence to assimilate information rapidly, behavioral fit to excel under pressure, stamina and resilience.

Most of all, today’s sales rep requires the wisdom to manage the sales process rather than “do something to” their buyers. Marketing teams can arm the reps with marketing tools and resources to help them be more effective as each opportunity becomes more important.

Trend #3 Buyers Are More Risk Averse.

As the economy has become more unsettled, customer reactions have become more cautious, spending is more conservative, there are increased controls, decision making has moved up, and reps have less access to those decision makers.

Gatekeepers are more likely to create barriers to stakeholders than ever before. Marketing teams can produce collateral that builds confidence and manages the perception of risk to help position the rep as the prospect’s best option.

This blog is from an interview with Nancy Martini, President & CEO of PI Worldwide the global management consulting firm and publisher of the Predictive Index (PI) and Selling Skills Assessment Tool (SSAT).   Nancy is the author of  Scientific Selling, Creating High-Performance Sales Teams through Applied Psychology and Testing by Wiley & Sons www.amazon.com.  Nancy can be reached at nmartini@piworldwide.com or visit www.piworldwide.com.