The only constant in life is change. And the sales game is certainly doing its share of changing.

One of the biggest shifts seems to be in the buyer/seller relationship. Research shows that buyers are not reaching out to contact salespeople and sales organizations until they're 60 percent to 70 percent along in the decisionmaking process, according to Jill Konrath, an internationally recognized sales strategist.

"Instead of contacting a salesperson, customers today are going online first," Jill says. "I know that the minute I come up with a question or a problem, I go to Google and I type in what I'm looking for. This puts salespeople in a real one-down position because suddenly they're no longer needed for their product or service knowledge. Instead, they find themselves constantly getting involved in price battles."

Konrath is on the front edge of what it takes to be successful today in the sales game. She's been featured on ABC News, in Forbes, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and many more. More than 100,000 salespeople globally read her weekly newsletter.

I asked Jill what sales managers can do to help their team be successful in this ever-changing environment.

She said: "Sales managers need to be the change agents out there. The reality is that in many cases, our products or services are no longer the differentiator. The salesperson is now the differentiator. The customer must like the interaction with the salesperson. They're always asking: Is this individual adding value? Are they constantly bringing me ideas, insights and information that can help me run my business better?"

This change in strategy means salespeople need to know a whole lot more about their customers and the people making buying decisions. What are the buyers' business objectives? What are their roles and responsibilities? What's their status quo? What might be preventing them from making a change?

"We need a more in-depth view of buyers," Jill said. "Salespeople need to be business analysts and idea providers, as opposed to product pitchers or just trying to make a sale."

Jill believes one of the most important jobs of today's sales managers is to coach their salespeople. She suggests that they go out with them on sales calls and see what kind of research they've done to prepare for each call. I always say there's no such thing as a cold call at MackayMitchell Envelope Co.

"You have to be constantly working with them to improve and become better," Jill said. "There are not enough A players to go around. You have a whole slew of B and C performers, and a sales manager's job is to get them to improve."

The other thing sales managers must do to be successful, according to Jill, is to get more and better prospects. Sales managers have to work much more closely with marketing staff than ever before.

Jill's latest book, "SNAP Selling," focuses on prospecting and teaches salespeople how to reach out to customers in a very different way. SNAP stands for Simple, iNvaluable, Align and Priority.

Jill explains: "In just five seconds, prospects decide if you're worth meeting. Do research first. Then, think about these things before you contact them: Is your message simple or complex? Do you sound like a salesperson or an invaluable resource? Do you align with their business objectives? And finally, are you focused on one of their priority initiatives? If you deliver a relevant message, aligned with their priorities, you have a much higher chance of connecting."

Mackay's Moral: You can't expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday's tools and expect to be in business tomorrow.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail