In decades past, the sales cycle hinged on the success of agents and representatives. They were the playmakers, engaging prospects from the outset and sticking with them through the finalized sale. Some even played pivotal roles in customer relationship management, depending on the modus operandi of the company in question.

However, the sales cycle has changed on the back of the internet. The web gives prospects an easy avenue to research products and services. Social media, whitepapers, online discussion forums – potential customers can use all of these tools to research companies and the services or products they provide.

This means that sales agents are no longer the first step of the sales cycle, they are getting involved much later in the process. In fact, Business 2 Community notes that 70 percent of the purchasing process is now being completed before prospects initially engage the company. Leads already know what their problem points are, how to solve them and which products or services will help them address these concerns.

"Our job is no longer focused on educating customers about our product feature, functions, feeds and speeds," Business 2 Community contributor David Brock asserts. "If the only value we create is to be walking, speaking data sheets, then by all means, the customer should engage us as late in the buying cycle as possible."

So where does that leave the sales agent? While it may seem as if they have reduced roles in the buying cycle, the opposite is actually true. When they are less involved, they need to be on top of their game to secure sales. It's no longer good enough to simply be a mouthpiece for the company they represent. Prospects essentially approach the initial contact as a hot lead, so it's up to salespeople to listen to their needs and react to them, rather than strictly sticking to a script.

Salespeople need to be performing at a high level in this new sales cycle, so new technology that improves customer insight and sales coaching are two ways businesses can better prepare agents for their new roles.