We identified the following key challenges through inputs received by our customer Advisory Panel (25 qualitative interviews of sales leaders and salespeople in our customer organizations) as well as a review of popular magazines and articles on professional selling.
Looking back on the last year, here are the most prominent challenges salespeople faced:
Challenge #1: Buyers Demanded More Responsibility
Buyers are demanding more. Higher expectations for attaining business results are being placed on sales professionals by buyers who are expected to make the correct purchase decision. As a result, buyers are now demanding an understanding of their business, objective interpretation of their needs, and a more precise translation into implementation actions.
Due to the evolution of buyer expectations, the knowledge, skills, and abilities required by sales professionals to succeed are changing. At the same time, salespeople are under increased pressure to attain not only the goals of the selling organization but the goals of the buying organization as well.
Salespeople are learning that they must be willing to accept responsibility for ensuring the success of both the buyer and the seller, as defined by each party. Emerging trends are leaning towards greater salesperson responsibility for reducing buyer logistics costs, higher standards of quality control, greater mass-customization potential, and increased demand for sellers to be problem-solvers, not just pushers of standard problem solutions.
Challenge #2: Sales Team Members Need Higher Relationships
Salespeople are continuing to transition from a transactional salesperson to relationship selling or a true partner mentality. More firms are striving to become trusted advisors to their customers. As a result, they are focusing on developing deeper relationships within the company while developing a personal network inside the company as well as within their specific industry.
Salespeople need to upgrade their knowledge of the customer, the customer’s industry, and the customer’s customer. Salespeople will need to probe for problems, needs, and opportunities that are top-of-mind for the buyer.
As a result, sales managers also need to embrace that their company's products (considered sufficiently different from other competitors) may be viewed as commodities by many buyers. Buyers may be unable to make the connection between the problems they have, the outcomes they wish to attain, and the potential solution offered.
Challenge #3: Buyers Demand a High Level of Professionalism from Sales Team Members and Selling Organizations
Historically, the role of the sales manager has been to focus on monthly or quarterly results. The current environment forces many sales professionals into a commodity selling situation or setting that is more transactional, especially when the end of the month is near.
However, in today’s competitive landscape, sales professionals must focus on maintaining professionalism with buyers. These are buyers who may not have the same time frame in mind or who may have strong negotiating skills.
The salesperson must stay focused on delivering value to the buyer based on mutually agreed goals and objectives. This approach requires taking the client’s best interest into account while providing a relevant solution to the business issues at hand. Therefore, salespeople need to balance revenue implications with ethical and legal considerations while focusing on short-term and long-term goals.
Challenge #4: Salespeople Must Listen More Effectively to Buyers
Salespeople also are expected to help solve business problems with their buyers. To do this, salespeople must have a strong understanding of the buyer’s business, industry, customers, and products.
While product knowledge is essential to the success of the salesperson, skills such as listening, analyzing, problem-solving, and questioning are invaluable. These skills help buyers navigate the complexity of the solution and the dearth of available information.
While communication skills are essential to success in any occupation, listening skills are vital as well. This skill can help sellers identify root problems and hidden obstacles that could affect the buyer’s business success. Listening also requires expertise in building rapport, patience, and timing to build the foundation for a trusting relationship. As a result, listening provides the foundation for learning about problems and supplying relevant solutions.
Challenge #5: Sales Organizations Must Engineer Productive Sales Environments
Traditionally, sales organizations have focused on the volume of individual activity as an indicator of productivity. As such, the sales professional’s compensation came when he met or exceeded his sales quotas.
More firms are examining the profitability of specific sales and the service to individual customers. For example, productivity can be measured as a function of profitability. In this measure, the overall deal is measured against the net profitability measure after factoring the cost of sales.
Additionally, the impact of activity can be scored and measured (as opposed to measuring frequency). These more sophisticated productivity measures are surfacing as organizations attempt to shift or replace direct selling with lower-cost sales channels. These include the use of telemarketing, direct mail, or email marketing, with little to no success.
More importantly, organizations are working hard to ensure their sales team stays focused on the most appropriate use of time. This condition is due to the increased complexity of the selling environment.
CALL TO ACTION: FIND A WAY TO COMMUNICATE YOUR NEED.
Due to internal challenges, sales managers are in a unique position to work together to achieve revenue growth goals, improve salesperson competency, and engineer world-class sales performance. The key question is, "what groups and what people do you need around the table?" To help, take these steps and pull the right people together:
ACTIVITY for 1/2 Day Working Session
Send this article, and previous "Year in Review" articles out to the cross-functional team outside the sales organization as pre-reads. For example, send it to leaders in marketing, operations, delivery, technology, sales support, field marketing, training/readiness, and HR (sales recruiting).
Set aside time (calendar invite) and ask each attendee to come prepared with 2-3 action items to help close the buyer/seller gap based on what they read.
Have them prepare 1 slide each of what they will do to help to go into this year.
Conduct the meeting and have real-world examples from the past six months to serve as case studies. Share the struggles you have had in the sales process. Have them each present their slides and their thoughts to help. Don't lay blame along the way. Instead, focus on solutions based on what you saw. And don't be afraid to ask people for specific help. Tailor the conversation to focus on the case studies, and be prepared to relate today's sales opportunities.
CAPSTONE EXERCISE: Pick 2 existing opportunities currently in-flight. Have your sales team prepare an opportunity overview and present it to the attendees. Split the attendees into two groups to identify the support they can provide to salespeople in the pursuit of the current opportunities.
About Growth Matters
Growth Matters is an international business founded in 2011. This consulting and services organization focusses on the development and practice of sales management and sales enablement. Our team of world-renowned experts spans the globe enabling businesses to improve sales conversations through services and solutions aligned to sales strategy. Charlotte, NC (USA) is the headquarter of our Americas operation. With dedicated offices in South Africa (EMEA), and Sydney (APAC), we regularly facilitate senior-level workshops in 17+ cities in countries. For more information on equipping sales managers, and aligning to sales leadership, contact the Growth Matters team at http://www.growthmatters.today
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