Ten years ago this month I set up my own sales consultancy business, Seller Performance, after 30 years in complex B2B selling. Despite Covid 19 I am still here helping clients shape their sales talent. But when I reflect on the last 10 years it’s a very different sales challenge from when I started out, so I thought I would reflect on the changes and share how to tackle them.

And I am not talking about selling in a pandemic but some fundamental sales challenges moving forward long term.

This first blog is just a diagnosis of the issues being faced… subsequent blogs will focus on the prescription.

  1. The Buying Process – although changes had already started before 2011 it has gathered pace in the last decade. The rise of Procurement managing formal B2B complex tenders has become the norm. The challenge is they can often stifle selling innovation as they seek like for like comparative bids addressing a defined specification.

    Differentiating your product or service has therefore become more difficult when forced to submit compliant bids. These formal processes also typically restrict access to users and technical specialists when the formal process has started…  in my angrier moments I call them S.P.O.’s – sales prevention officers. The result however is that the sales cycle has lengthened, there are more hoops to jump through and more competition has come into the market as globalisation strengthens. 

    The cost of bidding with multiple stages of RFI, RFP, RFQ has escalated year on year. Selling organisations have to adapt better or watch their conversion ratios fall. In my next Blog “The Buying Process Unwrapped” I will share my views on how sales organisations need to change.
  2. Sales Methodology – Over the past decade and longer we’ve been through SPIN selling, Consultative & Solution selling, Value selling and a few years ago the “Challenger” sale.

    Organisations like Miller Heiman offer Strategic Selling and Sandler offer Enterprise Selling and all, including those above, unquestionably have their merits. But are they truly aligned to the new buying process or are selling organisations still selling to how the world used to be?

    One of the key aspects many methodologies seem to underestimate is the need to truly identify which opportunities they should pursue – and which they should drop. Over inflated pipelines may give comfort to senior management and the City, but don’t generate the return on investment they really need, thus fostering a “busy fools’ mentality.

    At least most Companies have woken up to the fact that up-selling and cross-selling to existing customers is the quickest and cheapest route to success – trouble is they are asking “farmers” to be “hunters” but do they have the competencies to succeed?

    Should we combine these hunting and farming roles or separate, or change? In my third blog “Sales Methodologies, Structure and process – fit for purpose?” I will review what’s out there and prescribe some priorities to solve these issues.
  3. Sales People – As a result of the way the market has shifted it has never been more difficult to sell.

    The Buying process has changed, so we need a different “breed” of seller to adapt to behavioural profiles that are the complete opposite of their own profile. i.e., procurement.

    Selling organisations are trying to solve this in different ways by supplementing their front-line salespeople with bid teams, technical and product specialists – but does that really work. Unquestionably it adds to the cost of sale.

    Furthermore, financial mis-selling had a huge impact on the wider sales profession’s image so do we need to shift away from stereotypical sellers who are great, but maybe over reliant, on relationship building skills but as a result typically have little structure or process in how they sell?
    CRM adoption rates substantiate this. And let’s not forget we still need the action oriented, goal focused hungry closers too. 

    Recruiting salespeople is always a challenging task. Aren’t they naturally likely to be self-confident and adept at selling themselves whilts obscuring their deficiencies?  We need to reassess how we select people by scraping back that veneer. In my fourth blog “The need for a new breed of sellers” we chart a better way to move forward.
  4. Sales Management – front line Sales Managers have always been pivotal to sales success. After all, in years gone they learned their trade and developed their style on ride-alongs in the field with the boss. But now we ask Sales management to sit at computers and analyse financial forecasts and CRM application instead of being out there in the field coaching.

    The problem is exacerbated by the fact that seller to manager ratios have probably doubled in the last decade, so where do they get the time to coach? If anyone had bothered to teach them to coach of course in the first place.

    And what about core sales skills training? Nowadays it seems that young salespeople are sprinkled with fairy dust and they automatically know how to present, ask great discovery questions, handle objections or negotiate!

    Back in the last century, never mind the last decade, people used to join Rank Xerox, not to sell photocopiers, but to learn great basic sales techniques.

In my final blog “Sales Management – the role revisited”, I will discuss what the role description should look like to optimise growth in the future.

In the meantime, check out my next blog “The buying process unwrapped”.