Addressing the new challenges and opportunities in sales
COVID and the lockdowns and everything that happened has catapulted to change the sales industry faster than it was happening before. And what we’re seeing now is those changes aren’t going away. They weren’t temporary. Many of them are sticking.
So we have to learn how to take advantage of them. And the best way to do that is by listening to the stories of the people who were succeeding in real-time when things were very difficult.
Challenges of traditional selling
The reality is that buyers are still so pressed for time for several reasons. Like worker shortages, companies who are trying to reclaim profits that they’ve lost, supply chain issues, etc. They’re busy and also new because we’re facing a biodynamic right now where we’ve got a whole boatload of new buyers in the marketplace who have never bought before, and they don’t have mentors because their seniors have retired. The great escape, if we want to call it that.
So what’s happening is, to manage the risk associated with too much work, too much not enough time, and not knowing what they’re doing, they tend to work with people that they have a relationship with, as opposed to people that are brand new.
That’s what improves their confidence in the buying cycle.
So what we’re seeing, is people learning how to build relationships before they make that phone call. Learning how to populate the marketplace with seeds of knowledge and insights and relationships so that people know and recognize you when you make that first call or make that first email.
And that’s what’s driving performance because that sort of traditional cold call has switched to such a small percentage of success (about .3%.) So this means we have to pivot and adapt to the new technology, way of selling, and things that are going to be relevant to today’s consumer.
Establishing relationships authentically
Before, buyers didn’t know who we were until we pick up the phone and called. But now we don’t know who buyers are until they put up their hands and say, ‘I’m ready.’
So we have to look at the marketplace. Buyers now are communities, not committees.
We never really know who in that buyers’ community is listening. They could be people sitting next to you, colleagues, influencers, family, friends, anonymous online reviews, or other people we will never meet. So what we have to do as salespeople is embrace that and create a…
Critical mass influence
This means influencing this community in the marketplace by delivering insights and value and becoming an object of interest. Then you take the value that you deliver in the form of case studies, tips, sheets, videos, and audios, and you publish it everywhere. Everywhere your customers are hanging out. Whether that’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Tiktok, industry forum, your website, open houses, etc. so that everybody sees you everywhere.
What you just laid out establishes that thought leadership as a sales professional.
Mistakes in today’s selling
The common mistake sellers make is that they’re pitching all the time. They go to LinkedIn, find a connection they want and they immediately say, hey, can I talk to you about helping you?
Instead, think about curating. If you think that you’re not a thought leader, then just use the thought leadership that your company is creating. The marketing materials, case studies, examples, and voices of your customers, and then post that.
This process takes only 15 minutes a day. Pick three types of media that your customers are consuming, then do three things three times a week. Post something unique and original. (If you say you don’t want to be on social media, but if your customers are there, then you’re missing out.)
Approach to social media
In proper networking skills, you would talk to someone at an event, and then if the conversation seemed to be positive, you might say to them, ‘hey, can I give you a call next week?’
Do the same thing on social media. Engage back and forth with someone, and at a certain point, you say, ‘hey, can I call you?’
Sales reps, even the best enterprise sales professionals that have multi-step processes, are now finding challenges in managing pipelines because of the modern consumers who know what they want. This leaves a small wiggle room for error for the salesperson. How do we ensure we’re managing our pipeline to its fullest potential?
Constantly looking to create opportunities with current clients and also do some outbound when you’ve got this relationship built on social media. It’s a mistake to think that just because buyers don’t know you, that doesn’t mean you can’t make outbound inquiries. But we’re making them with warmer leads. So you still should be reaching out but at the same time, you should also be reaching out to your existing customers to spot opportunities. Salespeople have a huge blind spot there, and it’s amazing how many of your customers are buying things that you sell from other people because they don’t know that you sell those things.
Another is that salespeople have to take back control of their pipeline and be brave. Find a way to help a customer reframe their thinking so that they’re thinking about the problem differently, and that we provide them some education or insights on better solutions. It’s like uncovering little bits of pieces of information from your customer so you can give them something valuable. But remember to face those uncomfortable conversations. You’re not going to excel in a career in sales if you’re going to sugarcoat and make everyone happy all the time.
Retaining salesforce in a time of uncertainty
Create Bespoke Programs
You have to get clear as a sales leader about what motivates your sales team. Money is not a universal motivator, but it is a universal demotivator if there’s a lack of it.
So you have to truly understand what that sales rep is interested in. Is it working from home? More vacation? Only wanting to work with existing customers? Have bespoke programs for each sales rep depending on their needs, what they value, and what they’re good at.
You want that person who’s going to retire in the next few years to stay with you because they have that body of knowledge. On the other hand, you need those younger salespeople or newer salespeople to love what they’re doing and succeed quickly so that they stay with you. So see if there’s an opportunity to build some kind of bespoke program that caters to each sales rep.
Coaching has always been important, yet underutilized from the sales management perspective. If you hire a natural talent, then they would have the ability to move the bar even higher. And they all need coaching at the top end, the medium end, and the low end. Sales managers who don’t coach and who then don’t get performance out of their team are responsible for that.
Sales coaching: what it is and is not
Coaching is affecting behavior change, simple as that. And it is done on a regular schedule (the ideal being one on one every other week.) For example, dedicate 30 minutes at a time in the office or over a video where you cover core metrics in your pipeline, whether you’re ahead or behind and what you’re going to do about it. There should always be action steps and follow-ups.
Coaching should never be something that the sales rep can apply just to that one opportunity and then have to keep coming back to you over and over again. Make coaching space to expand and learn.
There are also regular group sales meetings that are a form of coaching if people are sharing best practices and applying them.
Another kind of coaching is ride-along coaching. And this is where a lot of sales managers make a mistake. They love to ride along with their sales reps to save the day and win the business. And they still base their worth to the company on their ability to close and be the best salesperson. But your job is not to be the best salesperson. Your job is to make every single person on your team better than you ever were. That is how you accelerate your commission as a sales leader.
About Colleen Francis
Colleen is driven by a passion for sales – and results. A successful sales leader for over 20 years, she understands the particular challenges of selling in today’s competitive market, and that business leaders can no longer rely on approaches to sales based on techniques from decades ago—or even last year.
Whether maximizing revenue from sales teams or seizing new market opportunities, Colleen works with businesses to develop the right sales strategies for success and delivers practical approaches to ensure it sticks. Colleen’s results have attracted clients such as Chevron, John Deere, NCR, Trend Micro, Merck, Abbott, Experian, Royal Bank, Dow, and hundreds of other industry-leading companies.
Time and time again, clients who work with Colleen note her frank, no-nonsense approach to accelerating sales while reducing effort and increasing profits. Colleen’s practical strategies deliver immediate and lasting results.
A recognized thought leader in sales leadership, she is an inductee into the Professional Speaker Hall of Fame and has been named the #1 sales influencer to follow by LinkedIn.
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