Why Sales Reps Need More Learning and a Team

One area in most organizations that have been left untouched by technology changes is sales. Other than inserting better CRM tools into their repertoire, sales teams continue to follow the recipe from the past:

  1. Make voluminous calls.
  2. Fill your sales funnel.
  3. Sift and find the real buyers.
  4. Close and meet your monthly quota.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

However, this approach does encounter challenges resulting from the changing business environment. Today, people tend to screen calls due to abuses made by “robo-dialers” and other similar technologies.

Since the financial meltdown of 2008, people have been holding multiple positions. So, it’s not a surprise when a sales call finally connects that the interrupted person decides in seconds to end the call. That doesn’t mean that “cold calling” is dead.

Just be aware that more calls have to be made than ever before, while the quality of the who to call must improve. Buying lists from sources that “scrape” contact information from social media sites does ensure more current contact information. However, there isn’t a way to qualify who you are calling, other than a job title.

In addition to an outdated sales process in use today, companies tend to elevate their successful salespeople as “superstars.” And why not? They bare the burden of generating income for the organization. Salespeople perform tasks and engage in activities that are shunned by most others in the company. They are our modern-day superheroes.

We have accepted the idea that superheroes tend to work alone. Almost daily, we read sports headlines announcing a multi-million dollar contract to acquire a specific player. Somehow, this single addition to the team changes their odds of winning a championship.

Chicago Bears fans understand this better than any other National Football team. Khalil Mack, a gifted linebacker, elevated everyone’s game when he was acquired in 2018. His contributions transformed a team that was in last place the year before. They became Superbowl contenders.

Unfortunately, it came down to a struggling field goal kicker, Cody Parkey. Prior to missing the game-winning field goal in the Playoffs, he missed four times in one game alone, hitting the goal posts every time.

Here is his miss in the playoff game that ended the Bears’ 2018 season (Bears fan, don’t relive the moment):

This is a painful reminder that we win and lose as a team. But somehow, this mindset that salespeople operate in a vacuum, with an occasional reach to other departments, has been practiced for decades.

Make that Change

So, why should our sales recipe and strategies change? Because of the way buyers purchase has changed. We must reconsider the skills and strategies required in today’s business environment, if our sales teams are to continue their success and remain as top performers.

Consider the following challenges facing sales reps in this new environment:

1.) Buyers Team Up – Large purchases are never made by a single person. Not anymore. Buyers team up with company stakeholders who have a say in what gets purchased. You now have to present and gain consensus for a group of people in order to close the sale.

According to CEB, the average number of customers involved in a purchasing decision in 2014 was 5.4. Eighteen months later, this number grew to 6.8. Note in the illustration below how the chances of closing a sale drop as the number of people in the buying group increases.

What this means for SALES – Salespeople must learn who the stakeholders are and understand the issues they want to solve, as early as possible. The challenge is to appeal to the group without favoring any single department or individual. The sales rep needs to work closely with Marketing to produce meaningful presentations and collateral. When possible, the sales rep should invite technical staff to participate in the initial presentation. Expect candid questions and answers throughout the meeting.

2.) Buyers are Informed – It may be a surprise, but buyers search the Internet. They learn as much as they can about your company and products long before your scheduled meeting. And why not? Companies pay top dollar to produce great corporate websites. Buyers review product data, customer stories, and recommendations where possible. The challenge is that they also learn about your competitors.

A BizTime article on March 2016, cited a Forrester B2B survey where “70 percent of the information buyers saw before making a purchase decision was self-discovered and 89 percent of sales calls provide no value to the buyer.”

What this means for SALES– Salespeople can’t get away with claims that they have a unique product or solution. PowerPoint slides with three bullets and a list of features no longer works. Scheduled meetings must now be filled with real discussions about customer problems and how your product solves them. This requires salespeople to understand the product(s) they sell. They must build a closer relationship with their internal technical staff who can prepare them, as well as participate in customer conversations.

3.) Buyers Demand Benefits – There was a time when a generous list of features impressed a buyer. Whether they were used or required didn’t matter. Today, more buyers are USERS and understand the technology they want to buy. A project manager or purchase agent may be the conduit that connects you with their stakeholders, but it’s the stakeholders that make the decision. And they do so when they find products and/or solutions that benefit them directly.

According to a Harvard Business Review article called, Making the Consensus Sale, most buyer groups are further along in the search process than expected. “Customers are, on average, 37% of the way through a purchase process by the time they reach the solution-definition stage, and 57% of the way through the process before they engage with supplier sales reps.”

This means there is the likelihood that consensus within the customer group has fallen apart before the sales rep is invited to their first meeting. Sales departments that haven’t changed their strategy find their sales team is ill-equipped to control the sales process, foster consensus and drive the group to closing the sale. Most sales rep lack training in consensus building and conducting negotiations.

What this means for SALES – Salespeople can’t rely on scripted presentations and talking points. They must learn about the industry they are targeting and the benefits their products offer. The Sales rep must set aside time to work with their customer support staff who have a better handle on how products are being used in specific industries. They must reach out to the Marketing group who research and provide effective communication to elicit genuine discussion when presenting to potential customers.

Call to Action – Rebuild Your Team

It’s clear that sales teams in many companies are ill-prepared to handle buyer groups, now deployed by most companies. This shift in how clients buy and what they need underscores the growing call to provide “integrated content, training and coaching services for salespeople and frontline sales managers along the entire customer journey,” as advocated by Tamara Shenk.

Brian Williams, another researcher and sales leader, presents key sales stats that are revealing. Here are a few:

  • Firms with 100-500 employees have an average of 7 people in most buying decisions.
  • 80% of sales require 5 follow-up calls. 44% of sales reps give up after the first call.
  • 78% of sales rep using social media out sell their peers.
  • 13% of customers believe a sales person can understand their needs.
  • 55% of the people making their living in sales don’t have the right skills to be successful.

The stats above show that sales reps need training in many areas. But what areas of training do sales reps need to become top performers? Common to all top sales performers is that they are multi-dimensional. While not a definitive list, here are some areas top sales performers shouldmaster:

  • How to communicate effectively
  • How to write engaging proposals
  • How to build consensus
  • How to negotiate with buyers
  • How to work with personality types
  • How to manage the sales process

But remember that sales reps need a team around them. For some companies, this means that departments and groups need to be realigned so the entire sales process is supported. The Sales team must know they can reach out to the technical staff, customer service reps, and marketing group when needed. This means these additional groups will also need similar training.

While employees must engage in continuous training, the rewards for assigning and completing learning activities are well documented. The American Society for Training & Development reports that continuous training yields 50 percent higher net sales per employee.

The challenge is how to train your staff, and not just sales reps, without impacting schedules, quotas and performance. The answer is simple – Micro-learning, a holistic approach for skill-based learning.

MaxIT offers a library of 2500+ small learning modules that are presented as short videos focused on teaching skills. Because these lessons average 7-8 minutes in length, training can be consumed quickly. And it fits into any busy person’s schedule.

Many of the ideas in this article come from my subscription to Ability Platform. I invite you to register for a Free 7-Day Trial. Then enroll in any of the 100 learning paths, such as Negotiating with its 11 short video-based lessons.

Your team will develop 1-2 skills in the average time it takes most people to finish their first cup of coffee. And binge-learners will love the NetFlix-like user experience. 

Don’t let your Sales Team operate in isolation. Enable them with skills to address the group buyers. Ensure marketing, technical staff and customer support are ready to collaborate with your sales reps. Don’t wait to start. Your potential customers are already in the lead.

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