How do you create a winning sales strategy? I received several notes last week on my blog asking how Zig Ziglar would train sales professionals today. One reader asked me what big trends were impacting sales professionals and what skills will be required to succeed in selling in the future. I thought it might be helpful to share several of the trends I see in professional selling. Over the next several weeks, I will focus on issues surrounding professional selling because many of you are responsible for overseeing sales growth within your organizations. By sharing these ideas and trends I hope you can see new possibilities for your organization’s future.
The first trend is the shift in power from seller to customer. For many products and services, we were always responsible for teaching our clients about our products and services. Today the person buying has many choices from whom they choose to buy. They have typically spent time researching your product and service and may know more about it than your sales person does. This means less sales calls for sales professionals. Salespeople who learn how to manage this trend become effective at receiving RFPs while have limited insight into the client’s organization. This is a formula for lower pricing and profits for companies bidding on this new business.
The second trend is global competition for many of your products and services. It’s not only that customers have power but they also have a global market in which to find it. With the power of social networking, individuals and organizations can check your references without ever talking with you. Testimonials are the new social currency and individuals who are social savvy can build or destroy your reputation online. The worst part about this is you may not even know how to correct this when it occurs.
The third trend is continuing specialization of a commodity. Support costs are increasing and sales prices are falling. The combination can make doing business even more difficult with new customers. A sales professional has to decide where to invest their time for the best ROI. Antiquated commission structures may unintentionally work against increasing sales revenue with current clients and reward sales people who get new clients with limited upside potential. Sales cycles lengthen as more competition is introduced into the picture. People on the client site want to reduce risk by spending more time on due diligence in their purchasing process. In return no buying decision is made.
The fourth trend is sales forces continue to be stretched thin. Many sales professionals are taking on additional non-revenue producing activities from social media, project management to collections. Social media without a strategy is a sure formula for failure. Many early adopters have gotten little return on their time invested. Many sales professionals have confused these activities with traditional sales activities and their sales numbers have fallen because of their efforts.
The fifth trend is that sales professional are responsible for leading their client development activities on site. They’ve had limited success leveraging their best resources in hopes of optimizing their time spent with current and long term clients. This can mean more of your better business is at risk and you’re missing new growth opportunities because of communication breakdowns between the various client-facing people at the client’s location. Clients who are unclear about who they should talk with go outside looking for new partners to provide an integrated solution. Consultants on the client site fail to communicate with the account executive concerning their experiences with their clients. Many times they pass information on to their operations manager and it gets lost in the process.
The final trend is lack of investment in training for sales professionals and consultants. For many years, companies who invested in training for their sales teams got better results. Because of the extended economic malaise, many organizations have invested less in business development training. The result of this lack of training is many younger sales professional have received little or no formal sales training. During these times, organizations have not effectively used sales mentors to help get new team members up to speed and have relied more heavily of their seasoned professionals to pick up the slack. In many cases, this has led to decreasing sales and profits and a higher level of employee burnout on their sales team. Younger sales professionals who were expecting training after a reasonable time begin leaving your organization without becoming contributing members.
The six trends I’ve shared could impact your sales organization in 2013 and beyond. The question for you is what can you do to avoid these problems in the coming year? My suggestion is to begin implementing a team based selling strategy. Next week, I will begin sharing what you can do build a high performing selling team in the coming year.