Recently, Richardson collected responses from more than 300 sales professionals to learn about the current challenges in selling. More than half of our respondents carry a quota of over $1 million for 2019 and work in a variety of industries. We have used their answers to six key questions to develop actionable insights that can help sales professionals meet these challenges and ultimately reach their annual goals.
In surveying the answers provided it’s clear that sales professionals today need to become more agile. They need to transition from one selling skill to another when engaging the twisting path of the buyer’s journey. Agility is important with so many stakeholders in the picture. Each decision maker has an individualized sense of value. Moreover, each of these perspectives change as the stakeholders learn more about the true nature of their business challenge or goal. Effective sales professionals today can pivot between complex tasks like uncovering needs and maintaining profitability.
Agility is the responsiveness that keeps sales professionals on the road through the hairpin curves that threaten the sale at every turn.
In this article, we summarize key findings from the research. For more information and to access our insights for overcoming these challenges please download the full report by clicking here.
Top Selling Challenges of 2019
Prospecting: Sales professionals are encountering more challenges in their effort to get the customer’s attention. The top challenge within this category is gaining the appointment. Moreover, after a sales professional begins a dialogue with a customer they also face challenges in maintaining a consistent cadence of contact across multiple channels and getting to the right stakeholder. Overcoming these challenges means leading with messaging that relates to a current issue within the prospect’s world. In doing so sales professionals should use concise messaging that clearly outlines the issue, action, and value underpinning the solution.
Client Needs: We asked respondents to indicate the challenges they face when exploring customer needs. The biggest challenge here is creating value and insight during the conversation with the client. This challenge likely stems from the other two challenges cited which were overcoming buyers’ misperceptions of what they need and exploring client issues and challenges to define the strategic impact of the solution. To create value and insight sales professionals need a clear understanding of the customer’s challenge. Sometimes there are different understandings of the problem across several stakeholders. Therefore, sales professionals must uncover misalignment, determine what common ground exists, then build from there.
Negotiations: Maintaining profitability is the biggest challenge within negotiations. Pricing pressures are growing as more solutions become commoditized. Customers have also become more familiar with the bid process and are better positioned to seek the lowest possible price. Meanwhile, sensitivity to risk is increasing as businesses become less certain of future economic conditions. Effective sales professionals are learning to control the negotiation process by converting the customer’s demands to needs. A demand is inflexible and can only be satisfied with a concession. Needs, however, are flexible because sales professionals can meet them in a variety of ways. As a sales professional builds trust with the customer they are in a better position to do all these things.
Buyer’s Decision: We asked sales professionals what challenges they believe their customers face when making a purchasing decision. The most common challenge is building a case for change. As the pace of business intensifies, buying decisions are getting sidelined as leaders struggle to hit the quarterly and annual revenue goals. Even if the customers see the value in the solution, they often fear the burden of implementation and adoption that distracts from the growing list of daily responsibilities. Helping the customer build a case for change means addressing each element of the customer’s business which includes the customer’s strategy, the core issue, desired outcomes, solutions options, and perceptions of value and risk. The sales professional must acknowledge each of these factors and share insights that shape each one in their favor.
Managing Accounts: Sales professionals told us that becoming a trusted advisor was the biggest challenge in growing key accounts. Customers have more access to information than ever before. This scenario makes it difficult for sales professionals to bring new insights. Sales professionals also indicated that adding relevant value for various stakeholders and balancing sales and relationship management are challenges today. To become a trusted advisor, sales professionals must access the customer’s “hidden dialogue,” which are the conversations that happen away from the sales professional. Each of these conversations represents an iteration of the buyer’s journey, and the sales professional must be able to influence thinking at every step.
Critical Selling Skills: The top cited selling skill was delivering a compelling value proposition. A meaningful value proposition is rare in a business landscape characterized by commoditization. Quality is not the selling feature it once was. Customers assume all solutions offer quality, and they want more for their business. In fact, experts at Bain explain that their “research shows that with some purchases, considerations, such as whether a product can enhance the buyer’s reputation or reduce anxiety, play a large role.” A resonant value proposition takes these factors into account. Respondents also cited skills like asking insightful relevant questions and matching solution benefits to customer needs as important.
Challenges have become more varied. Additionally, each of these challenges requires sales professionals to leverage a variety of skills sometimes within the span of a single conversation. For this reason, we believe that a Connected Selling Curriculum™ is the answer.
At Richardson, we’ve developed a curriculum that is a collection of sales training programs built to work together and build upon each other across roles and capabilities to drive a common language and clear approach for sales performance at scale. The result is a spectrum of capabilities coupled with the ability to seamlessly transition from one to another.
You can check out the infographic that goes along with this article here.