How salespeople should spend their time is a fascinating subject!
An interesting place to start is to agree on What is selling? – and indeed how much of their time should be spent selling.
A salesperson is one of the most expensive marketing investments a B2B company can make. (Yes, certainly Marketing is usually a different department to Sales, but personal selling is just one way of promoting a product, hence is a subset of marketing.)
As such, we need to maximise salespeople’s time spent on genuine sales activities.
So what is a genuine sales activity?
Activities often done by salespeople – that aren’t selling
Perhaps we should start by listing what isn’t selling:
• Cold calling
• Booking meetings with prospects
• Building relationships with prospects (if there is no point to it)
• Sending information to prospects
• Writing quotes, proposals and tenders
• Following up customer meetings
• Entering orders into a system
• Checking backorder reports
• Chasing outstanding orders
• Writing content
• Providing forecasts (although it’s a necessary evil – as long as something happens based on the forecast)
• Helping the project manager run the project
• Assisting or dealing with account/project problems
etc etc – you get the picture – but what is left?
So what should salespeople do?
In our world, the key skills of the sales person are to build trust, display empathy, teach, disrupt, influence and persuade with the goal of moving buyers to the next stage of their buyer’s journey, in favour of both the buyer and the sales organisation:
Anything that could be done by a lower cost resource (e.g. following up that white paper download) should be done by a lower cost resource.
The studies we have read indicate that best practice for a sales resource is to spend around 80% of their time selling. However, our research with clients generally reveals that sales folk spend less than 40% of their time actually undertaking sales activities!
Why are we getting high cost resources to do what lower cost resources can do?
So when salespeople do sell, what should they focus on?
Ambulance chasing is a popular sport for the majority of salespeople.
Sales people who focus on "building the relationship" service the customer well, get on with all the key influencers - but effectively wait for the customer to figure out what they want to buy, then rely on their relationship to ensure the customer will buy what they want to buy from them.
This works well until another salesperson comes along and points out to the customers that they’re buying the wrong stuff!
Other salespeople only engage when the prospect knows what they want, and in terms of our earlier buyer journey diagram, START ENGAGING PROVIDER.
Research from the folk that wrote The New Solution Selling book insists that only 5-10% of all opportunities involve the customer actually looking. The other 90-95% of opportunities are latent, the prospect doesn’t realise they have a problem they need to act on.
Now, great debate and PR wars between the Solution Selling and Challenger Selling camps about which methodology is dead!
But at the end of the day, the ability to create rather than pursue opportunities surely has to triumph.
When we pursue opportunities, we’re faced with:
• Multiple competitors
• Lower margins
• Lower win rates.
When we create opportunities where previously they didn’t exist, we have the opportunity to walk with the buyer along their buying journey and shape their thinking.
How we sell is now more important than what we sell.
Sure, the sales cycle will be longer, but the certainty will be much higher.
Corporate Executive Board research reveals that the biggest driver of customer loyalty is the sales experience. If we can solve problems for customers, if we can disrupt their thinking and show them new/better ways of running their business, this has to be how salespeople should spend their time.
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