Salesman

Technology and globalization have changed the way we do business. This is particularly true of the way that buying and selling happens, a subject I wrote about in my recent book The Radical Sales Shift. It’s getting more difficult each year for salespeople to be successful.

When I talk with company owners about the structure and composition of their sales teams, I hear many complimentary things, but they’re often tinged with unspoken concerns. These bosses know their long-serving sales people still have the skills for selling. But salespeople who have brought in millions of dollars in business in the past aren’t as successful at getting in front of potential customers as they once were. Today, those same superstars are failing to meet quotas.

The falling effectiveness of salespeople is a growing reality in every industry. There are three significant reasons for this change:

Customers Are Tougher To Reach

It’s not just that there are better gatekeepers than their used to be. Every good salesperson knows how to get around gatekeepers, but it’s the decision makers themselves that are harder to reach.

Many companies operate with fewer people and on a leaner scale than they did five years ago. That means employees simply don’t have time to meet with salespeople, or learn everything about the pitching company company that isn’t related to what they are working on now. Decision makers might not be able to see the relevance of a particular product at the moment, and so may rebuff salespeople who try to get in the door.

Today’s work reality is that everyone has priorities that take up all of their work day—if what you sell isn’t on their immediate ‘to solve’ list, you can forget about getting any of their time.

Continuing Globalization and Supply Options

Globalization isn’t anything new for professionals in the manufacturing sector. What’s new is the extent to which the options for sourcing are growing in other industries.

Buyers can now find the niche product or service that used to come from a specialized provider through a simple Google search. And they don’t just find one option— they find dozens. Sellers have much more competition, and they’re often dealing with international buyers who may have language barriers or different unfamiliar processes. These developments make it harder to form relationships and remain a preferred vendor.

Customers Are More Informed

It used to be that salespeople held all the cards during the sales process. They held all the intellectual property, data, specifications and competitive product knowledge that buyers needed to make informed decisions.

These days, customers have control. Customers can find pricing, comparative product reviews and competitive options without ever talking to a single sales person. They’ve often made up their minds even before their first conversation with a vendor.

• • • • •

These factors affect all workers, but older salespeople who have been successful using the sales process of a decade or more ago are especially hard hit. They may have difficulty adapting to new technologies and procedures, and may be less willing to spend time tracking down new customers. Customer acquisition is time-consuming and demanding, and those closer to retirement are more reluctant to participate in long-term relationship building that doesn’t guarantee them more sales.

To help their aging sales forces, business-to-business companies are turning to marketing. Marketing programs funnel in interested customers, allowing salespeople to spend less time on cold calls and more time doing what they do best—helping customers develop solutions to their problems.  As one business owner put it to me recently: “We get invited to the party now because of our marketing, and we become the life of the party because of our expert sales team.”  

Marketing hasn’t traditionally been part of the revenue generation mix for B2B companies. But whether its produced by an in-house marketing manager or an outsourced marketing team, marketing is playing an ever-larger role for companies with a mature and capable salesforce that needs help bringing in new customers.

Lisa Shepherd is author of the new book The Radical Sales Shift: 20 Lessons from 20 Leaders on How to Use Marketing to Grow Sales in B2B Companies and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She has been the youngest female CEO on PROFIT’s Ranking of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.

 

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Have you noticed a shift in buying behaviour in recent years? What are your salespeople doing to stay successful? Let us know by commenting below.

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