The 2014 Sales Problem

Having already conducted multiple company Sales Kickoff Events this month, the 2014 trend is becoming clear: Reps are getting better, yet it’s getting harder to sell. It’s like climbing a mountain top but now with equipment that is better, lighter, sturdier and easier to use. It’s still a tough and challenging mountain and teams can get bogged down even with apparently improved tools, approaches and strategies.

It’s a problem worthy of note and insidious in its impact on teams that may go quarters unaware of threats that can undermine their year.

3 Issues
There are 3 major issues that we’re seeing in the sales practices and efforts of otherwise high-performing sales organizations. These issues are tricky as they are a part and parcel of the new selling era and key to success. Yet like a recipe where one adds too much salt, the end results are negatively impacted if one is not paying attention to details and subtleties.

    1. Old School to New School Crossover – There’s been sales methodology overload with so much having been communicated over recent years to salespeople and management about the new ways to sell. Be it Challenger Selling, New Solution Selling, even SPIN Selling, etc., the modern young and the veteran salesperson is often struggling in the crossover and development of means, tactics, techniques and strategies of selling. It’s become somewhat of a hodgepodge of selling philosophies and a mixed bag of semi-developed skill sets that I am now seeing consistently across sales teams.

    Solution: It really does involve teaching young and old dogs new tricks. It is possible and powerfully effective. It takes company commitment to understanding and wisely implementing a leveraged selling process/approach that is customized for their marketplace. It’s no longer about ‘off the shelf’ or packaged selling programs (Old School). It’s time to get everyone onboard and on the same page with the right modern approach.

    2. Social Media Bandwagon – The pressure to play in social media is undeniable. The application of these tools in professional selling is powerful and profound. It is the new way to research, engage, and build a following of advocacy, endorsements and referrals. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are the big ones. The problem here is twofold: a) Overkill – reps can easily spend too much time in various groups, blogs and chats producing and digesting comments and content, and b) Customer Sophistication – just as reps and companies are upping their social media game, so are the prospect customers and end-user targets. These are no longer cool differentiators as everyone’s doing it. Customers are overloaded and no longer impressed.

    Solution: Prudence takes this to the next level. Social Media is here to stay and so needs to be corralled and harnessed as appropriate for your environment. There are best practices that are now fundamental. There are also practices that are distractions and time-wasters. Social Media Selling now becomes a subset topic of focus in the Sales Enablement and Sales Effectiveness Training realm.

    3. It’s the Story, Stupid, But… – As I often have to remind myself, good selling really always comes down to the articulation, the pitch or the “story” (being the latest buzzword). Nothing new here, one might think, yet there really is. Salespeople with a good Story but out of context in the Sales Process is like a driving a Lamborghini on a residential side street. It’s beautiful but not optimized. We’re seeing (and teaching) storytelling but it is not a panacea for sales effectiveness. It has to be placed in and around the execution of a deliberate and defined selling process designed for optimization.

    Solution: Developing contextual sales storytelling application and nuance is what today separates wheat from chaff. Managing the Prospecting to Presentation phase is fraught with necessary qualification requirements and checklists, probing questions and now challenging provocations and whiteboard/storytelling landmines. This needs to be defined, clarified, taught, practiced and field-implemented so that best practices get institutionalized across an effective storytelling selling machine.

So we welcome 2014. Do not lose heart or be discouraged, as recall every year brings new issues and challenges. The good news here is that all of this is manageable and fixable. But it does need to be addressed across enterprise sales teams and reigned in before sloppy and ineffective sales practices become infectious and damaging.