Sales managers – are you ready for 2015?

According to Bain & Company, B2B sales executives have seen a tremendous disruption in recent years – and there’s every reason to believe the trend will continue.

In most B2B markets the buying process has changed dramatically.  At the center of change is the fact that buyers have access to more and better information about you and your competitors then ever before.

As Bain points out: “Many buyers will have researched a supplier, queried some of its customers and screened the supplier out of consideration before the supplier’s rep has an opportunity to contact the prospective buyer.

They go on to point out – “The traditional role of the sales rep identifying needs and communicating product features is waning, and the ranks of quota-carrying reps without relevant expertise in an industry, function or offering will disappear.”  Companies want sales reps that can function as trusted advisors who can provide fresh insights and new ideas for solving business problems.  There is a decreasing need for sales reps that function strictly as product facilitators.   

So how ready are most companies to respond to this new state-of-affairs?  Well, unfortunately this is where the bad news starts to unfold.  According to Bain, few companies are prepared for the structural changes taking place. They surveyed 550 B2B sales executives – here are the results:

  • 60% said their companies do not consistently do a good job of aligning offers to target customer segments.
  • Only 40% said their sales reps have a strong understanding of their company’s differentiation.
  • Only 35% said their marketing and sales organizations have strong operational alignment.
  • Almost one-third said the majority of their reps do not have the requisite skills.
  • Three-quarters have made significant investments in technology—but less than a third have realized marked improvements in sales effectiveness from those investments.

Bain argues that companies must take a fundamentally new approach to Sales – and quickly.

From our perspective Bain’s sense of urgency is well taken.  In addition, for many companies the change is not about a little tweak here and a little fine-tuning there.  The change will more than simply doing a better job doing what you are doing; it will be about doing something different.  So what are some things a company can do right now to do a better job getting ready for 2015?

  • Selection.  A first step would be to take a fresh look at the selection profile for hiring new sales reps. If customers want trusted advisors rather than product facilitators, then hire sales reps with a different skill profile that would include skills related to executing a consultative sale including industry, customer segment, and technical knowledge.  A correlated thought is to remember that bigger and better onboard training is a great next step.
  • New product launches.  A second area of focus for getting starting would be to up your game when it comes to the sales training associated with new product launches.  This is an excellent case in point for trying out ideas for better alignment between Marketing and Sales.
  • Technical personnel.  Many companies have a cadre of engineers and technical staff who have extensive expertise for providing the insights and ideas the customs are asking for.  The challenge is to provide these people with the sales skills required to get actively and effectively engaged in the sales process.  In many cases the knowledge customers are demanding is simply not going to be acquired by the sales people; it is just an unreasonable demand.  So leverage the power of a team sale versus staying with the lone-wolf model.

In any period of disruption new winners and losers emerge.  The trap is changing too little – too late.

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©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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