What are the challenges of modern selling?
Over the last 22 years, I’ve been around the world 14 times, and I’ve worked in 36 countries with over 10,000 salespeople. And what I’ve seen particularly more recently is that the challenges that salespeople face fall into three main categories. The categories they fall into are
– Busy, Busy, Busy
– Olde Worlde
– Muddled Mindset
Let’s think about each of these.
One of the challenges is Busy, Busy, Busy.
Now, this is all about being ineffective. When salespeople are busy, busy, busy, essentially what they’re doing is running around, doing lots and lots of stuff, but stuff which isn’t having any significant impact on results. So, this is a very wasteful way of working which collect a huge amount of our most valuable resource, which is time.
It’s also very tiring. Expending all that energy, particularly when not getting anything back, can be a real downer, both physically and emotionally. And because it’s so unfocused, what it means is that really people are just going to get busier as they chase their tails to try to get the results that they’re trying to achieve. So Busy, Busy, Busy is a real challenge for a modern-day salesperson.
Another of the challenges that I often see is that of Olde Worlde.
Olde Worlde is essentially about being old-fashioned in sales. And the way this manifests itself is that a salesperson becomes very self-centred. They talk about themselves, they talk about their product, they talk about their organization. They don’t think about the customer. Yet we know that modern selling has to be customer-centric. We’ve got to be more customer-focused than ever to be successful.
Another way that we see Olde Worlde selling shows itself is with salespeople becoming too technical. They get to focused on the products or services they offer and get right down into all the detail. It’s quite likely that is what interests them, but the problem is that for customers, it’s all about outcomes. It’s a solution to a problem they’re looking for, so talking to them this way doesn’t really work.
The other thing that we can see with Olde Worlde selling, and this is probably the biggest cause for concern, is using poor practice. In other words, it’s using old fashioned techniques that maybe were considered to be quite avant-garde or quite clever at one time. But this was a time where manipulation was thought to be a clever idea, and we know that it’s not. It’s what gets sales a bad name. Any kind of practices that are trying to force a customer to make a decision or make a customer do something that isn’t necessarily in their best intent is something that we wouldn’t encourage. That is why being Olde Worlde is a real challenge for modern salespeople.
A further challenges that I also see for professional salespeople today is that they’re having a Muddled Mindset.
This is to do with not really knowing what it is that they’re trying to achieve. It is a result of the messages being cascaded to them not being consistent. They don’t make sense, and it often starts at an organizational level. The organization isn’t really clear exactly what it’s trying to sell and how it is trying to sell. This means that the management is then getting mixed messages in what they’re trying to reinforce, essentially what they’re trying to get salespeople to do. So the poor individual salesperson really doesn’t know whether they’re coming or going.
A simple to describe this would be an organization that says ‘We’re consultative, we work in selling solutions, we want to help the customer, we’re customer-centric’. And they may behave this way for the majority of the time, getting salespeople to get in touch, ask questions, understand the customer and what they’re trying to achieve. That is until the end of the month. Then it’s all hands on deck to try and sell stuff. The whole sales approach becomes far more transactional, far more pushy, short termist. It’s about the sales organization’s interests at heart, not that other customers. So really, it just muddles people’s thinking in what are we actually trying to do here? What’s going on?
Overcoming the challenges
So how do we overcome the challenges of modern selling?
One of the challenges in modern selling is Busy, Busy, Busy, and this is about being ineffective. It’s where salespeople are wasteful, it’s where they get tired, it’s where it’s unfocused. And so the answer to this is to start with great preparation. Making the most of opportunities by really understanding them, thinking about the people involved, what they’re trying to achieve, how can we help them with that.
It means being very clear on what it is that we’re going to do so that this can then be fed into a plan. So, thinking about exactly what is going to happen as a result of the information and the thinking that we’ve done.
So, planning on a daily basis, planning what to do with the account, planning meetings, calls. These help people to become far more focused as well using a distinct process. Now we need to be a bit careful in forcing a sales process on customers, but by understanding that we have ways and systems and means of working that we know are effective make sense in eliminating the challenge of Busy, Busy, Busy.
The challenge of Olde Worlde or old-fashioned selling is about modernising. One of the things that we see with Olde Worlde is that it’s very self-centred. Sales will talk about themselves, their own product, their own service. So, we flip this. We get salespeople to think about how they can focus on the customer. How they can understand what they’re trying to do. How they can really think about what are the outcomes that they’re trying to achieve.
Not being too technical with a dated approach and so getting bogged down in detail but thinking about how we can follow a customer centric process. It is about doing things that have been designed to help keep the customer in mind.
And if we’re using poor practice, if it’s all about using old school tricks and techniques, this is about having a focus on being modern, understanding the things that make a difference today, doing the things that are current and unclear in the way of helping customers. This helps deal with the Olde Worlde challenge of modern selling.
The challenge of the Muddled Mindset that we know curses selling today is about having better alignment. From the top down, the organization needs to have absolute clarity about what it is that they’re trying to achieve and how they’re trying to achieve it. It is developing a style of sale and being consistent with that. If it’s about solution selling, if it’s about being consulting, if it’s about adding value, it’s then about staying on that track and not throwing those principles out the window as and when results are required quickly. Putting pressure on customers. And quickly discounting confuses people. The customer, the salesperson, management, nobody really knows what’s going on.
When the management is working with a clear direction, it means that their coaching can be all about making sure that salespeople are doing the very best they can to achieve what it is that we’re trying to try to do.
And from the individual level, this means that they have a level of confirmation. It means that they can be sure in what they’re going to say and do is in line with everything that the organization stands for. It means they can make better decisions. It means that they can do things that can potentially move a sale forward faster because they know that it’s consistent with what it is that we’re trying to achieve. That’s how we can deal with the Muddled Mindset challenges of modern-day selling.
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Fred Copestake is founder of Brindis, a sales training consultancy.
Over the last 22 years he has travelled round the world 14 times visiting 36 countries to work with over 10,000 salespeople.
His book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’ looks at the evolving world of sales and sets out what salespeople need to do to refine their approach. It explores how to take things to the next level through understanding partnering intelligence and using the innovative VALUE Framework.