Below is a blog post from the Harvard Business Review by Steve W. Martin. What are the top challenges your salespeople are facing today? Do you know what obstacles are preventing them from closing more business deals?
Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to interview several hundred business-to-business salespeople about how they win over prospective clients and the circumstances when they lose. These interviews were conducted with salespeople across a wide variety of industries including high technology, telecommunications, financial services, consulting, industrial equipment, healthcare, and electronics, to name a few. Their companies ranged from start-ups to billions of dollars in sales with the majority being between $50 million and $500 million in annual revenue.
During the interviews I always ask the salespeople to describe the top challenges they were facing. Specifically, I try to find the obstacles that prevent them from closing more business (as opposed to a general list of items that made their job more difficult). Since I didn’t want to influence their answers, I asked open-ended questions instead of providing them with a list of topics to be ranked. Below, you will find the most frequently mentioned responses prioritized from most to least important.
No Decision. The real enemy of salespeople today isn’t their archrivals; it’s no decision. Customers will go to great lengths to reduce the stress of buying. They list their needs in RFP documents that are hundreds of pages in length. They hire consultants to verify that they are making the right decisions. They’ll conduct lengthy product evaluations and talk to existing users of the products to ensure they work as advertised. All these steps are taken in an effort to eliminate their fears, reduce their uncertainties, and satisfy their doubts. However, customers are never 100 percent sure they are purchasing the right product and there are always naysayers in the organization who are against moving forward. As a result, customers frequently won’t make a purchase even after an exhaustive evaluation.
Stalled Sales Cycles. Customers are more cautious than ever and moving the client to the point where they will make a purchase is a formidable undertaking. In some cases, the excitement generated by the salesperson’s initial 30,000 foot sales pitch to senior executives didn’t motivate meaningful follow-up from the lower level personnel of the customer’s organization. At other accounts, prospective buyers weren’t experienced with purchasing products. They didn’t understand how to sell their project internally and were unable to garner senior executive sponsorship. During lengthy sales cycles, evaluators frequently become reoriented toward other emergencies and the decision makers disappeared. Increasingly, purchasing has more say over decisions that were previously made solely by business areas. Procurement can be introduced very late during a sales cycle and reopen the process long after the salesperson thinks he has already won the deal.
Inability to Penetrate New Accounts. One of the most difficult tasks in all of sales is to penetrate new accounts. Salespeople continually cited how hard it was to generate initial customer interest and secure an introductory meeting. In almost every interview, salespeople also lamented the lack of leads being generated by their marketing department as well.
Product Commoditization. Nearly every market today has matured to the point where there is very little difference between the features, functions, and specifications of the competitive products.
Price versus Value. From the customer’s standpoint, the cost of the salesperson’s solution was prohibitive because the perceived value of the operational benefits did not justify the price. In other cases, a competitor’s price was significantly less thereby blocking the salesperson’s future involvement in the sales cycle.
800 Pound Gorilla. Many underdog sales organizations have to compete against the mindshare of 800 pound gorillas in their marketplace. Companies like Microsoft, Cisco, and IBM are so dominant in their particular industry that they win business by default.
“Nice-to-Have” Product. During these tough economic times, companies have drastically cut back on any type of purchase that may be considered non-essential or a luxury. In other situations, the salespeople indicated they lacked the financial arguments and real-world proof points to move their product into the “must-have” category.
Internal Sale. At many companies the difficult task of winning over new customers is equally matched by the effort required to sell the deal internally. Salespeople not only have to rally internal support to pursue an account, they must aggressively justify the approval of legitimate business terms and pricing concessions. They also have to contend with long-drawn-out internal processes to generate proposals, quotes, and contracts that can impact deal momentum.
Administrivia. Salespeople complained that excessive updating of CRM systems, time consuming forms/reports required by management, and post-sales administration activities sapped valuable selling time in the field.
Pre-sales Resources. Many sales organizations are not adequately staffed with enough pre-sales engineer resources and product specialists to fully support all sales efforts. In addition, these technical resources also serve as an important escalation focal point should problems arise during the initial product implementation. When the customer has a negative experience it hinders future purchases and the lack of referenceable customers impacts sales efforts overall.
It’s important to be aware of what salespeople see as their chief obstacles–especially during a tough economic environment that is making their jobs especially challenges. The percentage of salespeople making quota at some organizations was as low as 35 percent in 2012, and this is no doubt in due to the challenges listed above. Finally, I believe these challenges have also directly influenced the top business-to-business sales trends for 2013.
- Ten Reasons Salespeople Lose Deals (blogs.hbr.org)
- Top Reasons Salespeople Lose Business (lumbertribe.wordpress.com)
- Does Your Company Have the Right Number of Salespeople? (lumbertribe.wordpress.com)