Solutions to Top Sales Challenges of 2019
Research from Richardson's 2019 Selling Challenges Research Study highlights the key sales challenges that sales professionals face. They received responses from more than 300 participants. Their research not only highlights the most common challenges faced by sales professionals but illustrates what effective selling looks like in 2019. The prevailing view is that simply possessing sales skill is NOT enough. Instead, sales professionals must be agile; they must possess the ability to quickly read the selling scenario, and understand which skills, behaviors and knowledge are needed at that precise moment and then react and execute accordingly. Moreover, they need the ability to seamlessly transition from one skill to another as they engage with different buyer personas and stakeholders at varying stages of buying cycle. Possessing this "sales agility" is what drives and maintains sales momentum.
So, what are the most common sales challenges slowing down sales cycles and how can IT staffing sales professionals overcome these challenges to make their number in 2019?
Solutions to Top Sales Challenges of 2019
1. Competing Against the Status Quo, Compelling Prospects to Change
Richardson asked hundreds of sales professionals what challenges their buyers face when making a purchasing decision. The most popular response, at 22%, was "building a case for change." Buyers are afraid of change, especially when they don't know exactly what sort of return they can expect from their investment of time, energy and resources. This is especially true when you consider that businesses today must work harder and faster to simply maintain their current level of performance and productivity. Many leaders view change as a dangerous interruption to their business. In fact, those who are considering change are overwhelmed by the complexity of the process. This trend explains why 21% of sales reps cited "comparing their options" as a key sales challenge deterring customers from making decisions and moving forward. Translation: "comparing options" means the customer is not yet ready to make a change and leave their status quo.
The Solution: Helping the customer build a case for change starts by sellers identifying the elements of the customers business that need to change and why. This typically occurs during sales discovery. These elements include things like the customer's strategy, the gap that exists between their current state and their desired future state and the compelling event (for leaving their current state), and consequences of taking no action. Sellers must develop the skills to lead genuine conversations with buyers about their level of commitment to change. Just as importantly, sellers must be skilled in creating and deploying a change plan to facilitate the transition and ensure the change is seamless.
2. Getting Face Time with Decision Makers
Getting in front of decision makers and capturing their attention is difficult. Shifting internal priorities and economic conditions compete for the stakeholder's time. As a result, 14% of survey respondents indicated that gaining appointments is the biggest challenge. The second and third biggest challenges identified by respondents in the survey included “getting to the right stakeholder" and "maintaining a consistent cadence of communication across multiple channels." Sales professionals not only need to capture the customer's attention, but they must also organize the stakeholders and get ALL of them to focus on a common solution, one that can each of their needs. This task often requires difficult sales maneuvers like getting all decision makers aligned on strategy and approach to solving a common problem, not to mention agreement on a solution. It also requires logistical moves like coordinating schedules.
The Solution: According to an ATKearney review of more than 1,600 B2B sales professionals, "accelerated commoditization and substitution" has made it easier for customers to circumvent sales professionals. Sales professionals can work to overcome this challenge by initiating the conversation with a "hinge." A hinge is any issue that's specific to the customer's industry or company, much like a sales trigger.
For example, a recent acquisition or new regulation are both examples of hinges. After identifying the hinge, sales professionals can cite a challenge associated with the event and suggest a course of action supported by (the sellers) offering. This approach culminates with a quantifiable result to the customer and a request for an appointment for further exploration. Using a hinge works because it is simplified messaging that's easy for a customer to absorb during a busy day.
3. Unpredictable Future Creates Uncertainty
Sales professionals indicated that customers have become more sensitive to risk. Data from Deutsche Bank support this, reporting that business cycles are likely to shrink in the coming years. Additional research from ATKearney echoes this finding, which reports that "about two-thirds of companies have a strategy horizon of four years or less." As one sales professional in the study remarked, some customers have already experienced "reduced income and related budget cuts." Another sales professional noted the difficulty of selling in 2019 given customers' fear of "potential economic slowdowns." These characteristics of the market today mean that fewer customers are willing to buy, and those who are prepared to make a purchase will only do so with the utmost attention to risk and measurable benefits.
The Solution: Sales professionals need to leverage a value proposition that addresses the risk and reward of making a change. Sales professionals shouldn't seek to eliminate all perceptions of risk among the stakeholders because it’s not possible. Instead, they should normalize risk and remind customers that some amount of risk is necessary when engaging a solution. But their value proposition should highlight the quantifiable results the customer can expect from from the solution such as increase in revenue or reduced costs. What's important is that the risk of change is calculated, understood, and outweighed by the expected benefits and results. It always helps for sales professionals to articulate how the same solution has served other customers facing similar challenges. Doing so offers a "proof of value" that helps the customer make the leap from what seems theoretical to something that is practical and real.
Effective sales professionals in 2019 will advance the sale by leveraging the right skills and knowledge at the right time. They will become agile in their approach to the various stakeholders who represent a variety of agendas, opinions and interests. The hundreds of sales professionals who participated in the Richardson survey made it clear that succeeding in 2019 will require sellers to adopt sales skills in which they can:
- Help the customer build a case for change (leaving the status quo)
- Gain the appointment by expressing knowledge about the specific challenges within a customer’s industry and ways in which the sellers solution solves the problem
- Help the customer acclimate to a calculated level of risk that normalizes their growing sensitivity to economic fluctuations
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.