LET’S start with a controversial statement and one that flags the need for sales forces to recognise they have to adapt to stay relevant in today’s market reality.

To raise your professional sales capability, stop selling!

There is a strong reason to “stop selling”.

Buyers are better trained and better equipped nowadays, and they do not want to be sold to. They do not need or want a sales pitch.

Hence, sales teams have to play “catch up” on acquiring new skills and adapting to the new reality.

Research from Chief Sales Officer Insights indicates that the number of sales forces hitting their goals and targets hovers around the 50 per cent mark, so there is a strong message to sales people: Adapt or become irrelevant.

In Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, he writes: “Get the right people on the bus, in the right seats, and get the wrong people off the bus.” He makes a valid point.

Further comprehensive and validated data is available from the Objective Management Group, the pioneers of sales specific assessments.

Founder and chief executive officer Dave Kurlan says: ‘‘We started designing and developing sales specific assessments in the late 1980s.

“Tools available then were limited to, or based on, personality or behavioural tools that had been adapted to sales, which is pretty much the case today.”

Mr Kurlan adds: “Over those 20-plus years, we have evaluated more than 500,000 sales staff, over 50,000 sales managers and more than 8,800 sales forces across a diverse range of industries around the world.”

The validated data that has emerged should cause concern:

  • 85 per cent of sales forces have no formal sales process;
  • 32 per cent of sales staff cannot/will not sell;
  • 61 per cent of sales staff sell inconsistently;
  • Just 7 per cent of sales staff sell consistently;
  • 21 per cent of sales staff cannot be trained;
  • 45 per cent of sales managers struggle to manage effectively;
  • Few sales forces have genuine new business sales staff, that is hunters; and
  • There is a mismatch in sales role allocation.

The good news is that the data indicates that the average growth potential of a sales force today is a whopping 85 per cent.

Mr Kurlan says: “Show me any CEO or VP of Sales who would not be happy to have a genuine 20 per cent uplift in revenue, let alone 85 per cent.”

There is an inescapable fact — sales forces are leaving millions of dollars on the table.

Sales forces need to redesign their entire sales approach by moving away from “hard selling”.

They have to diffuse the pressure they create for themselves, thereby taking the pressure off the buyer.

Buyers want to engage in a business conversation, not a sales pitch. That requires a different combination of skills over and above traditional sales skills.

Buyers have a variety of issues, problems, perspectives, styles and personalities.

They are rightly demanding that the salesman has business acumen and is not simply focused on “selling what he has in the bag”.

Skills

The skill set of sales staff will need to look something like this:

  • Business skills/acumen,
  • Communication skills,
  • Listening skills,
  • Empathy skills,
  • Presentation skills,
  • Negotiation skills,
  • Thinking skills, and
  • Decision making skills.
Characteristics

A well-developed sales force will have the following characteristics:

  • Learning and development is seen as an ongoing and frequent investment and not simply ad hoc sales training which does not work;
  • Daily or weekly online and offline coaching, developed by great sales management;
  • Access to learning and development workshops;
  • The right people in the right roles based on an accurate evaluation, not gut instinct;
  • Customised training. The notion that all sales staff need the same training at the same time is frankly naïve, yet it happens frequently today;
  • Only “A” players, whether they are salesmen or sales managers;
  • Accountability, with no excuses; and
  • A compensation/benefits package that reflects and rewards great performance.
Makeover needed

The sales force recruitment process needs a makeover.

Wrong sales hires at any level cost money and potentially damage a brand.

The Objective Management data points to a robust 10-step process for sales personnel recruitment and that includes evaluating/assessing every applicant at the outset, not just those on the shortlist.

Many sales recruiters are missing both the critical skills and the major weaknesses in candidates that will determine sales success because subjectivity in selection is alive and well.

Sales managers and recruiters still hire people in their own likeness and, while understandable, the approach is flawed.