"Accept the challenges so you can feel the exhilaration of victory." —General George S. Patton, U.S. Army.
We've all been encouraged to “reframe challenges as opportunities” at one time or another. But in sales, we need to overcome challenges rather than merely accept them.
Many such challenges will pertain to how their workplaces are organized. According to one survey, the lack of a common corporate sales process is among the top challenges faced by modern sales organizations, second only to sales cycles getting too long and competitive differentiation issues. Poor sales/marketing alignment is another stumbling block. Other organizational challenges include poor focus, and smooth adoption of technology.
This challenge isn't surprising, given the different methods used by different salespeople in different departments and locations. Many travel constantly; their lives are hectic, so things easily go off the rails. But even salespeople who work at home may find themselves inundated with organizational challenges.
Some variability is unavoidable; face-to-face selling doesn't work the same way as phone-based sales, for example. But lead generation, basic sales methodology, how customers are brought into and guided through the system—all can be standardized and documented so everyone handles them the same way. While it may not be easy, application of the appropriate technology and training can ensure that all tributary streams flow into one mighty river where fulfillment, customer service, upselling, and other factors all fit seamlessly into the whole, no matter the product or how it's sold.
This may be the most common challenge salespeople face. Customers expect them to deliver exactly what marketing promised—which generates problems when marketing promised the equivalent of a Bengal tiger, while development delivered a sleek ocelot, as originally planned. Even when the "ocelot" does exactly what the customer needs, they may feel disappointed because sales didn't give them what they expected.
Bringing marketing in on the common sales process (once you have one) can help align that department with reality. The marketing personnel will learn to market the ocelot, not the tiger. Development must participate in the loop as well, so both sales and marketing can be absolutely sure of what they're selling. Otherwise, the cognitive discord between these essential groups can shatter the company.
An overarching, common creation/marketing/sales process, carefully defined and vigilantly maintained by leadership, fixes this problem. Employing technology like MS Project brings everyone onto the same page and keeps them there, from the first inkling of an idea to the product's final delivery.
The average salesperson wastes too much time on unimportant issues. Confusion, misguided cost-cutting efforts, noise, false opportunities, and poor self-discipline result in many spending less than half their time selling. You can address these issues with just a few general solutions:
Delegate. Lean on the talented people in your sales support departments instead of doing things yourself. Stop doing non-selling activities. Push low-value items as far down the hierarchy as possible, encouraging your team members to do the same.
Filter. Use dashboards, scoreboards, and other tech-tools to put important metrics where everyone can see them. With the rise of ubiquitous online connectivity, it can be relatively easy for anyone anywhere to "keep score" and focus on their most profitable tasks.
Self-Control. Cut yourself off from distractions and reinforce your self-discipline. This may mean taking fewer socializing breaks, no longer checking personal social media during work hours, or setting call quotas for yourself. Coach your team members to tighten their self-control.
We can't remain competitive without up-to-date technology, but the constant updates and new programs can confuse people. Smoothly adopting new technology requires careful analysis of the pros and cons, and a high level of focus to push it through. It also requires consistent training for all involved.
The process will soon break down, for example, if only three people in the company know how to use a mission-critical program, or if no-one can access their sales metrics without fumbling through a steep learning curve. Spend the time and money necessary to train them in the new technology so you can enjoy a smooth adoption, or you'll waste a lot more in the long run.
Like all businesses, sales organizations depend on their leaders to act as pathfinders, blazing a trail into a productive future. Until you face the challenges outlined here head-on and tighten up your processes, you and your team will suffer from the chaos inherent to the modern business world—and your profits will suffer.
Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE, aka The Productivity Pro®, gives speeches and seminars on sales and leadership productivity. For over 25 years, she’s worked with Fortune 1000 clients to reduce inefficiencies, execute more quickly, improve output, and increase profitability. Laura is the author of seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. To inquire about having Laura speak at your next sales kickoff or conference, please tweet her @laurastack or visitwww.TheProductivityPro.com.
Considering that 68% of a sales rep’s time is spent not selling, most salespeople have room for improvement when it comes to how they spend their time. Download our e-book 5 Secrets of the Most Productive Salespeople to learn how to boost your sales efficiency.