April 24, 2024

The Great Sales Team Recession: Let's Talk About Skills Gaps.

This article is one part of a larger piece of work looking at how to re-energize post-pandemic sales teams.

Five critical areas to enhance sales team performance.


02 - Re-skilling Sales Teams

A generation or two ago there were a handful of companies known for their world-class sales organizations. Admission into these great teams meant working your butt off, being well compensated for performance and gaining first-class training and work experience that opened doors for future career success. Correct me if I’m wrong (and please do) but when it comes to sales organizations, I can’t think of a single company today with that kind of large-scale reputation.

That’s not to say there are no longer any great sales organizations and there are certainly excellent salespeople out there today, but it seems the machinery is no longer in place to create exceptional salespeople at scale.

And the business world is feeling the loss.

Today, 8 in 10 sales reps are not hitting their targets.

And a 2023 survey found that 91% of companies fail to achieve 80% or more of their quota targets.

A VP of Sales preparing for his quarterly team review.

What happened? New technology as well as new approaches to B2B selling have changed how products and services are sold. Social selling (using social media tools to build pipeline and clients) grew to such a degree that in 2014, one company declared their salespeople no longer needed telephones.* During the recent boom years, sales teams got away with looser approaches because when the markets were hot, sell things was easier.

And then recently the markets turned.

*I looked up that company with no phones and it turns out they no longer exist. Who could have guessed??

Basically, the barrage of change means that many salespeople haven't found, or re-discovered, their sales mojo.

So here we are, post-pandemic, looking to recalibrate.

Today pipeline building and progressing deals is more difficult than in the past decade or so. Response rates from digital efforts are critically important, but they are lower than previous years. A.I. created messaging is already flooding the digital world and this is making it harder to be heard in an already over-saturated world of content.

"I sent the prospect a follow up email and they haven't responded."

Ladies and Gents, we need to re-introduce sales teams to the telephone.

Combining calling into social selling and email campaigns works but many salespeople fail to pick up the phones as part of this multi-touch approach.

For the last 15 years or so as Social Selling has grown, more and more sales reps have been leaning on email, Linkedin and doing "online research" to learn more about their prospects. The promise of Inbound marketing is certainly appealing but it's not easy to get it to work. FUN FACT, one of the leading Inbound Marketing providers asked my company for....wait for it...phone-based outbound lead gen help. Isn't it ironic, Alanis?

These phone skills include having a strong elevator pitch, organizing qualifying discussions, handling objections and perhaps, most importantly, the ability to get rejected. Let me re-phrase that last point. The ability to get rejected often and not get discouraged.

Many salespeople have lost (or are too young to have had) these important phone-based skills and this is one of the reasons why we’re now in a sales team recession.

AI art prompt: "Create an image of a salesrep who is frustrated because the company's inbound marketing isn't working as promised."

What to do about it:

While many organizations are no longer willing or able to invest in the old-school sales training systems in the past, just as the role of the salesperson has shifted, so to have the methods for building high-functioning sales teams.

Here are 3 ways to Re-Skill Sales Teams:

1)      Consider bringing in a fractional sales leader who is focused on training and mentoring customer-facing teams. Specifically, this person should drive initiatives that emphasis 1:1 prospecting and early-stage lead conversations as well as driving deal velocity.

2)      Some organizations have invested in sales training in the past and found that the teams understand the system but do not know specifically how to apply it to their day-to-day business. The system is “what” they are supposed to do, but there are frequent gaps to “how” they are supposed to do it. If you don't want to take the Fractional route, consider a training / coaching program that focuses on the how.

This usually gets straight into the human connection. When your sales rep picks up the phone, how exactly are they going to organize the conversation? How exactly are they going to say it? How are they going to reply to whatever objection or pushback comes their way?

3) Bring back roleplays. This ties directly from the first two points.

Example: A while back of my call centers spent 20 minutes each Thursday morning where Business Development Specialists would break off on 1 on 1 practice roleplays. They focused on different topics each week. For example:

Week 1: Calling introduction and elevator pitch

Week 2: Objection handling

Week 3: Questioning strategies and closing calls to establish next steps

Week 4: Objection handling (again as this was the area causing the most stress and was leading to call reluctance)

Then repeat.

It worked. The team became noticeably better. I know it worked because about 8 months later, the team's numbers began dipping. When we looked into the problem we found, you guessed it, the team has stopped practicing.

Re-skilling sales teams through targeted training, mentorship, and practice is essential for overcoming modern sales challenges and achieving sustained success in the post-pandemic era.

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