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2018 reflections on B2B sales

Written by

Mike Stokes

As the new year begins, we’ve reflected on 2018 and would like to share five key insights on what we’ve seen in the world of sales. Through working with hundreds of sales leaders, sales people and companies in 2018, we get a unique view as to what’s working and what’s not.

We’ve also just finished our annual Mood of the Sales Leader survey (MOTSL) which we will share at the Mood of the Sales Leader event in Auckland on January 30. The survey highlights the views of over 180 sales leaders - collectively responsible for over $8 billion in revenue.

Five main Insights from 2018

1. Resourcing - Recruitment is still a major issue for all companies, although we saw the level of demand for sales people slip slightly in the last four months of the year. Stealing the words from the forestry fire danger signs, it has probably gone from extreme to very high.

Employing the wrong sales person is still a big issue for many companies. The cost of recruiting the wrong person is substantial and can significantly impact the medium to long term potential of your company. Opportunity cost is significant if the wrong person is put in a sales role, and can have a negative impact long after they depart.

If you wade into the debate about the need and benefit of incentives for sales people you will see that many are questioning it. We still believe in an incentive plan that helps to create and support a high performing culture in the right circumstances, but one thing we note is that the detrimental impact a poor performing incentive plan can have. In the MOTSL survey we noted 28% of sales leaders believe their plan is having little or no impact on performance. Or worse it’s having a detrimental impact on performance. That is a major financial and sales culture problem.

2. Competition – Still the biggest issue for companies, every year most see increases in competition. Business is getting harder as the world is getting smaller, how do we protect our patch from overseas companies and how do we stand out from other competitors? Sales people can help, as they will often be the first touch point others have with your company, but they can also stand out in the wrong way. Companies need to be vigilant about why they win and lose clients, and should focus heavily on “customer” or “prospect experience”. If you see competition in your market increasing – then plan for it to get even tougher. What is your plan to respond?

3. Technology – Over the last five years, sales may have changed more than the previous 100. We see that as a continuing trend in the years ahead. The way we search, engage, research, and how customers are purchasing is having a significant effect on the way we sell. Automation, chat bots and virtual reality is moving at such a pace that quite often you may not even be aware that you are not dealing with a human.

You may have decided not to invest in new technology, but you do need to understand the value it can bring, and how your customers or potential customers are beginning to purchase. Gartner stated in 2015 that by 2020, 85% of interactions between companies will be without human intervention. Do you really want to miss out on that because you prefer to operate the same way you have for decades? 46% of respondents to our MOSL survey indicated they are already investing in these disruptive technologies to boost sales automation. Are you?

4. Sales Leadership – If you want to have a significant impact on your sales performance in your company then focus on improving sales leadership. End of story! We are starting to see improvements here, but too often poor sales results are blamed on individuals and not the quality of the manager. One of the best pieces of advice we can offer is find the best sales leader you can (don’t just choose your best sales person) and support and develop them. Quality sales leadership should create great sales culture, provide processes and systems, and develop teams so they can perform and remove any ‘C’ performers quickly. Once we as a nation begin to regularly develop quality sales leaders we will see a huge increase in the quality of sales people.

5. Sales people – less and less sales people are hitting their numbers. Sales is becoming harder and the power has shifted from the sales person who used to hold all the knowledge, to the buyer who is now very educated. Often we purchase on subscription, or sign deals that can be stopped if we are unhappy with performance, so whilst it used to be a case of buyer beware, now it is a case of seller beware.

I still find it frustrating that the level of capability in some sales people is so poor. Just because you’ve been in sales for 30 years doesn’t mean you’re good at what you do. Personally, I often see poor sales performance when I look to purchase something. Retail people who make you feel like you’re interrupting their day, or B2B sales people focused on achieving outcomes for themselves rather than clients.

A question we are also asked a lot is how to do we get in front of prospects? Do we cold call, use social media, rely on channels? The answer is that you need to use different methods including social media, phones, and building good channel relationships.

It is a shame some sales people still don’t use all of the tools at their disposal like LinkedIn. NZ is one of the largest users per capita of LinkedIn. If you’re not using it you’re missing an opportunity. Successful sales people use it every day to find prospects, engage with them and do research. As our friend Graham Hawkins from Sales Tribe says, LinkedIn is the best sales tool available today.

 

Conclusion:

7 Main Areas of Focus heading in to 2019

  • Hire slow and fire fast
  • Revisit your incentive plan to make sure it is achieving the right outcomes
  • Find your competitive advantage. How do your sales people stand out from their competitors, make sure you invest time and energy in understanding why they win and why they fail?
  • Technology – make sure you are not left behind, understand how it can benefit your company
  • Actively demonstrating sales leadership is the most important part of your sales performance
  • Sales people need to focus on outcomes for their clients - not themselves
  • Use all the tools at your disposal to prospect with a multi-pronged approach.

About Indicator

Indicator provides expert training and consulting for sales leaders and CEOs who want to transform their capability, performance and impact in the market – for their teams and organisations.

We bring together like-minded people and industry leaders through consultation, training courses and the Sales Syndicate – the monthly programme designed specifically for sales managers and sales leaders.