You are not alone. That’s what Richardson uncovered in its 2015 Selling Challenges Study, conducted at the end of 2014. Field sales reps, senior sales professionals, and senior leaders across various B2B industries are all facing troubles in the very fundamentals of successful selling: prospecting, account management, negotiating, and closing deals.
Here is the number one challenge in each area:
- The #1 prospecting challenge: Gaining appointments
- The #1 account management challenge: Adding relevant value for various stakeholders
- The #1 negotiation challenge: Gaining higher prices
- The #1 closing challenge: Competing against a low-cost provider
You can download a free copy of the full report here. This post will provide some context around these issues, sharing both insights and implications to help you fortify your focus.
Why Is Prospecting So Hard?
It’s not surprising that survey respondents chose “gaining appointments” as the greatest challenge to their prospecting efforts. Buyers are busy, and they erect numerous barriers between themselves and salespeople. And it’s not just prospects who are difficult to gain access to; existing clients can also be elusive.
Getting in the door is something that seems so basic and central to sales, yet even very skilled salespeople are having difficulty. The solution ties back to what we advocate at Richardson, both in our training and our coaching, about being able to convey value from the very first contact, whether that contact is with a gatekeeper, a voicemail, or a stakeholder in the buying decision. Proving value at an early stage of a sale takes some homework: a real strategy, preparation to initiate the proper dialogue, and a demonstration of relevance.
The Other Side of the Equation
On the other hand, the three lowest-rated prospecting challenges seem counterintuitive:
- Qualifying prospects
- Leveraging social media
- Creating insights
Think about it: If done skillfully, these elements help differentiate sellers and gain appointments with buyers.
However, what we find in our workshops and coaching sessions is that salespeople are not always realistic in qualifying prospects. They can be easily bound by either their optimism or pessimism, although usually they’re overly optimistic.
Often, when I ask a salesperson why they qualified a prospect, they’ll start their response with, “I think … ” As a coach, my reply is, “So, that’s what you think. What have you seen, what have you heard, or what has the client done to make you think that way?” These are entirely different yet simple questions that help salespeople focus on key touchpoints that can truly qualify a prospect.
Leveraging social media is another important action that can often seem like a nice-to-have element. The reality is that social media has become essential, as research shows more buyers are relying on information learned online. If salespeople don’t take the time to leverage the power of social media, they’re missing a valuable opportunity to establish credibility and build connections, and they risk arriving on a prospecting call or at a first meeting with information to which a buyer had easy access.
Another element that takes time is sharing insights with buyers. Most salespeople feel short on time, given quota pressure, activity metrics, and producing results. Preparing insights requires research. Consider how much time is allocated to calls, meetings, preparation, travel, and follow-up with prospects that have not in the past and may never in the future buy from you.
Each of the issues discussed are interrelated. What allows salespeople to stand out with prospects begins with qualifying them better. Better qualification of prospects frees up time. That time can be used to leverage social media to find common connections and current areas of interest, which enables salespeople to construct insights and prepare to gain buyers’ attention. Taken together, these elements can be a game changer for salespeople, making it easier to gain and make the most of first appointments with qualified prospects.