The person who can improve Sales – Part 1

If you know who I am referring to in the title of this article, then the chances are a lot of what I have written below will not come as much of a surprise to you, but it may just help you validate what you already do know.  If you don’t know who I am referring to, the fact that you’ve still clicked onto it, means for some reason it must have piqued your interest, so I hope that the answer doesn’t disappoint.

This article is about; the major issues negatively impacting the sales profession here in New Zealand, the causes of these issues and what we need to do to in order to change things for the better.

Now there are three things I should clarify before I share my views on what’s wrong with our industry and what we can do to improve it;

Firstly, I am not implying that there are no good sales people in our industry, because there are, I’ve been fortunate to meet and learn from many of them.  People who are solutions orientated, customer centric and believe in what they are selling.  However, what I’ve noticed is that even the ones who are good at what they do, don’t always know it; whilst the ones who do know it, aren’t always able to demonstrate it to others because of the businesses they are in.

Secondly, I am specifically writing about ‘Business to Business’ (B2B) sales, where one company is selling a product or service to another company.  ‘Business to Consumer’ (B2C) sales are a whole different kettle of fish, which I am not able to cover today.

And thirdly, this article was initially only in one part, but because it had close to 3000 words, the average person would have needed around 20 minutes to read it, so I thought it prudent to split the content over two weeks.

When I talk about major issues impacting the sales profession today, broadly speaking I feel there are four main buckets in which they fall;

1) Poor Perception – Many salespeople continuing to contribute to the perception of ‘sales’ as being unprofessional, resulting in sales not being seen as a viable career choice for newcomers and having limited value for those working in it.

2) Slow Adaptation – Sales functions not adapting quickly enough to the rapidly changing expectations of their customers, meaning wasted opportunities for kiwi companies in an increasingly competitive landscape.

3) Silence as acceptance – The sales industry’s continued acceptance of poor results being solely caused by an individual employee’s performance, as opposed to a wider organisational failure of not being customer centric. This causes us all to paper over the cracks and stops us fixing the root causes of poor sales performance.

4) A surprise for next weekIn my personal opinion, this is perhaps the most important of all the issues in sales today.

This week I shall be covering buckets 1 & 2. 

Poor Perception

Many salespeople continue to contribute to the perception of ‘sales’ as being unprofessional, resulting in sales not being seen as a viable career choice for newcomers and having limited value for those working in the profession already.

Each year, less people see sales as a preferred professional career choice.

Recent Seek NZ statistics show that in the year to 31 July 2017, advertised jobs for Sales professionals in Auckland had increased by over 9% Vs the prior year, whilst applicants viewing sales jobs had decreased by 4%.

This suggests that sales people are needed, but people don’t want to apply.  Why?

When you think of the word sales, the chances are most people outside of the profession are picturing the clichéd image of a dodgy used car dealer, who is going to pressure them into buying something that they don’t want, or worse still something that is not fit for purpose.

The most recent Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey 2017 had Car Salesmen as the least trusted profession for the past 36 years!

The fact that this is a perception that has been around for years and still resonates with many people on both sides of the Tasman means there must be a truth in it.

The common trait amongst all bad salespeople, whether they’re selling cars or anything else, is that they are willing to exchange short term monetary gains, at the expense of their longer term reputation.

That maybe because they are not accepting, understanding or even passionate for the profession that they are in and the importance of the professions (and subsequently their own) contribution to others.

Poor salespeople never truly accept that they are in sales, choosing instead to convince themselves that sales is something they are doing, before they decide on their true calling, or purely as a means to fund a passion outside of office hours.

Although, I am yet to meet any salesperson, who has come out of school or university with the express aim of having a career in sales, good sales people have made it their chosen career and are proud of the value they provide.  They don’t apologise for it.

Unlike our colleagues in Marketing or Finance for example, there is no degree in ‘Sales’, or regulatory body governing ‘Sales’ which people can join and which from they can learn or validate their own knowledge.  Knowledge is predominantly gained ‘on the job’ in a competitive environment, so levels of understanding can vary considerably between each salesperson and forums for sharing are few and far between.

Good sales people are willing to share their knowledge with others because they are confident in the value their knowledge can provide and more importantly, in their ability to keep learning.

False bravado is no substitute for a true passion for sales.  Bravado points fingers during a failure and takes all the credit for success, whilst truly confident sales people take responsibility for learning from a failure and acknowledge the contributions of others in their successes.

To lift the perception of our profession, all good sales people have a collective responsibility to appreciate the skills we have, share the knowledge we possess and above all, acknowledge the value we add to an organisation.

Only when we behave in a professional manner, will we no longer be perceived as unprofessional.


Slow Adaptation

Sales functions not adapting quickly enough to the rapidly changing expectations of their customers, meaning wasted opportunities for kiwi companies in an increasingly competitive landscape

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” Charles Darwin

We all know that in sales, as in life, change is a constant and if we’re not adapting to market drivers, we’re in danger of being left behind by our competitors.

A recent article by the investment firm JBWere, suggests that although the New Zealand economy is growing, it is not necessarily due to people working smarter, just harder and will not continue doing so.

For us in the sales profession, we may not be adapting the way we work, but instead just spending more hours doing what we have always done.  This ‘working harder’ approach, coupled with much of the recent business growth being driven by cost reduction, as opposed to top line gains, has sheltered many sales people up to this point from needing to adapt; until now.

Hours in the day are running out and we’re starting to feel the pressure.

If you feel your customers or competitors haven’t adapted already, we both know they will at some point, they have to in order to survive some of the massive changes occurring in the New Zealand market, some of which I’ve listed below;

Globalisation – Your competitors are changing from the one or two other local players in your particular sector and with whom you traditionally shared the spoils, to international companies seeking their future growth from our shores, either through acquisition or as players in their own right.  Customers are also changing too; buyers maybe more culturally diverse and can also access your product or service from a global marketplace.  This means buying your customer a beer and taking them to a rugby game may no longer be enough when renewing an existing supply agreement.

Technology – Advancements in technological understanding, acceptance and adoption in both your competitors and your customers is underway; from profit margins being eroded by a new competitor using technology to operate a lower cost model, or customers analysing their data to measure the true benefits of your product or service, this technology is already impacting you.

Consumption – Your customers are changing, because their consumers are.  Whether they sell to Millennials, Gen X, or Baby Boomers, as consumers all our expectations have changed.  Consumers want things faster, with more flexibility and of a better quality than before, but they don’t necessarily want to pay more, unless they are shown the value.  They will happily pay $1,000 for a phone, but not an extra $1 for a branded bottle of milk.  Why; because they have been shown the value it can add to their lives in doing so, whereas in the past a trusted logo would have sufficed.  Customers expect their suppliers (you); to understand this change, adapt to it and help them convince consumers on why they should pay more.  After all, if their growth doesn’t come from selling more, it’ll come from paying you less.

Sound daunting?  It needn’t be.

There are some small things you can adapt right away, in the face of such major macro level changes;

  • Recognise that you’re now competing with global players and up your game through training and learning.
  • Research technology changes in your industry, respond to them and utilise your own existing technology as an enabler to better sales e.g. Use your CRM’s true capability and not just view it as an additional admin task.
  • Understand your product or service’s unique value proposition; the solution that it provides for a customer’s problem, that no competitor can match. Why do you believe in what you’re selling?

But above all else, listen to your customer; after all, you’ve got two ears and only one mouth for a reason.

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