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How to Overcome Common Barriers to Sales Prospecting


sales prospecting challenges

March 11, 2022Blog

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Modern Sales Prospecting Challenges

In the early months of the pandemic leaders overwhelmingly believed that COVID would alter the fundamentals of their business. Today those anticipated changes are beginning to solidify. As a result, selling has become more difficult which only adds to the already uncomfortable nature of prospecting. This aspect of selling has long been difficult and taxing and now that more distractions are surfacing it has become even more exhausting.

Sales professionals have been busy strategizing for a new market. They are considering the customer’s evolving economic position. They are relearning the stakeholder hierarchy. They are reconsidering how to position their solution and how to approach negotiations. All of these activities have made prospecting more onerous. The tendency to allow prospecting to falter is reflected in data from Forrester showing that sales professionals spend less than one-quarter of their time engaging directly with customers.

This lack of customer interaction is not only due to the demands associated with the redesign of other parts of the sales process. Decreasing customer engagement is likely also a result of waning confidence among the sales leadership attempting to re-learn prospecting in a changed market. An analysis of 405 executives showed a drop in confidence across all C-suite executives including the CEO, CIO, CFO, and COO according to research from Deloitte.

Here we examine the core reasons why sales professionals and sales leaders have allowed this important part of selling to diminish and how to respond.

1. A Flattening Organization Has Made Prospecting a More Daunting Challenge

Organizations have learned a painful lesson from the pandemic: agility is necessary for long-term survival. Many businesses are developing this much-needed agility by developing flatter organizational structures. Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that “the number of levels in the management hierarchy between division heads and CEOs has declined by 25 percent.”

The authors of the study suggest that this change began as companies started to rely less on physical capital and more on human capital. The result is an environment in which more individuals possess decision-making power. Some, like leaders at McKinsey, refer to this new structure as a “network of teams.” While the intention behind this change is to become more agile, there is often an unexpected side effect: customer needs are becoming more fractious. A flat organization facilitates communication, but in doing so, it creates a moving consensus. For sales professionals, this development presents the challenge of prospecting in a setting where more stakeholders represent a wider array of needs and sensitivity to risk.

The trend of flattening organizations, however, also presents a benefit to sales professionals because as authority in a business becomes shared, so does the pain. This means that if a sales professional can correctly identify the core pain in the organization, they can draft prospecting messaging that will resonate with all decision-makers.

This scenario gives the sales professional an important focal point as they formulate insights that will need to resonate with stakeholders. Additionally, in a flat organization there tends to be a stronger emphasis on unity. Therefore, there is more value to a prospecting message that benefits more stakeholders and business units.

2. Prospecting Messages Are No Longer Resonant, Leading to Discouragement

Customer needs are changing. Therefore, the sales professional’s products and services are changing in response. The result is a top-to-bottom realignment process in which most, or every, aspect of the sales professional’s approach must change.

Across industries, customers are seeking solutions that feature flexibility, interoperability with existing processes, and scalability. As businesses look to the future, they are preparing for a world that presents greater volatility, uncertainty, and an intensified rate of change. The sales professional’s redesign of their process and solution is so expansive that additional research from Deloitte shows that nearly one-quarter of executives indicated that part of their response to the global pandemic was to serve new customers outside of the organization’s industry.

The combination of changes to the customer’s world and changes in the sales professional’s world means that traditional prospecting messages are not as relevant as they once were. Sales professionals are feeling the pressure of trying to engage a less responsive group of buyers.

Initially, it is easy to attribute ineffective prospecting to the fact that customers have tuned-out or are distracted. It is far more likely, however, that the sales professional’s ability to correctly identify the customer’s pain is not as strong as it was before the global pandemic. Therefore, the key to overcoming the discouragement that comes from ineffective prospect messaging is to conduct thorough market research to reset the sales team’s understanding of the central challenges in the customer’s world. With this information, they need to draft a new messaging snapshot that combines the differentiated features of a solution and the customer’s pain into a single cohesive story. Creating a messaging snapshot ensures that the communication is focused on the critical business issues of the target audience, and the key capabilities of the solution are emphasized.

Learn more about how your team can capture and keep their prospect's attention download the brief: How to "Message-the-Moment" and Capture the Leads Attention

3. Prospect Targeting and Cadence Are More Complex as Customer Platforms Multiply

Customers are exploring solutions independent of sales professionals. Therefore, prospecting has become more challenging because it is difficult for the sales professional to know where in the buying journey, they are engaging the customer. Moreover, customers today are spread across a wider array of social platforms creating confusion around where and when to target potential customers.

The considerable breadth of the customer’s domain is further complicated by the multiple factors sales professionals must account for when building their cadence. Sales professionals must decide their targeted buyer persona, the platform they are using, how many contact attempts they will commit to, how long they will wait between those attempts and the content used during the prospecting. These activities demand an enormous amount of time given that the sales professional will be making multiple attempts to engage with a potential customer across email, voicemail, and various social media platforms. Aligning these various touchpoints into a journey is difficult and requires intense focus.

Addressing this challenge means investigating what touchpoints are most effective today. This exploration will reveal to many sales professionals that customers need simplified messaging because they – like the sales professional – are working in a more complex setting consisting of more parts. The customer needs concise communication that succinctly contextualizes the solution capabilities within their world. All touchpoints must be investigated because it is possible that just one, or two are acting as a bottleneck in the journey for customers.

Sales leaders can begin to answer these questions by reverse engineering successful prospecting engagements. This approach, akin to retracing one’s steps, helps clarify the sequence and the frequency that is most effective in catching the customer.

The job of refocusing on and redesigning prospecting has fallen behind other pandemic-related initiatives in selling organizations. As sales leaders finalize those major changes, they have an obligation to return their attention to the crucial practice of prospecting which is necessary to communicate those developments to the market. The customer’s flattening organization, the outdated nature of most prospecting messages, and the customer’s existence across multiple platforms have all made prospecting exhausting. To reinvigorate prospecting efforts leaders must recognize these three factors within their organization and address each.

Improve Your Prospecting Outcomes with Sprint Prospecting Training

In our Sprint Prospecting™ program, we teach your sales team how to apply selling sprints to better connect and engage target accounts. To learn more download this informational brochure or contact us to talk about how we can customize a training program to improve your team's agile prospecting skills.

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