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Moving Mount Fuji: The Biggest Challenge Facing Sales Professionals in 2018

2018 sales challenges research


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During the tech boom of the 1990s Fortune 500 companies and behemoths of Silicone Valley were famous for challenging interviewees with puzzle questions. The candidate might be faced with a brain teaser like “how many times a day do a clock’s hands overlap,” or, “why are manhole covers round?”

The most infamous of these questions was “how would you move Mount Fuji?”

For sales professionals, this question is surprisingly appropriate. Why? Because for many, moving Mount Fuji sounds as difficult as the biggest challenge in sales today: overcoming the status quo.

This was a key finding in our annual Selling Challenges Study for 2018. Hundreds of sales professionals offered responses to a series of question. In doing so, they presented a panoramic view of what sales professionals can expect to encounter in 2018. When answering “What is the biggest challenge you think your buyers face when making a purchasing decision,” 28% of respondents replied with “combating the status quo,” making it the most popular and decisive answer of all questions in the study.

This issue garnered among the most responses for the last two years. Moreover, the problem is growing. An increasing array of options presents buyers with numerous paths. Often this complexity leads to a “reversion to the mean” where no change occurs. Additionally, the uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of various solutions creates hesitation.

Sales professionals realize that often the strongest competition isn’t another person or business, it’s the buyer’s inertia.

Here, we look at a few ways sales professionals can overcome this challenge.

Underscore the Opportunity Cost of Doing Nothing

Effective sales professionals instill a sense of urgency in the buyer. They do this by highlighting the risk of taking no action. While maintaining the status quo may seem like a low-risk proposition, it is, in fact, a choice to remain still while others – the competition – move forward. Sales professionals need to adopt a proactive mindset while understanding that the solution must be especially compelling to incite action on the part of the buyer.

To make a solution more compelling sales professionals must take time to understand the customer’s business. Doing so allows them to connect solutions to needs more effectively. Those who take this step will immediately stand out from the rest because “From the customer’s point of view, the greatest need for improvement is in salespeople’s knowledge of the customer’s business and industry,” reports The Harvard Business Review after interviewing more than 300 professionals.

Clear the Tracks

Interestingly, the number two and three responses to the question “What is the biggest challenge you think your buyers face when making a purchasing decision,” were “Comparing their options” and “Building internal consensus & securing budget.” These are noteworthy because they roll up into the challenge of combating the status quo. That is, the sales professional must create a decision process that is simple for the buyer.

Here, the sales professional should use simple and concise language to articulate how the product satisfies the customer’s business challenges. Anticipate the options the customer will compare. Prepare by clearly outlining how the solution at hand will outperform other options.

Additionally, it’s critical to remember that there is an emotional component to any decision. Effective sales professionals handle this by building the relationship to demonstrate that they’ll be a trusted partner well after implementation is complete.

The challenge of building a consensus and securing budgets is among the most difficult, and it belongs entirely to the sales professional. The best sellers don’t leave this job to their buyer. Instead, strong sellers get everyone to the table and have a conversation with all the decision makers. At this stage, it’s particularly effective to engage the stakeholders’ differing needs by including SMEs and C-suite executives in the selling team.

Speak to Their Competitive Advantage, Not Yours

As our CEO John Elsey commented recently,

“innovative sales leaders are focusing less on promoting their own competitive advantages.”This is an unexpected strategy in an increasingly competitive environment. John continued, “Instead, they’re exploring how they can create competitive advantages for their customer and help them lead their market – rather than worry about how to differentiate themselves from the competitor.”

The best sales professionals do just that. They consider what will make the customer stronger and they speak to those needs. Doing so will incite movement from the buyer faster than promoting one’s self.

Today’s sales professional must constantly compete for the buyer’s attention amid growing competition and diverging internal goals. By articulating the risk of doing nothing, easing the solution implementation and engaging the customer’s competitive advantage, sales professionals can overcome the status quo.

They can move Mount Fuji.

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