As we closed out 2012, we wrote about nine trends in sales force effectiveness and learning and development for 2013. We also surveyed over 300 B2B sales reps to learn more about their top challenges and improvement opportunities to help them hit their numbers in 2013. With strategic planning in full force, it is important for sales managers and learning and development functions to know what’s on the minds of their force in the field.
More than 70% of respondents were from organizations with revenues greater than $500 million. Also, 47% of respondents had seven or more years of experience. They had four key areas of concern:
1) Pipeline: Improve Lead Quality
A sales rep’s sales pipeline is his lifeblood. Perhaps not surprisingly, B2B sales reps still want more leads of better quality. Of the options provided, 76% cited improving lead quality as a priority or high priority for 2013. Other responses in order of prevalence included clarity of value proposition, increasing the number of leads, improving product or solution offerings, and improving sales support material. None of these remaining responses were ranked as low priorities, just lower than quality.
Therefore, sales reps want their sales managers to note that in addition to more quality leads, more time should be spent not only on what’s being offered and on sales support materials, but also crafting a solid value proposition to help create a clear connection for customers.
2) Closing: Competitive Insight and Selling Skills
B2B sales reps want improved selling skills (72%) and to be provided with more competitive information (67%) to help them close more deals in 2013. In an age in which you can Google pretty much anything to learn more about it, both personal and business consumers are savvier than ever. Being armed with insights not found (or collated) online would give sales reps a selling advantage, as well as fine tune their ability to sell.
Other responses included improving pricing strategy (now that markets are stabilizing, is price becoming more of an issue?), being provided with better industry insight (again, what can sales reps tell customers that they can’t find on their own?), and improving sales managers’ skills while the lowest priorities cited were increasing travel budgets and access to sales managers. (Sales reps see their sales managers often enough, but want more from them.)
3) Productivity: Sales Process, Support Resources, and Mobile Technology
What are sales reps’ top priorities when it comes to increasing their own productivity in the coming year? Three responses ranked highly: increase sales support resources (65%), improve sales processes (62%), and better support for mobile technology, such as smartphones and tablets (54%).
Being productive can be directly linked to how distracted or focused a person is. Be ever mindful that being busy is not necessarily being productive. Take note of what B2B sales reps think would aid their personal productivity to focus on selling and customers. By contrast, the lowest priorities were automating contract administration (either this is working or it’s someone else’s job) and gaining access to social media selling tools (these should be fairly straightforward, but be careful not to take them for granted).
4) Skills: Prospecting and Consultative Selling
When asking which three selling skills would be most helpful to improve in 2013, respondents cited prospecting (38%), consultative selling (37%), and closing skills (30%). Knowing where to find new buyers, how to pitch them, and especially how to close the deal could be the top three factors for sales reps in any era.
By contrast, the least cited responses were online research skills, discovery skills, and insight selling skills.
What else would help you hit your number in 2013?
Some respondents provided additional comments highlighting what would help them and their business to be more successful in 2013. Several of these comments echoed what was found in the survey results: Management tools
- “As a sales manager, I would like some better tools to manage my direct reports’ sales skills and hold them accountable in ways other than what comes across as micromanaging.” Coaching and influencing skills would help sales managers to be more effective.
Sales support materials and CRM systems:
- “Proposals for the products and solutions we sell. The current proposal tool is a joke. If our senior management was asked to develop one quality proposal using this tool, they would clearly understand the challenges faced by every account executive and finally realize why our proposals lack the quality our customers expect.”
- “I think that the training that we have gone through has been great, but we do not have supporting materials/documentation to help us stay committed to the sales process. I also do not think we have a very well-outlined CRM system.”
- “If we are selling technology (B2B, CCAP), we should be using tablets (iPads).”
Knowledge and insight
- “Research that is relevant and unbiased and which includes quantitative P-values and numbers.”
- “Competitive information and access to industry surveillance.”
Many of the priorities identified aren’t necessarily rooted in having the latest and greatest bells and whistles but rather basic “blocking and tackling” to help get the job done. Everyone can identify with the grunts in a war movie who are fed up with the higher ups and paper pushers who don’t have a clue what they really need in the field to win the battles and the war. Resolve not to be one of those paper pushers! As you plan for the year ahead, be sure to talk to your sales reps about what they need to be successful.