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Top Selling Challenges of 2022

Improving win rate

man walking up a stairwell as a metaphor for a sales person overcoming their sales challenges

richardsonsalestrainingAugust 3, 2022Article

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Exploring Today's Top Sales Challenges

Richardson's 2022 Selling Challenges Study offers a panoramic view of the issues sales professionals face today. The goal of this research is to understand what sales strategies and skills are most relevant in today’s market and how to apply them.

This year over 500 sellers and managers told us what they are experiencing in the market today. The responses reveal that sellers – both new and experienced – are realizing that traditional approaches alone are not enough. The pandemic and recent economic events have introduced an entirely new set of challenges.

Consequently, many sellers and managers are rethinking and even redesigning their strategies. Doing so, however, presents challenges. Professionals must develop new ways to prospect, negotiate, align stakeholders, and track the customer’s changing needs.

While each of these practices is different, they all require flexibility from sellers who now need to leverage a range of skills to succeed. As selling becomes more complex sellers are increasingly in need of a variety of capabilities. For this reason, agility is becoming a competitive advantage in selling.

Agility must be present not only in the seller’s actions but in their mindset. Having an agile mindset is what keeps a seller effective as market conditions evolve, and as customer needs shift.

The right mindset is what points north no matter how many times the direction changes. This approach has never been timelier. Nearly two-thirds of our respondents told us that they are facing a larger quota in 2022 than they did in 2021. Though 84% have a formal sales process and 74% have a formal sales methodology our respondent's answers suggest some new approaches are needed.

Participant Demographics

selling challenges research - participant demographics

The sellers, sales managers, and sales enablement professionals that participated in our study each answered six key questions revealing the specific challenges present in 2022.

Our participants represent a range of tenures from 1 to 20 years. Half of the group fell short of their quota goal last year while the other half reached 90% or more of their target. The vast majority (83%) of responders carry a quota.

Here we explain what their responses mean about the selling industry. Even more importantly we offer three key insights sellers can use to address each of the six core challenges discussed.

Prospecting Challenges

The question: What are the three toughest challenges in finding new business to fill your pipeline?

The responses:

  • 15% - Gaining access to the right stakeholder
  • 13% - Creating a targeted prospecting strategy
  • 13% - Managing gatekeepers
  • 12% - Keeping track of my prospecting efforts
  • 12% - Identifying sales signals that indicate issues you can resolve
  • 10% - Writing compelling messages to gain a meeting
  • 8% - Prospect qualification
  • 7% - Learning and managing digital prospecting tools
  • 5% - Assessing, building, and executing a territory plan
  • 5% - Delivering a concise value statement/message

What it means:

PROSPECTING CHALLENGES HAVE INTENSIFIED AS CUSTOMER TOUCHPOINTS INCREASE ACROSS AN OBSCURED BUYING JOURNEY

Targeting the right customers, creating compelling, contextual messaging, and seeking engagement are all iterative processes.

Sales professionals must learn and re-learn the customer’s setting because earning their attention means speaking to the specifics of their world. The challenge is that those specifics are changing fast. Much of this change is due to industry convergence. Industry convergence occurs when the boundary separating two seemingly unrelated industries begins to blur. This is the natural result of digital transformations that enable business growth through the adoption of digital processes and technology.

As businesses embrace new technologies, they begin to resemble a new entity driven by different needs and goals. This trend has existed for decades. Consider that Nokia began as a paper mill, or that American Express was originally a delivery service. Today, the speed and pervasiveness of this development are intensifying.

Sales professionals must have the agility to track these changes and redevelop their understanding of how a prospect’s business overlaps different domains.

Our insights:

Prospecting today requires an agile approach.

MODERN PROSPECTING DEMANDS A HIGHER LEVEL OF ENGAGEMENT

Customers need to see value in every exchange with the seller. Delivering this value means speaking to the specifics of the customer’s world by leveraging better research. For example, sellers can explore the customer's social footprint to stay current. This up-to-date information enables the seller to determine what insights will be most relevant to the customer. By offering highly relevant content the seller develops reciprocity because the seller is offering something of value which, in time, may compel the customer to eventually offer something in return. Together these activities foster authenticity in the relationship because the seller demonstrates genuine interest in understanding the customer’s business.

SELLERS NEED TO BECOME MICRO MARKETERS

Becoming a micro-marketer means identifying the ideal customer. Sellers need to determine which customers can benefit most from the differentiators of their solution. Once sellers isolate these prospects they can “bread crumb” value by repeatedly and reliably offering insights, thought leadership, case studies, or relevant research. Making this approach work means committing to a communication cadence consisting of numerous touch points across different channels using different media.

COMMUNICATION MUST BE CUSTOMIZED

Customers can and will disengage quickly and easily if they don’t perceive value or immediately feel that there is a reason to speak with the sales professional. Avoiding this outcome means drafting a value statement. A value statement is an effective tool for sales professionals because it offers a template for written communication that is concise, and clear. To be persuasive, the value statement must be tailored to the customer and leverage the market intelligence within the selling organization.

SUGGESTED READING FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Click on the links below to access more information to help your team succeed in their prospecting efforts

Opportunity Pursuit Challenges

The Question: What are the three toughest challenges in winning active opportunities in your pipeline?

The responses:

  • 10% - Driving consensus among various stakeholders
  • 9% - Effectively resolving objections
  • 9% - Lack of a clear and consistent sales process
  • 8% - Positioning the risk of staying with the status quo
  • 8% - Understanding customer needs
  • 7% - Appealing to the logical and emotional sides of buying and selling
  • 7% - Demonstrating flexibility in the dialogue while driving towards the close
  • 7% - Accessing decision-makers
  • 6% - Co-creating value with customers
  • 6% - Building and telling compelling stories

What it means:

SELLERS ARE IN NEED OF A REPEATABLE PROCESS FOR DRIVING STAKEHOLDER CONSENSUS AND REMOVING ROADBLOCKS

These challenges reflect the fact that buying teams are becoming more diverse.

This rise in diversity has three main implications for sellers. First, as the stakeholder group becomes more diverse, they also become more digitally savvy. As a result, they use far more digital channels to research solutions. Second, they seek solutions that reflect their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) preferences. Third, the buying group often looks for a seller who can offer a solution that meets their business needs while also addressing their environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) principles.

Sellers must build consensus among digital-first customers by delivering a solution that both solves their problems while addressing their social drivers.

Increasing diversity also explains the common challenge of resolving objections. Different stakeholders have different needs so sellers must resolve more objections. Some buyers are focused on price. Others have strict parameters for implementation. Just surfacing the objections takes time. Sellers must address each without reducing the scope of the sale or the price. Moreover, sellers need a repeatable methodology for meeting these challenges.

Our insights:

Driving consensus among stakeholders means addressing the three dimensions of value.

POSITION THE CONCEPTUAL ASPECTS OF THE SOLUTION

Building consensus around the conceptual aspects of the solution requires the high-level skill of co-creating a future-state vision with the customer. That is, the sales professional must shape the customer’s idea of the capabilities needed based on the solution differentiators. In doing so the sales professional helps the stakeholders acknowledge previously unseen needs. This step is crucial because customers often self-diagnose long before any engagement with a sales professional. One of the most powerful tools for co-creating and evaluating the solution is a collaboration plan which defines the actions both parties will take to ensure the customer is comfortable making a buying decision.

POSITION THE TRANSITIONAL ASPECTS OF THE SOLUTION

The buyers need to know that the solution can work within the complex sprawl of the business. Sales professionals do not need to assure stakeholders that the transitional aspects are free of risk. Rather, they must illustrate that the risks are minimal and manageable. Here, it is often helpful for sales professionals to provide references and case studies illustrating how the solution was successfully implemented in real-world scenarios. The key takeaway is that the transitional aspects of a solution represent more than just the logistics behind making the solution work.

POSITION THE FINANCIAL ASPECTS OF THE SOLUTION

This part of consensus building is especially challenging because it often requires the sales professional to anchor the value of the solution to a specific number or set of numbers. Often, the most influential decision-maker involved in a financial review of the solution is the CFO. The CFO will not only be focused on the measurability of the solution’s ROI, but they will also want to see the methods used to measure the ROI. Sales professionals must also position the durability of the ROI. They must show that the financial benefits of the solution will be consistent.

Negotiation Challenges

The question: What are your three toughest negotiation challenges?

The responses:

  • 17% - Protecting price and maintaining profitability
  • 13% - Negotiating over email or text
  • 12% - Reinforcing value throughout the process
  • 10% - Trading
  • 10% - Handling adversarial negotiations
  • 8% - Managing procurement
  • 8% - Understanding what would be a win for the customer
  • 7% - Converting demands to needs
  • 7% - Maintaining control throughout the negotiation process
  • 6% - Building and executing a negotiation strategy

What it means:

A CHANGING ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT HAS MADE IT DIFFICULT FOR SELLERS TO PROTECT PRICES

Pandemic repercussions have been persistent. Sellers face the challenge of maintaining profitability as costs rise due, in part, to supply chain problems. This setting has put new pressure on the negotiation phase of the sale. In response, many sellers are refocusing on what they do in the final stretches of the sale. This approach, however, is not always effective because selling and negotiating do not sit at opposite ends of the spectrum.

In truth, they are connected. Every moment of selling involves some amount of negotiating. Effective sellers know this and seize opportunities throughout the sale to shape the customer’s perception of value. This creates a context now for negotiations that happen later.

Nearly everything the seller does during the pursuit affects negotiations. Sellers who take the time to understand the customer’s deeper needs early create a context for reinforcing value later. Negotiation is not just about the give-and-take of terms. It’s also about the equitable exchange of information that builds relationships leading to future business.

Sellers need a new approach that allows them to build a foundation for effective negotiations throughout the sale.

Our insights:

Effective negotiating means reinforcing trust, controlling with confidence, and learning to negotiate in writing.

REINFORCE TRUST THROUGH THE PRINCIPLE OF PRIMING

Priming is the basic principle of prompting a person to think a certain way. This effect is helpful to sellers who want to encourage a customer to recognize the value of the proposed solution. Effective priming in the sales phase helps customers change their mindset from “someone is trying to sell me something,” to “this solution can get me where I need to go.” Priming must happen in the sales phase to positively influence the negotiation. The best way to prime the customer is to get an early, and clear indication of their specific needs, and challenges so that each discussion is tailored to them.

PRESERVE THE VALUE OF THE SALE WITH CONTROL

Control is about maintaining a collaborative tone while responding to customer demands. The goal is to avoid engaging in trading too soon and instead use the time to convert the customer’s demands to needs while shaping their perceptions of value. A customer's demand is an expression of an underlying need. By drilling deeper with questions, it is possible to uncover those needs. This approach is important because needs (“I need more flexibility in the payment schedule”) are much easier to discuss and resolve than demands (“I can’t pay that much”).

NEGOTIATE VIA EMAIL WITH A THREE-PART APPROACH

First, be sure to draft communication with consideration for tone, brevity, and clarity. People tend to overestimate the reader’s ability to decode the tone of the text. Second, use the time between emails to track the customer’s changes and reassess. When negotiating via email sellers have more time to develop their strategy as the process unfolds. Third, maintain momentum by ending each email with a next step. The next step does not always need to be a request from the seller. A next step can be the seller ending their email by stating that they will follow up with a specific piece of information.

SUGGESTED READING FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Click on the links below to access more information to help your team succeed in their negotiation efforts

Account Growth Challenges

The question: What are the three toughest challenges in managing and expanding existing accounts?

The responses:

  • 16% - Expanding access and footprint into current customers
  • 12% - Finding ways to add relevant value
  • 12% - Identifying white space and opportunities to cross-sell
  • 11% - Building an account strategy
  • 9% - Channel management
  • 9% - Defending against competitors
  • 9% - Becoming a trusted advisor
  • 7% - Building an account plan
  • 7% - Navigating politics
  • 6% - Aligning internal account teams

What it means:

EXPANDING BUSINESS WITH EXISTING CUSTOMERS IS A CHALLENGE AS WHITE SPACE OPPORTUNITIES REMAIN ELUSIVE

As economic conditions change monthly, customers are reformulating their plans. As a result, their strategy is changing. Their value drivers are shifting. Sellers are struggling to keep pace.

This difficulty has intensified as sellers discover that much of what they have learned about their customers is outdated. Consequently, sellers must not only relearn the customer’s strategic goals, but they must also do so repeatedly.

Consider, for example, that today most CFOs build their plans using at least three hypothetical conditions. Therefore, sales professionals must have the agility to track which of these many scenarios the customer faces. They need to execute more frequent account plan reviews by identifying drivers, initiatives, and opportunities earlier as conditions change. This cadence is characterized by more frequent communication that reaches higher levels in the decision hierarchy.

Agility is also about getting an early read on the customer’s new criteria for spending. Expanding business with existing accounts will mean meeting a long list of requirements that are more demanding than ever.

The most effective sellers are taking a proactive approach. They are earning the title of a trusted advisor by recognizing looming challenges and opportunities before the customer does.

Our insights:

Expanding existing accounts means reassessing alignment, developing an agile process, and adopting a "height and width" approach to account planning.

REASSESS WHICH OPPORTUNITIES ARE MOST ALIGNED WITH THE SOLUTION

Leaders must identify the opportunities where their solution can offer the most meaningful value. To answer this question, account managers need to know what level of business impact they can offer the account, and the strategic value the account offers them. Sales organizations need to avoid “quicksand” opportunities, which appear rewarding but are unlikely to result in a sale because the solution is a mismatch for the customer. The reverse of this scenario, an “investment” opportunity, might be a low-value deal for the selling organization but represents future white space opportunities because the solution offers a major business impact to the customer.

DEVELOP AN AGILE PROCESS FOR EXPANDING INTO THE WHITE SPACE

Agility means executing more frequent account plan reviews by identifying drivers, initiatives, and opportunities earlier as conditions change. This cadence is characterized by more frequent communication that reaches higher levels in the decision hierarchy. Sellers should consider increasing the frequency of the account planning cycle by evaluating accounts quarterly or monthly rather than annually or bi-annually. Critically, this process must also include a review of the latest stakeholders authorized to make a purchase and how their evaluation criteria have changed.

ADOPT A "HEIGHT AND WIDTH" APPROACH

Sales professionals need to create a comprehensive map of the stakeholders in their accounts. The result is an increased number of relationships in an account (width) and an increase in the level of the relationships (height). Account managers can begin this process by asking existing contacts for referrals within the account. With these referrals and a carefully conducted white space analysis, account managers can uncover unaddressed areas of the business where their solution can yield benefits. This is also a powerful way for the sales professional to show that their abilities come pre-vetted.

Buyer Decision-Making Challenges

The question: What do you think is the biggest challenge you buyers will face when making a purchasing decision?

The responses:

  • 25% - Managing constantly shifting priorities
  • 21% - Dealing with the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic
  • 17% - Sifting through data to create a compelling buying vision for internal stakeholders
  • 8% - Building internal consensus
  • 8% - Securing budget
  • 8% - Gaining senior leadership involvement
  • 8% - Dealing with pressure to mitigate risk
  • 4% - Comparing their options

What it means:

AN UNCERTAIN ECONOMIC SETTING MEANS THAT THE BUYER'S PRIORITIES CONTINUE TO SHIFT

Sellers need to understand the customer’s pain. Doing so is complicated because there are usually many stakeholders involved and each is likely to have a different pain. Moreover, these pains flow through the organization in a particular way. Often the pain experienced by those with the greatest decision-making authority flows through the organization in a way that impacts other stakeholders.

Understanding the pains and their flow is what enables a seller to see and track the customer’s changing needs and goals. However, the most sophisticated sales professionals do more than track the customer’s current challenges—they also help the customer gain clarity on what those challenges are. In doing so, the sales professional has a valuable opportunity to shape the customer’s thinking. In other words, sales professionals need to co-create a future vision with the customer by diagnosing pain points and relating them back to the solution differentiators.

This approach is not without challenges. Cognitive dissonance shows that we are prone to discount, dismiss, or oppose information that is new, or conflicts with our beliefs because it creates emotional discomfort—both customers and sellers are prone to it. Customers object because of it and sellers are naturally wired to defend their points of view to relieve their emotional discomfort. That is why it is so important for sales professionals to build that consultative relationship.

Our insights:

Managing the customer's changing priorities and their need for clarity means getting better at surfacing information.

UNDERSTAND THE CUSTOMER'S PAINS AND THE REASONS FOR THOSE PAINS

A pain is a critical business issue or a missed opportunity. Knowing the customer’s pain is important because their discomfort is what compels them to seek a solution and make a purchase. Problems, issues, and opportunities that are not connected to a deeper emotional feeling of pain will likely go untreated due to competing priorities. Simply put, no pain, no change. Understanding the customer’s pain means understanding how it flows through the organization and gaining clarity on the cause-and-effect relationship between pains and their owners. Has the customer admitted that a critical need must be addressed? Does the seller understand the reasons for the pain and the cost of the pain?

REVALIDATE THE CUSTOMER'S PAINS AND DEVELOP A MINDSET THAT WELCOMES CHANGES

The customer’s initial pains almost always change. Therefore, sellers need to constantly revalidate their understanding of the customer’s needs. Customers rarely alert sellers to these changes, therefore, sellers must actively seek them with follow-up questions and discussions with all members of the buying team. Sellers should see these changes as positives in the process. Discovering and reacting to a change is agility in motion. A single and unchanging customer pain is likely a sign that the seller has not investigated enough.

DEVELOP THE TRUST THAT ENCOURAGES CUSTOMERS TO SHARE INFORMATION

When another person sees our actions as consistent with what we say, we establish Knowledge-based Trust. Always sending a written summary and delivering on promises made after each customer meeting demonstrates competence, consistency, and predictability — all essential to building Knowledge-based Trust. Debriefing with the customer to gain feedback demonstrates openness, respect, and sensitivity to the customer’s needs. These are additional ingredients needed to build trust.

Virtual Selling Challenges

The question: What are the biggest challenges facing teams when selling virtually?

The responses:

  • 23% - The level of distraction is higher in virtual meetings
  • 23% - Inability to track the buyer's digital journey and digital interaction with competitors
  • 18% - More difficult to make connections
  • 18% - People behave differently virtually
  • 9% - Time feels different (slower starts to meetings/harder to cover as much content)
  • 9% - Discomfort being on camera (buyer and seller)

What it means:

VIRTUAL SELLING PRESENTS CHALLENGES DUE TO CUSTOMER DISTRACTIONS AND AN UNCLEAR DIGITAL BUYING JOURNEY

Though virtual selling has normalized in recent years many sales professionals are still acclimating to the challenges of the medium.

Part of the struggle stems from the tendency to pursue the virtual sale with the same approach used in traditional in-person selling. The two are not the same. Virtual selling requires an even higher level of communication because the seller does not have the benefit of having the prospect’s undivided attention.

For example, in an in-person setting, a seller may be able to balance the use of presentational materials like slides with conversation. This balance is much harder to achieve in a virtual medium. This is not to say that slides should be avoided completely. Instead, the key is to remember that slides lead to one-way communication that prevents learning about the customer’s needs and engaging them in a collaborative dialogue about how to best address those needs. Understanding these needs is critical to crafting a message that resonates. Effective virtual selling keeps the customer in the conversation by engaging in a consultative dialogue.

Sellers need to refresh their approach to virtual selling by bringing meaningful dialogue back to the experience.

Our insights:

Overcoming the challenges of selling virtually means bringing conversation back to the engagement.

REFOCUS ON RETURNING TO A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH

When a consumer exerts effort by participating in the creation of a product, they hold the outcome in much higher esteem. Researchers call this the “IKEA effect” because so much of the do-it-yourself furniture from IKEA requires the customer’s participation in the final creation. When the customer is involved in the process of shaping the solution, they will have a greater allegiance to the product. They will have more buy-in. Avoid the “presentation mode” that impedes collaboration. Capitalize on every opportunity to elicit information and feedback from the customer so they eventually become the architect of their own success.

ASK QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL THE CUSTOMER'S DIGITAL PATH

If the sales professional does not have the technology necessary to track the customer’s digital buying journey, then they should ask questions that surface this information. In fact, asking is also a way to find out what else they might be reading from competitors’ sites. There are simple ways to ask. For example, a seller can ask, “you’ve shared a lot about the challenges you are experiencing. What ideas have you thought about so far to address these challenges?” The answer might offer a clue about what competitors they are researching. Other questions like, “what information have you come across that has helped shape your thinking?” and “where have you gone to learn more about how to solve these problems?” reveal a lot of useful information.

AIM TO BUILD TRUST FAST

It is far easier for a customer to cease communication with a sales professional when the connection is purely digital. Therefore, the sales professional has a responsibility to build trust quickly. Research shows that doing so is possible through a concept social scientists refer to as “swift trust theory.” This mode of trust occurs when the customer assumes trust in the seller first, then verifies that trust later. Earning the customer’s trust early means offering insights and research before the conversation begins. These preliminary moves demonstrate the seller’s commitment early in the relationship.

SUGGESTED READING FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Click on the link below to access more information to help your team succeed in their negotiation efforts

Click here to connect with us to set up a meeting and learn how Richardson can prepare your team to win in the new era of selling.

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2022 Selling Challenges Research Study

Explore common challenges facing sales teams in 2022.

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