Why Aren’t Your Reps Making Their Number?

Brian Williams, PhD

Modern buying has impacted nearly all aspects of sales. And many sales organizations have stepped up to fill the gaps – mostly. Every day we work with CROs and sales enablement teams doing an excellent job executing on the science required for the art of sales.

But recently we’ve become alarmed. Across the thousands of sales professionals we work with each year, we’re seeing stagnated selling skills. In fact, we’ve studied more than 10,000 deals won and lost by thousands of reps. Our research shows that common views about the most important selling skills are outdated. Some are dangerously incorrect.

Rep skillsets aren’t keeping pace with the way buyers are buying. Deals are stalling out, win rates are dropping, and companies are losing more opportunities to the status quo. Too many reps simply lack the engine to succeed in the new world. They're under-powered and unable to make quota.

Despite this reality, sales leaders and sales enablement continue to focus on the wrong things. Yes, reps still need basic product knowledge, good listening skills, and the ability to ask good questions. These let reps run a basic, linear sales process, from discovery to solution design to negotiation.

But today's horsepower demands are greater. Reps with just traditional skills can’t execute a sales experience that differentiates. It’s this differentiated experience that aligns solutions to customer business priorities and keeps deals from stalling out.

The best sellers set themselves apart by embracing a completely different mindset. The idea of a ‘mindset’ can seem a bit fuzzy, but the right mindset separates success from failure. A person’s mindset guides their perspective on the world and how they filter information.

As we break down here, the modern sales mindset includes three factors. First, reps need to be commercially savvy, focused on solving real business problems for their clients. And they need to understand the business situation from multiple perspectives, including finance, HR, and operations.

Next, salespeople need to view themselves as professional guides, helping their customers move through the winding, complex buying journey. They must facilitate different conversations to align each stakeholder on the problem, solution, and the path to get there.

Finally, reps need to be adaptive, recognizing key situational factors in each deal. And, based on those factors, they must pivot as the customer’s buying journey progresses. Pivoting is adjusting strategies, styles, and messages to match the situation.

You’re probably thinking:

Sure, but let’s be realistic...  Finding decent sales talent is hard enough in today’s labor market. Now, I need to somehow find a magical unicorn with this mindset?

While some reps are born with this new mindset, we strongly believe it can be developed in others. Based on work across dozens of industries, we’ve identified a set of competencies that underpin the modern mindset. These competencies can be trained and measured.   

Below are the ten competencies that provide the right engine for the modern seller:

Commercially Savvy

1. Business acumen. Rep has a deep knowledge or ability to quickly understand a customer’s business drivers, economics, and industry trends

2. Critical thinking. Curiosity about the root cause of customer issues and performance gaps. Mental discipline and objectivity in assessing a customer’s business situation

3. Analytically minded. Leverages data to identify gaps in the market and within specific customer opportunities. Uses logical reasoning to ‘connect the dots’ and deduce trends or insights.

Professional Guide

4. Alignment building. Bringing disparate functions of the buying organization together. Facilitates a shared understanding of the problem, the solution, the path forward.

5. Advisor. Provides guidance, support, and insight to various stakeholders within the customer. Helps customers clarify problems and prioritize actions within a solution domain.

6. Facilitates change. Compels action and decision-making in ambiguous situations. Gives confidence to customers, helping them move away from the status quo and into new or unchartered areas.

Adaptive

7. Champion selling. Effective at building support across multiple stakeholders within a customer’s orgnization. Partners with one or more contacts and leads them in positioning your solution with others.

8. Situationally fluent. Effectively identifies key deal factors, accurately assembles a complete picture of the situation, and predicts the impact of future selling actions.

9. Systems thinking. Identifies the interconnection points between various systems and organizational narratives within a customer. Can see the ‘forest for the tree’ in order to position value for their solutions.

10. Co-creation. Collaborates with customers when defining the issues, needs, and opportunities as well as the ideal future state. Facilitates the decision process, partnering with the prospect in the journey.

It can seem like a daunting list. But these items represent the new standard. Today’s reps must build credibility with their customers. Using this credibility, they influence change in the customer’s business. And in order to make the change happen, they have to be adaptive as they navigate the deal process.

This new list of foundational skills helps reps understand what to look for for in each deal. They can build the right business case for each stakeholder. They can do the hard work of aligning the multiple stakeholders in each deal. And they will understand the broader market and competitive dynamics, and correctly position themselves to win each time.

How does your sales methodology advance these areas? Do your training programs and development experiences reinforce the concepts? Are your managers coaching and leading your teams in these concepts? 

The new skillset model for sales has many implications, from hiring and onboarding to training and compensation. Please reach out to schedule an executive briefing to review our mindset, skillset, and toolset model that builds the engine your teams need. Contact us to learn more and win more.

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.