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The Coming Sales Talent Crisis

by David Brock on February 26th, 2019

It’s clear that customers struggle to buy. The majority of complex B2B buying journeys end in no decision made. What we traditionally thought of as a relatively linear journey is now depicted as shown below.

It turns out the challenge in B2B buying is not what we have traditionally thought, or what we have trained our people do to: Help the customer select a solution (Ideally ours).

Our customers struggle. They are trying to solve a problem, part of that involves buying something. But they struggle to align agendas, priorities, to identify how they will make a decision. They start, stop, things, change, they restart. They wander through the buying journey and, more than 50% of the time, abandon the journey some way through the process.

But what have we done with our sales people? Most of the time, we focus them on “pitching our solutions.” Ironically, the customer can learn this independently, so pitching solutions doesn’t help them move forward in the process.

We may want them to be consultative or solutions focused. We teach them a selling process–or even a buying process, but we treat that as a linear approach: Qualify, Discover, Propose, Close–alternatively, Problem identification, Needs/Requirements, Evaluate Alternatives, Select Solution.

Even in the best of circumstances, how we train our people, the skills we focus on developing do not prepare them to address the challenges our customers face in buying.

We need to focus on new and different skills, skills that enable us to help our customers better navigate or make sense of their buying process.

These skills include: Curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving, project management, collaboration/facilitation, systems thinking. Our people must be comfortable with dealing with ambiguity, risk, uncertainty. And they must have the abilities to instill the same things in our customers as they try to make sense of what is happening to them, what they are doing, and how to achieve their goals.

We face a crisis of our own, that is, “Do we have the people that can do this? Are we training and coaching them to help our customers navigate their buying journey? Are our people equipped to help our customers make sense of what they face and to move forward.

Our customers are looking for help, they are struggling. The issue they face is no longer solution selection–virtually any solution will do. They will gravitate to those that can best help them make sense and navigate the complexity and uncertainty they face every day.

If we aren’t recruiting and developing people that have these abilities, we will no longer be able to create value with our customers. We will struggle to achieve our own goals.

What are you doing to prepare your sales people to meet this challenge?


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11 Comments
  1. Dave, it’s been too long since I commented on one of your posts, lots of happened, the company I was with got acquired, I was selling one minute and then the next thing I know I am heading up a Strategic Solutions Team to go after B2B enterprise deals. The timing of today’s blog post couldn’t be better – at least for me. You basically summed up my job description today – so thank you, lol! For me, you hit the nail on the head, my role is to manage a Strat team whose focus is to work to sell solutions to an existing client base that is going through digital transformation. But the key is not selling the solutions we have . . . we have alot! So focusing on product will sink you pretty quickly. It has to be about understanding where the buyer is, what problems they are trying to solve for in their journey to a better state. Thanks for the post and will be reading them more often!

    • Patrick, I’m so happy it resonated with you and was helpful. Watch the next couple of days, I expand on the topic quite a bit. Don’t hesitate reaching out if you have questions or I can help you. Regards, Dave

  2. Joel Lyles permalink

    Hi Dave!

    | These skills include: Curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving, project
    | management, collaboration/facilitation, systems thinking. Our people
    | must be comfortable with dealing with ambiguity, risk, uncertainty. And
    | they must have the abilities to instill the same things in our customers
    | as they try to make sense of what is happening to them, what they are
    | doing, and how to achieve their goals.

    Has PIE had any success training up salespeople from Project Management or Quality to be sales reps?

    When I think of the people I’ve worked with in the past who would be good at navigating more complex B2B cycles, I inevitably think of the project managers and requirements engineers I’ve seen. But they don’t exactly fit the profile of sales reps, not even people who make the leap to sales, so I’m wondering if we’re looking for Sales Reps Of The Future in the right spots.

  3. Joel: You have asked a lot here, a few responses:

    Every day we see people who are in non-sales careers move into sales and become very successful. Whether it’s project management, quality, engineering, manufacturing or finance. We’ve seen teachers, military people all become very successful in sales. Of course those people have matched carefully constructed competency models and demonstrated through interviews, assessments and other things that they have the right mindset, attitudes, behaviors to become very successful for selling.

    This doesn’t mean any project manager, any quality person, etc can be successful as a sales person. But they have to fit the models we develop that demonstrate the potential for success.

    We will find sales people of the future in all the normal and not normal places, we just have to know what we want and screen for it.

  4. Joel Lyles permalink

    Thanks for answering my question, Dave. A follow-up question for your answer:

    How do (or in your opinion, should) organizations come up with models that demonstrate the potential for success? I’m curious as to how some cultures decide what they want in their ideal sales professional. Do the sales leaders come together and brainstorm a list after comparing the traits of their top reps?

    • Joel, this is actually pretty easy, though too many managers don’t to this.

      1. We need to come up with competency models for each key role. These models should look at behaviors, attitudes, values, skills, experiences, competencies, etc.
      2. These are developed by assessing not only what our best performers do, but also understanding those that fail to perform.
      3. We put in place disciplined recruiting/interview processes.
      4. We leverage any number of standard assessments to complement our own assessments.
      5. We leverage role plays other problem solving scenarios.

      Take a look at Sales Manager Survival Guide. I go into this process pretty deeply.

      Thanks, as always, for your very active participation!

  5. Brian MacIver permalink

    Dave, I was talking about this in 2010.

    http://brianmaciver.blogspot.com/2010/09/sales-automation-leads-to-low.html

    Then, I used the Metaphor of Burger King Short-order Chef.

    Today, BK and Big Mac, have even eliminated the counter staff,

    with an order Screen. Customer Automation.

    Will Sales be the next to go?

    Well, I don’t think so.

    Simply because the Sales Algorithm is too complex,

    or is it the Buying Algorithm?

    However, I did write, in 2011, one Strategic response to this problem:

    http://brianmaciver.blogspot.com/2011/03/shortening-sales-cycles.html

    best wishes, Brian

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  1. The Coming Sales Talent Crisis, Part 2 | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog -- Making A Difference
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