The end of the COVID-19 pandemic likely will mean the return of selling via “muscle memory.” Therefore, as we start to open back up, it is clear that it is time to brush off the bad habits and return to the actions and techniques that create success, not just transactions. But taking corrective action isn’t as simple as assuming that you can simply rewind to the pre-pandemic playbook.
It is likely that the source of your sales malaise falls into two buckets: You may be experiencing a skills issue — an individual challenge based on each sales professional’s knowledge and aptitude. Or, you may need to make tweaks under the hood to your overall sales process — the system that your entire team uses to tackle the market.
With so much at stake in 2021, how do you drill down and determine which one is the most formidable hurdle for your sales team?
Let’s start by looking at an interesting bit of data from Gartner Research, reported in the quarter 1 issue of its publication “The Chief Sales Officer.” In a survey of over 500 sellers in 10 organizations, 59% of said that gaining access to decision-makers was their greatest current challenge in a virtual selling environment. How would we determine the nature of this challenge? If it’s an issue of the sales rep’s inability to inspire stakeholders enough to take a meeting, it’s likely a skills issue. On the other hand, if sales professionals are having meetings but are not converting leads to orders, it’s likely a sales process issue.
It could be that your sales challenges aren’t easy to categorize — or, more likely, that they represent a confluence of both skills and process. As an example of how these concepts can become intertwined, let’s look at one of the most influential examples that comes to mind. If you’re a fan of legendary sitcoms, you may recall the episode of “I Love Lucy” when Lucy and Ethel work at a chocolate factory. The supervisor explains the process simply: The candy passes through on a conveyor belt and continues into the next room, where it will be packed. Lucy and Ethel’s job is to pick up the candy, wrap it in paper and place it back on the conveyor belt.
Of course, the comic genius that ensues finds the women unable to keep up with the process — instead, shoving unwrapped candies into their mouths and otherwise not getting the job quite done.
This example helps illustrate the fact that you can have a great process, only for skills to let you down, or you may have some holes in your process that you need to address in order to support skills development.
Think about the end of a sales period — the last week of the month, for example. All of a sudden, you realize you have too few opportunities ready to close, so you start to bend (like Lucy and Ethel) and discard the process — cutting prices, giving away product, reducing margin — to convince the customers to move. You can easily see how companies pay the price when sales teams throw process by the wayside.
In reality, most organizations have room to improve both in terms of skills and process. And though many sales leaders are eager to go back to “the way things were,” the truth is that both skills and process will likely need to transform forever as a result of the pandemic. We, too, must transform to keep a pace with buyer’s expectations.
Here are five questions you can ask today to diagnose whether your challenges are more skill-based or process-oriented in nature:
1. Are Presentations Too Generic?
If so, buyers may feel that they don’t have enough information that’s applicable to their purchase, and sellers will have difficulty demonstrating return on investment (ROI). This issue is likely a process problem: not valuing discovery.
2. Do You Practice Selling Consistency in Your Organization?
Or, do your sales professionals just “wing it”? Do they act like improv comedians, reacting to whatever the customer is saying? If you are inconsistent in the way you sell, you likely need to tweak your process.
3. Can You Trace the Issue to Where It’s Occurring in the Sales Cycle?
Is the deal falling apart at the initial conversation or just before the close? Are your sales professionals unable to move from one stage to the next? Based on the answer, this issue could be due to a skill or process problem.
4. Do You Have a Standard Metric That You Use to Measure an Opportunity’s Progress?
If so, what percent of your team is achieving it? If you believe, for example, that 50% of all meetings should result in proposals, but no one is meeting this goal, it is definitely a process issue. If only one or two people are missing the target, it is likely a skills issue.
5. Are Your Issues “Can’t Do” or “Won’t Do”?
Is there something that’s keeping sales professionals from doing their job? If it’s a “can’t do” issue, it tends to be skills-based — they may not know how to prospect, or they struggle with presenting the value of the company to your customer or they don’t know how to ask for business. Conversely, “won’t dos” — things like whether the reward structure is a sufficient motivator or whether the team dynamic inhibits collaboration — tend to be more process-oriented.
In our post-pandemic reality, it’s time to make some permanent changes to keep in step with our buyers. At the same time, as we continue to face restrictions on our go-to prospecting activities — wandering trade shows, attending association meetings or bringing coffee to a client — we need to consider both new processes and new skills to compete.