Every so often I notice a pattern happening with coaching clients. The one that has been getting my attention lately is that most seem to be in reaction mode. For example, rather than asking buyers layered questions leading up to demos and meetings, they typically wait until the meeting or demo happens to see what they wanted to talk about.
Or they wait for buyers to get to take a specific action on the website before they will pick up the phone or reach out to them.
Or even worse, they dump a lot of information on the buyer and wait for them to sort out what is important to them.
Why is this happening to salespeople?
Is it any surprise that salespeople today are reacting to what is happening with their buyers rather than proactively helping them? Think about some of the changes that the sales profession has gone through recently, or the research that has been touted like:
- Buyers are X, Y or Z% through their process before they want to talk to a salesperson.
- There are an average of 6-7 people now involved in the complex B2B buying scenario.
- Inbound leads are less expensive, more ready to buy, etc, etc…
It’s not that any of these things are untrue, or even irrelevant. The damage that they can do when believed internally by a salesperson however is like an invisible kryptonite. What is the one common theme that many of these statistics have in common? They instill into salespeople the idea of taking a back seat and reacting to the buyer. And it is ruining salespeople. Here’s why I say this.
Why salespeople must change this
I’ve been following the conversation happening around sales and machine learning and artificial intelligence. Article titles like; “5 Jobs That Robots Will Take over” strike apprehension and anxiety into the hearts of many- including sales leaders and salespeople. Am I replaceable? Surely a machine can’t replace that human connection necessary in sales right?
The fear of irrelevance is not without reason. Forrester research predicts that out of the 4.5 million sales jobs, 1 million of them will disappear by 2020. Which 1 million? The transactional order takers will be the hardest hit, followed by those who are relied on to explain- both will be outed by smarter websites and ecommerce. Those who spend the majority of their time navigating price negotiations and contracts will also see a loss due to software intelligence.
However, this does not mean the death of the salesperson entirely. In fact, the sales job that is needed and will not just win over AI, but I believe will likely work with AI, is proactive selling in a complex B2B situation- or the consultative salesperson.
What do sales leaders and salespeople need to do?
Research from the CEB and shared on Harvard Business Review examined the impact of a responsive approach and found that it typically made buying more difficult, whereas a “proactive, prescriptive approach increased purchase ease by 86%.”
In fact, customers described proactive and "prescriptive” salespeople as being one step ahead of problems and able to eliminate obstacles to solving their problems. Not only are companies who make buying easier 62% more likely to win better deals, but their buyers are less likely to regret their decisions and are more likely to buy again.
How do we change a reactive salesperson into a proactive one?
In a recent interview with Cory Johnson on Bloomberg TV, Mark Cuban said that those who excel at creative and critical thinking will be needed to make sense of the data that technology creates. And he doesn’t mean data scientists.
So if salespeople need to become more proactive rather than reactive- how do we develop them to be so? How do we develop them into the critical thinkers that Mark Cuban describes and the prescriptive salesperson that the CEB research found is needed?
Stop reactively coaching and training, start proactive training and coaching.
So much of what I read today about sales training and coaching is about using KPIs and metrics to train and coach. Great idea- except that if that that is only strategy you have, you will always be behind the 8 ball. Sure, maybe they will retain what they learned from their mistakes on future opportunities, but what about the ones happening now? Meeting once a month, or once a week with a rep and focusing on the calls, demos, meetings they had is only reacting to what has, or has not happened. And you maybe inadvertently teaching them to do the same thing with buyers.
How are you proactively preparing yourself or your team to help your buyers make timely decisions? Check out our next Live Sales Lab as one example of how you could be proactively training and coaching your salespeople.