I have been contemplating what I believe are the most significant challenges most companies are currently facing, and I have managed to reduce my list to just five.
Challenge One: Finding Opportunities
I am continually surprised to discover just how few companies have a formal business development strategy. The norm appears to be “If we throw enough mud at the wall, some of it is bound to stick … eventually” For “mud” you should read “resources” This “Quixotic” mantra is costly, unproductive and naive.
There are so many solutions available today, which assist front-line sales professionals to accurately target potential clients/customers – not to mention resources like LinkedIn etc. – it is incomprehensible to me that the majority of organizations are still flailing in the dark.
For example, how many companies do you know that can tell you exactly what each lead is costing them?
Challenge Two: Sales Enablement
It is estimated that between 56% and 58% of front-line salesmen and women will fail to hit quota this year. Why? Targets set too high? Maybe in some cases, it could be suggested that in a continuing flat-line economy, expectations were unrealistic. But my personal opinion is that we are now witnessing the inevitable results of all those training budget cuts, which were implemented three or four years ago when the recession began to bite.
The reality is that you cannot expect an under-equipped and an inadequately armed army to win battles, let alone the war.
There is ample and reliable evidence to suggest that for every $ spent on appropriate and relevant sales team development a return of $100 should be anticipated in incremental revenue gained – it isn’t rocket science.
But do note the highlighted words – appropriate and relevant
Challenge Three: Customer Retention
For more years than I can remember, I have been “crusading” for greater customer focus, and for organizations to work to prevent the constant drip, drip, drip of departing clients out of the back-end – almost as fast as new ones are coming on board at the front-end. How many times do we commentators have to point out that it costs at least 15 times more to first attract, then qualify, and then sell to a new customer as it does an existing one? How many times do we have to highlight surveys that shout at us that the most common reason companies change suppliers is because of a perceived lack of interest? 71% was the number I heard last.
How many vendors do you know who have, amongst all the data they examine every year, accurately calculated the true cost of all the customers they lost in any given period? And if you do know any, I am prepared to wager that not one of them included the total costs of winning that customer in the first place!
The reality is that standards of customer care have never been so bad – it is a self-perpetuating downward spiral. We actually no longer remember poor service, we expect it; but we are surprised when we receive good service. How sad is that?
The good news is that any company, who is prepared to raise their game by just a few percentage points, will stand out from the mediocre rest!
Challenge Four: Controlling Costs
Nobody should ever doubt that the successful formula for any company looking the survive today – let alone thrive – is to constantly look at ways to reduce costs, whilst increasing profits. Note my emphasis on profit, rather than revenue. A very wise old mentor of mine – a keen golfer – once said to me “Jonathan, we always drive for revenue, but we putt for profit” and how right he was/is.
It is a fallacy to believe the responsibility for ensuring an organization’s financial health and stability lies solely with the grey men in accounts. Every individual has a part to play, and especially the sales team – the engine room of any firm because although it has become a well-worn cliché, nothing really does happen until we sell something.
Our role is to maximise the profitability of every single deal: That means examining the true costs.
Net margin is NOT simply selling price less buy-in price. True profitability takes into account all of the costs associated with creating the lead in the first place; it allows for all of the pre-sales meetings, including qualification, face-face presentations and negotiation – these are all time consuming and cost bearing activities. Then there is the value we must place on after-sale support or technical input. Only when we truly understand the real cost of each sale, can we begin to understand how we are able to improve our profitability.
Much of this is down to control, and that leads me onto …
Challenge Five: Leading from the Front
The average tenure of a sales manager today is less than two years – actually, if the manager was promoted from within because they were the most successful salesperson on the team, the average duration comes down to eighteen months. These statistics are quite shocking, but not surprising. This role has become the least secure in most organizations today.
Show me an under-performing sales team, and I will show you an incompetent, poorly trained and inadequate sales manager: This role has now become critical.