Sales Challenges Remain Consistent

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Despite many of the changes in the worldwide economy and the broader business environment brought about by the onslaught and eventual retreat of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the sales challenges of four years ago remain today, according to Erica Schultz, chief marketing officer of RAIN Group.

A few new hurdles have also emerged, RAIN Group found, highlighting the challenges facing sales organizations and their priorities for the coming year in a new report.

These are among the top findings of the research:

  • Sales cycles are getting longer. Forty-three percent of sales leaders say sales cycle times have increased in the last year, while only 16 percent say sales cycle times have contracted.
  • Forty-four percent of sales leaders say the percentage of opportunities lost to no decision has increased, whereas only 15 percent say it’s decreased.
  • Competitor losses are falling. Just slightly more than one-fifth (22 percent) of sales leaders say the percentage of opportunities lost to competitors has increased; 31 percent say it’s decreased.

“As the saying goes: Time kills sales. Many sales teams are experiencing this as the sales cycle extends and ends with buyers doing nothing at all,” the firm concluded in the report.

The research also uncovered the top sales challenges today:

  • recruiting and hiring, cited by 52 percent of sales leaders;
  • selling in an uncertain economy (43 percent);
  • generating qualified sales-ready leads, both in terms of quality and quantity, (40 percent);
  • developing sales skills, like driving and winning sales opportunities, driving account growth, consultative selling, filling the pipeline, negotiation, managing, and coaching sellers (33 percent); and
  • developing sales managers (32 percent).

“Interestingly, virtual selling and managing virtual teams are ranked among the least challenging,” RAIN said in the report. “It appears many sales leaders believe they’re on track in terms of adapting to the changing work and selling environment and adopting a hybrid approach. These issues are less acute than the other challenges they’re facing, but more than half are at least somewhat challenged here.”

“The good news is that sales and enablement leaders can overcome the challenges and achieve their priorities, even in an uncertain economy,” Schultz said. “If your sales organization can develop a strong sales enablement program focused on three strategies and track key metrics, you should achieve sales success.”

Sales enablement programs should follow these three strategies, according to RAIN:

  • Improve sales productivity. Many productivity-improving initiatives center on technology or process, according to RAIN’s research. Yet when companies focus on developing specific productivity habits, they achieve significantly stronger results than just focusing on tech or process. Most organizations could increase their sales productivity by 46 percent without adding new hires. Few areas drive sales performance more than the productivity of the sales team, the report said.
  • Develop multiskilled sellers. While sales skill training is a priority for many organizations, too many take a “flavor-of-the-month” approach, RAIN Group said. Top-performing sales organizations know this and work to develop skills to change seller behavior and habits.
  • Leverage sales managers. A great sales manager is often the difference between an average and a top-performing team, according to RAIN. Great sales managers are also often the difference between seller retention and turnover. RAIN research showed that sellers are 63 percent more likely to be top performers when they have an effective sales manager combined with regular, ongoing coaching and effective sales training.

The most important metrics, according to Schultz, are lead measures and lag measures. Lead measures include weighted average pipeline size; pipeline growth; sales activity (e.g., outbound activity, meetings); sales productivity (e.g., time spent selling); sales method and process adoption; deal reviews conducted; sales skill progress/certification; seller engagement; and seller action plan clarity. Lag measures include win rate on proposed sales; average sale/order value; time to productivity; percentage attainment of sales goal; discounting/profitability of sales; average account revenue; average revenue per seller; repeat business rate/churn; length of sales cycle; and sales force turnover. 

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