Who We Serve Sales Reps
We use the term sales rep to refer to someone whose primary function is to get others (i.e., prospects) to purchase the vendors products and/or services. Other functions (e.g., professional services, customer support, etc.) may also engage in selling, but it is not their primary function. Much of what we discuss about selling is relevant to everyone who has some repsonsibility for selling; other topics, such as account reporting and managing sales cycles, are likely to be relevant only to sales reps. In addition, some organizations provide an entirely automated sales experience. Even automated, it is still selling; and the fundamental truths and best practices still apply.
We use the term 'sales rep' as a matter of convenience. Someone with this function can go by seemingly unlimited different job titles. Some of the many job titles used in lieu of 'sales rep' include:
Customer service rep
Business development manager
Outreach staff (often used in non-profit organizations for fundraisers)
Within specific organizations or industries, there can be important distinctions between some of these titles. But what the variation in job titles most often represents is an effort to overcome the pervasive negative stereotypes of people commonly have of a sales person. And, those stereotypes are too often well deserved. More on those stereotypes and how to overcome them in the 'Challenges' and 'Best Practices' tabs, respectively.
No matter what their title, a sales rep interacts with prospects, and motivates them to take action and spend money - whether it is a purchase from a vendor or a charitable donationin to a non-profit organization. The exchange of money is accomplished by convincing prospects that the vendor's products or services is the "best" choice to help fulfill a need or solve a problem. How that "convincing" takes place distinquishes one sales approach from another. On one extreme is high pressure sales, in which sales reps use a lot of hype and aggressive means to try and get the prospect to buy right then. On the other side of the continuum is selling that facilitates a decision-making process, characterized by the presentaion of information and patience to let the process unfold. Our approach to sales is more of the latter. We do not promote high pressure sales techniques and believe the evidence clearly demonstrates they are counterproductive to the long-term viability of most businesses.
Some place great emphasis on making distinctions about different types of selling, basing those differences on things like the industry into which you are selling or the nature of the products being sold. Common distinctions are:
Business-to-business (B2B) versus business-to-consumer (B2C) sales
High tech, especially software, versus low tech or non-technical sales
Solution versus commodity selling
Although those distinctions can - and often do - influence nuances of the sale, there is far more they all have in common than separates them. Viewing selling as facilitating a decision-making process and motivating action leads to emphasizing how descisions are made, how to influence them, and how to motivate action. In the context of decison-making and motivating, what is common to all selling is that the rep helps the prospect to:
Fully understand their needs
Analyze the options available, and weigh the pros and cons of each
Prioritize the need
Address any obstacles to taking action.
One distinction in sales that we do find useful is that of simple order taking versus selling. Selling is when the rep has to address the tasks listed above. Simple order taking is just that and requires none of the above. Selling that is simple order taking can ocur in several scenarios, although most are rare and usually short-lived. Some examples are:
When you have products for which there is no other alternative, because none exist or none are available to the buyer.
When marketing initiates all buying cycles and all the sales rep does is wait for the customer to come in - be it through incoming calls, customers coming into a store, etc.
When all the sales rep does is maintain ongoing contact with existing customers until the customer is ready to buy.
Almost anyone can succeed in an environment of simple order taking, and those situations are conducive to automation. Many have made an entire sales career out of hopping from one order taking environment to another. It is often evident in their work history. Their work history indicates a pattern of many jobs - ususally in new industries or companies, and holding them for no more than 18 months. They have a moderate level of documented success but leave when the conditions change and success becomes dependent on actually selling. Because to truly sell takes skill and hard work. More on that in the 'Challenges' and Best Practices' tabs.
To start with, it's important to say that sales is a tough job. Generally speaking, people do not part with their money easily; and convincing them to spend it on your offerings, rather than someone else or any of the myraid of other ways they can spend their money, makes it even harder. And that brings us to the biggest challenge for reps - making quota, sales goals, revenue targets, or whatever it is called in your organization.
In our discussion of sales reps, we will make an important assumption about sales quotas. We assume that quotas are realistic, given all the considerations of market size, price of the offerings, quality of the product compared ot the competition, etc. That is not always a safe assumption, as we have seen many instances in which unrealistic quotas have been set; but the setting of unrealistic quotas is a management problem, although it certainly has repercussions for the sales rep.
And that brings us to the second major challenge for sales reps: managing the expectations and pressures from others, including others in the enterprise (e.g., sales managers and senior management) and customers. Sales reps are under seemingly constant pressure to sell more and to close sales more quickly. Often, those pressures are a consequence of enterprise's desire to meet quarterly targets to appease investors - another topic we feel strongly about and is discussed further in the section on senior management. Those pressures are often accompanied with directives to engage in actions that are actually counterproductive to making the sale, or are in conflict with long-term profitability goals or corporate branding. Customers also apply pressure on sales reps, most frequently related to price discounts or other incentives.
Making quota and managing demands from others are the two major challenges for sales reps. But just noting them does little toward help reps address them. For those of us in sales enablement, the issue is how to help reps manage or overcome those challenges. Enablement is all about how to get things done - how to accomplish the goals established by management.
To help reps make quota requires an understanding of how people buy, how to facilitate that process, and how to improve the performance of sales reps in that facilitation. Much more detail about those topics is provided in the next tab, the 'Best Practices in Sales' page, and the 'Sales Rep Development' page. In short, the challenges reps face in improving their sales perfomance include:
Establishing credibility and overcoming the common negative stereotypes of sales reps
Gathering the information needed to qualify the opportunity
Moving the decison-making process forward
Effectively overcoming objections - or as we advocate, enagaging in behavior that prevents objections from ocurring
Effectively addressing competitive challenges, including making 'no decision' and all the other ways the prospect could spend their money
Closing business without making unnecessary concessions
As to the second major challenge for sales reps, managing expectations and demands, some of the key elements to accomplish that are developed during the same best practices that lead to improving sales performance. However, there are some other components needed. Unfortunately, one key component to effectively manage expectations is also something that many sales reps resist - documentation. For a rep to be able to clearly demonstrate their activities, the status of opportunities, and the progress being made is fundamental to managing expectations; whether they come from customers, management, or other departments.
Sales rep resistence to documentation can have many root causes: general unwillgness to do what is perceived as menail work, belief that the 'magic' of sales can not be captured, fear of accountability, etc. Whatever the cause, reps should identify and address it. Not doing so may provide some short-term escape and relief; but it will only cause problems in the long-term and inhibit your career success. Documentation is necessary, but not sufficient, to effective expectation management. Other necessary components mirror the same skills needed to be successful in sales: communication, negotiation, etc. Development of the skills improve sales performance will help with the challenge of expectaion management and vice versa. Ultimately, they are two different applications of the same skillset.
Only a small percentage of sales reps consistently exceed quota. Those that do utilize a consistent set of practices. You can get a more detailed description of the best practices in sales; but in summary, top sales performers:
Have effective conversations that enagage prospects and elicit necessarry information
Clearly identify the nature of the need or want being addressed (e.g., it's urgency in terms of time, it's importance in terms of basic needs or important values, etc,) that is driving action
Orchestrate the steps to a buying decision
Identify the key players in a buying decision and address their specific concerns
Qualify opportunities on all three major criteria
Persuade without coming across as manipulative
Effectively overcomes competitive threats
Manage the demands and expectations of prospects so that they are satisfied with both the purchase and the buying experience
Coordinate the sales team and other resources
Manage the demands and expectations of their manager
We provide a comprehensive range of skills development and process improvement services to help sales reps improve their sales performance. You can learn more about the services we offer and how we approach the development of a sales rep.
We provide a comprehensive range of development services to help sales reps improve their performance and increase sales. We can help with any specific development efforts or assist in putting together an overall performance improvement plan. You can learn more about specific services and review our model of the development of a sales rep. To best accomodate your needs, we offer a variety of services. They include:
Distance-learning programs (web and telephone)
Self-paced workbooks and other instructional materials
Job aids and other support tools
Process mapping and process refinements
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