Are We There Yet? The Case for Change in Seller Behavior

Mike Kunkle

Mike Kunkle
VP, Sales Enablement Services, SPARXiQ

Did you ever take your kids on a long road trip in a car? If so, you’ve heard the words, “Are we there yet?”  Watching some discussions on LinkedIn recently, I’ve been asking myself the same question.

It’s interesting yet puzzling to watch how polarized we get on issues. This isn’t news; it’s been happening a long time, both outside and inside the world of sales. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the polarization is helping us elevate or evolve our sales profession.

You know what I mean, right?

  • Polarized Position #1: Cold calling is dead.
  • Polarized Position #2: No, cold calling still works.

Repeat, ad nauseum. You can practically start a fist fight with that one.

I’ve seen similar polarization in regard to how buying [has or hasn’t] changed, and whether selling [does or doesn’t] need to evolve with it.

  • Polarized Position #1: B2B buying has changed dramatically, continues to evolve, and we need to sell differently to survive and thrive.
  • Polarized Position #2: No, the “gurus” who spout this nonsense are misguided and wrong; buying hasn’t changed that much and selling the same way still works.

The Gap Between Buyer Expectations and Seller Behavior

Admittedly, I identify more with the first bullet and feel that B2B buying has indeed changed dramatically. I’ve read a lot of buyer research in the past year that points in this direction.

  • 85% of prospects and customers are dissatisfied with their on-the-phone experience (Salesforce.com).
  • According to a study by ValueSelling Associates, Inc., only 33% of buyers feel sellers are well-informed, only 27% say salespeople are able to translate business data into insights, and only 25% of sales reps are effective at engaging with influencers.
  • The importance of these misses is exacerbated by CSO Insights’ research, since three of the top four buyer expectations are: understand my business, provide insights and perspective, and demonstrate excellent communication skills.

Correlation doesn’t prove causation (and quota-setting is often poorly done), but this may be part of the explanation for the decline of salespeople making quota from 63% to 53% over a 5‑year period (CSO Insights). Whatever the cause, data is revealing a widening gap between buyer expectations and seller behavior.

While I’m a staunch advocate for modernizing sales with buyer-centric selling systems, I take a balanced position, believing that:

  1. context matters.
  2. real change is often far slower than forecasted

Context & Change: The Glacier Watch

Think of this need for large-scale behavioral change in sales as a massive, slow-moving glacier. You can see it coming for quite some time. You know that when it gets to your neighborhood, things are will never be the same again. But right now, in this moment, you are safe and what you’re doing still works, even if it isn’t maximized or producing the best results possible. 

In behavioralist terms, the consequences of your actions are positive, immediate, and certain, which is always more motivating than something that is negative, future, and uncertain.

If you work in certain verticals, various forces may be disrupting your business model, such as advances in technology and changing buying behavior.

Yet, even those companies may have a one-year runway or more before reaching the tipping point where businesses fail. But winter is coming, and some are already feeling the cold winds. For them, the time to start changing is right now. (I’m reminded of the Harvey Mackay book title, “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.”)

In other verticals, there’s barely a blip yet.

In some cases, regardless of vertical, companies have been keeping pace with change, gradually. In other cases, not so much. Sometimes, a new entrant emerges that isn’t dragging around legacy systems/behaviors and is built fresh with the current realities in mind. They’re often the competitor who threatens you the most.

My point is, context reigns.

So, what should you do? Which gurus are right? That depends on your situation.

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.

Bill Gates

Diagnose First, then Prescribe

Just like a doctor who diagnoses before prescribing, you should analyze before acting and then create a plan that keeps the current results coming, while you prepare (retool, retrain, guide behavior change, adapt systems and processes) for the future.

Could almost any of the businesses in the above scenarios see improvement by evolving selling behavior (meaning: moving to a buyer-centric sales methodology and improving sales effectiveness)? Insert a resounding “Yes!” here. I’ve rarely analyzed a company where the potential for performance improvement wasn’t at least 2X.

What will vary, based on context, is how urgently you must move and the radical the changes must be. Things to consider include:

  • What is the risk/impact of doing nothing?
  • What it’s going to cost?
  • When should I start and what’s the timeline? (A six-figure investment spread over three years is very different than a six-figure investment in six months.)
  • How much revenue will be impacted (the loss due to waiting, or the gain by acting now)
  • What’s the level of regrettable turnover and talent erosion you may experience due to inaction?
  • How many in your current salesforce will be able to make the shift?
  • How you will replace those necessary with the right talent for the future?
  • What training will be needed?
  • What sales management changes will be needed?
  • How do you assess your current sales process and methodology, what to evolve to, and how to make that shift and get it to stick?

These are questions that are not always easy to answer, and most executives are not educated or trained to address these challenges, on their own. If you’d like support in thinking through the above to determine when to act, what to change, and how to make it happen, we’re here to help.

Click here to learn how SPARXiQ can help you evaluate your sales team to identify priorities for development.

Contact us to learn more.