According to the lyrics of American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Dylan was right.
A 2017 Forrester Research Study predicted there would be a million fewer B2B salespeople by 2020. We’re there! Welcome to 2020.
Why the decline in B2B salespeople? A major cause is that today’s buyers conduct their own initial research on the web. Online product and service information answer many prospect questions. No longer are buyers reliant on a salesperson as their primary source of information. Salespeople are engaged significantly later in the sales cycle.
What does that later engagement mean to salespeople? It places demands on the professional salesperson in these three areas: 1) conversational agility, 2) deep product and market information, and 3) proficiency to win sales with more-informed prospects.
In this season of needing to do more with fewer salespeople, some interesting survive-or-thrive options emerge. A 2019 Gartner Group Study weighed the relative influence that four key elements of customer loyalty have to one another.
The four are:
Gartner’s surprising discovery was the weighted percentage of each:
Gartner’s conclusion? In today’s market, it’s “no longer what you sell, but rather how you sell.”
How you and your team sell depend on the methodology, training, and practice of your sales team. That's because selling in 2020 has evolved into a more challenging profession that puts salespeople under increased pressure to produce. Persevering in this current economic climate is a job for professionals, not amateurs.
True professionals have a commitment to a calling. They have chosen to acquire the education, training, and expertise that an amateur does not have. They choose to conduct themselves with integrity, maturity, and dedication.
Their goal is to have a positive impact on our economy as well as on the world. They strive to always be of service to their prospects and customers. Professional salespeople stimulate the flow of business in the marketplace; they are the lifeline that brings in the dollars to help companies stay vital.
So, the first step is to find and learn a proven, comprehensive sales methodology that is consistent with the way people buy.
The second step is to practice this method - with coworkers, with friends, with a manager - until it can be done instinctively, becomes second-nature and part of their muscle memory.
You’ve heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” That’s wrong. According to Track Selling System™ creator Roy Chitwood, it’s, “Perfect practice that makes perfect.” You can’t keep practicing skills and techniques that don’t work and expect different results. Salespeople need to practice and use techniques that actually work and practice them religiously. Success in sales requires a procedure that works, can be replicated and must be practiced.
Let me repeat. Practice does not make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect.
How much perfect practice does it take to become a true professional?
A Wall Street Journal article about improving one's golf game by John Paul Newport entitled "Mastery, Just 10,000 Hours Away" discusses this idea. The author argues that the successes of extraordinary individuals like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Tiger Woods are far more likely to have been the product of intensive practice than mere brilliance.
The article cites research presented by two authors, Malcolm Gladwell in his book, "Outliers," and Geoff Colvin in his book, "Talent is Overrated" Both authors believe that the mastery of a game or profession is the product of making a commitment to and following through on training and practice.
"In explaining the development of extraordinary talent," Newport says, "both Mr. Gladwell and Mr. Colvin zero in on seminal research by Florida State University Professor Anders Ericsson who suggests the threshold for world-class expertise in any discipline - music, sports, science, business management - is about 10 years or 10,000 hours of persistent, focused training and experience."
The article says that the most successful performers engage in what Colvin calls "deliberate practice." That is, they have practiced a methodology or activity expertly designed and proven to improve their performance. As with any effective training system, activities were designed to be mentally challenging, repeatable and to work within a method that provided clear feedback.
While the thought of 10,000 hours of intensive practice can seem daunting to most of us who have packed schedules and hectic lives, Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, authors of the book "The Game Before the Game," makes an important point. "You don't have to spend 10,000 hours at it. If you only have two hours a week available, you can make those hours count for a lot if you commit to quality practice."
Almost anyone of any age, intelligence, and education level can become a sales professional through the commitment of time to the regular practice of an effective selling methodology.
Professional salespeople are not born; they are made through their commitment to a calling and their efforts to improve their selling skills. In 2020, that calling is more important than it has ever been before.
It will take a courageous breed of professional salespeople to face our current challenges and survive the next reduction in force of salespeople. Perfect practice makes perfect. Time to get at it.
Through their commitment and conviction comes inner strength. It is this strength that will help sales professionals persevere, endure the challenge of the season, and come out on top.
Are you practicing perfect on a weekly basis?
Good luck and good selling!
If you’re interested in how we conduct role-plays at Track Selling Institute workshops – Perfect Practice – send a note to [email protected] and request role-play materials.
[Note: Thanks to our friend and mentor, Roy Chitwood, for his contributions to this article.]
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