Top challenges for sales leaders in the new year [Sales]

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ProSales Institute issued their 2017 Sales Agenda report last month, which surveyed almost 400 sales leaders on their top challenges for the coming year. I read it with interest as I always do, and the results line up with where I see the industry’s challenges to lie, as well.
In fact, my view of the industry lines up so well with the results that I am proud to say our product, the Membrain platform, is designed to help organizations with all five.
Respondents to the survey included primarily sales managers, CEOs, and sales directors, with other sales-related roles mixed in, mostly from mid- to large-sized companies in Europe.

The top five challenges identified by these professionals were:

  1. Understanding customer behavior
  2. Implementation of sales strategy
  3. Value creation
  4. Development of sales managers
  5. Coaching of the sales force

Challenge #1: Understanding customer behavior

According to ProSales Institute, this challenge is up from #3 last year. The study’s authors describe the challenge thus:
Traditionally, it has been possible to decode [the customer’s] process through a close interaction with the customer. Today, however, there is a lack of transparency in large areas of the customer journey, from the identification of a need to the closed deal.
Because buying behavior now takes place largely online, the study’s authors say that establishing an accurate understanding of customer behavior today “is an analytical endeavor that requires a framework, allocated time, and resources.”
Membrain is designed to collect detailed information about both seller and buyer behaviors, and provides a framework on which to make sense of those behaviors. Combined with a strategic priority and organization-wide commitment to focus on buyer behaviors, Membrain’s powerful integrations with marketing automation platforms, built-in data collection and analysis tools make it possible to gain insight into customer behavior in ways that were previously impossible.

Challenge #2: Implementation of sales strategies

I was particularly happy to see this challenge pop into the top five this year, because it is the specific challenge which Membrain was built to solve. The study’s authors describe the challenge like this:
It is impossible to address the challenges in the digital sales landscape by only making small adjustments in the same old recipe… [and] the implementation of a new sales strategy, or sales transformation, may seem like an overwhelming project for most sales organizations.
The authors suggest tools for developing a new strategy and mapping out a direction for the sales organization. Membrain provides the tools for putting the strategy into practice across the organization. To do so, organizations must:

Map the strategy to a sales process.

Membrain allows organizations to map a skeleton process and iterate it over time to include greater depth that aligns with strategy and customer behavior. Alternately, an elaborate process can be built into the system from the start, and likewise iterated over time.

Integrate the sales process into the salesperson’s daily workflow.

By plugging into an existing CRM or entirely replacing it, Membrain gives salespeople a single workflow from which to manage customer relationships and the process simultaneously.

Hold salespeople, managers, and coaches accountable to the process.

Membrain makes it easy for everyone on the sales team to see where each deal is in the process, what activities have been engaged in, any steps that have been missed, and to understand where any weaknesses in the salesperson’s performance against the process may be. It provides visual tools that make it easy to see at a glance where attention should be focused, and to keep salespeople continuously on track.

Challenge #3: Value creation

With the shift in buyer behavior, has come the challenge of finding new ways to differentiate value against the competition. Content marketing has failed at this effort, for the simple reason that everyone is now engaged in content marketing. Thus, the job of value creation switches back to salespeople, who are under pressure to do it in less time with the customer, and with less information, than ever before.
The authors say this challenge is a result of the first challenge. “Without understanding [the customer],” they say, “you can innovate infinitely without creating anything that the customer values.
I agree. Membrain’s ability to analyze and provide insights into customer behavior is useful in helping organizations understand where to create value. Membrain can also guide salespeople to ask the probing questions necessary to unearth unspoken customer needs, and to provide sales enablement content in the context of the sales process. Finally, with a strategy for creating value, Membrain is the tool for implementing that strategy.

Challenges #4 and #5: Development of sales managers and coaching of salespeople

Sales manager development represents the biggest change in the study’s results from last year. It leapt from a lowly #25 in last year’s ranking to #4 this year. It’s great to see this important subject getting the attention it deserves.
I’ve grouped sales manager development with coaching, because they are related issues. If you have the right people in sales management, with the right tools and resources, and mindset and skills, your coaching will naturally improve. Of course, you also need to give managers the structure, time, and resources to do coaching well.
Membrain helps on all scores. Because it naturally improves collaboration among your team and provides visibility into individual salesperson behaviors, it provides a valuable tool for selecting and promoting managers. Once in place, it provides managers with the tools to see what’s working and not working on their teams.
This in turn allows them to iterate success, reduce bottlenecks, and coach the team and individuals to greater performance.
The study goes on to discuss the investments that sales leaders are making and how they align with the challenges identified in the study. It contains valuable insights and advice for sales leaders, directors, CEOs, and anyone who advises sales professionals. You can find the Sales Agenda 2017 here (a subscription will be needed to access it).
For a demonstration of how Membrain can help you meet your top sales challenges, contact us.

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