>> Article Archives >> Sales Strategies >> Are Your Salespeople Stupid?

Sales Strategies
Are Your Salespeople Stupid?
By Scott Santucci, CEO, BluePrint Marketing, LLC

Come on, admit it.  It

Come on, admit it.

It's what you think, isn't it?

If I had a dollar for every time I heard "our salespeople lack the  skills or ability to (insert any of the following: cross-sell, sell  higher, sell to value, get ahead of the RFP)" I would be a very rich  person.

But are selling skills really the problem?

Most B2B companies today are moving to named account coverage models  where a sales team has an assigned quota for revenue produced out of a  given company or organization. Responsible for selling the entire  product portfolio, the expectation here is that sales people will  concentrate their efforts on a handful of targeted companies and grow  them from $1M to $10M accounts. When it doesn't happen, business  leaders tell me the same thing, "we just don't have the right people"  or "our sales people just don't get it".

What's lost in this calculus is the sheer mountain of information that  sales people must manage and communicate to customers in a valuable way.

To illustrate this point, consider this example.

Assuming your company has 10 products that all can be sold by your  sales force, lets try to determine how much information a salesperson  must process and manage on any given account they are pursing.

  • 10 products or solution packages (Doesn't factor in multiple    delivery options like license terms, software as a service, co-  location, etc.)
  • 5 value proposition for each product (50 total messages to    manage and communicate in the customer's context)
  • 5 different buyers involved in the decision (250 total messages    and their derivatives (50 value props X 5 different points of    view from different stakeholders)
  • 10 personal and business drivers to uncover for each    stakeholder (300 different messages to manage - 5 personal + 5    business goals X 5 stakeholders = 50 stakeholder goals + 250    total messages)
  • 5 uncovering questions for each value proposition (1300    different messages - 5 questions to prepare for each    stakeholder and value proposition + 50 different stakeholder    goals)
  • 4 competitors with 1 knockoff for each (1,500 different    messages -50 different value propositions X 4 competitors +    1,250 different messages and questions+ 50 different unique    goals)
  • 5 collateral pieces and presentations for each product or    solution set (1,550 different elements of information - 1.500    different messages + 50 different combinations of prepared    content)

In this scenario, a salesperson is asked to manage over 1,500  different forms of information for each account they are responsible  for. From one view point, selling an individual product or service  could be viewed as easy, but when considering the entire breadth of  the portfolio, the burden is overwhelming.

So, how much information can we expect sales people to successfully work with?

Cognitive psychologist, George Miller determined human beings are  bound by the "magical number of seven" which states that people have a  "channel capacity" of between 5 and 9 pieces of information or  "chunks" of material the can hold in their heads and reliably  communicate. Only a handful of people have the ability to examine a  complex system (like a B2B sale) and abstract from that environment  the optimum chucks of information and create their own model to  consistently manage all of these variables to drive successful  outcomes. Interestingly enough, most of the new business revenue your  company generates (about 80%) will come from a small minority of your  sales people (about 20%). A common attribute shared by these top  performers, consciously or not, is they all have developed the ability  to digest relevant information and communicate it in a way that is  both clear and compelling to the customer.

It's not that salespeople are stupid; it's just that they are human.  Go-to-market models which place the burden of managing the multitudes  of information and content on the backs of individual people are  doomed to fail, regardless of the talent or skill of the sales force.  Managing complexity is not a sales person problem, but rather a  company problem - one which requires an integrated effort of sales,  marketing, and solutions experts to successfully solve.

The first step in any customer-centered approach is to research the  steps your customers go through to solve problems (not buy things) and  to identify their common decision-making patterns. By understanding  the intricacies of your customer's problem-solving behavior you can  create a universal framework that can help more of your sales people  successfully navigate the complexity their customer problem-solving  process while decreasing their burden and improving their ability to  communicate value.

A successful customer-centered framework should:

  • codify the best practices to helping your customers solve common  problems, in an authentic and genuinely helpful way.
  • provide a simple and repeatable way for sales people to decode that  knowledge in way that accommodates a natural conversation and isn't  canned or routine.
  • be flexibly designed to enable sales people to revise the materials  and collaborate with customers in response to the contingencies that  arise throughout the problem-solving process.

So before blaming the intelligence or skills of your sales force,  first consider the scale of the task they face and ask if they are  being sent into battle with the ability to add value throughout the  entire lifecycle of your customer's problem solving process.

Scott Santucci is a leading authority on reducing the business development friction caused by the divide between sales and marketing. His company, Blueprint Marketing ( ), helps companies realize the compounding returns on revenue generation investments that are achieved by harmonizing sales and marketing efforts. Scott can be contacted by e-mail and phone (703) 723-5900.

More articles by Scott Santucci
More articles on Sales Strategies