For some professions, pressure is simply a fact of life. Politicians are held accountable by the general public and made to feel the weight of their decisions; soldiers frequently hold the power of life and death in their hands; angry commuters hold railway workers responsible for delays that are very seldom their fault.
Sales is no exception. The pressure in this profession is constant, unrelenting, and trickles down from the very top of the business. The company’s overall revenue targets place pressure on each department; teams place pressure on collective employees to meet departmental targets; and individual employees place pressure on themselves, both due to financial realities and personal pride.
We recently surveyed 283 sales professionals from companies big and small to ask them about the biggest challenges they face while doing their jobs. The individual findings were quite illuminating, but the overall theme was particularly striking – namely, salespeople all over are wasting time and energy, and sacrificing potential revenue due to challenges that are partially or completely avoidable.
In our survey, 11% of sales professionals claimed either preparing for meetings or compiling sales reports presented the biggest challenge to them on a day to day basis. A further 17.3% highlighted manual data entry as their chief hassle.
Frankly, it’s not hard to see why. Administrative tasks can be a colossal pain: any effect they have on revenue is indirect and often incidental. Salespeople are not, by nature, housebound creatures: they want to be out of the office, winning over new clients and keeping existing ones happy.
With the advent of modern technology, much of the administrative load can be significantly lightened. Using software to automate these time consuming processes will let sales personnel focus on what they do best. For example, it can be hard to get every fact and detail straight in advance of a big meeting – especially if you have several within a short space of time. Big data technology can collate this information and make it available in an instant. They may not know everything about every client or prospect, but with the right tool, nobody will ever know otherwise.
Of those professionals questioned, 33.6% suggested that their main problem was acquiring timely information to use while selling, and a further 11.3% indicated that an inability to access information while out of office presented a serious issue.
It’s never been a static profession: from Avon ladies to high-level business development gurus, salespeople have always been on the move. The trouble is, technology hasn’t always caught up. Outside the office, salespeople are simultaneously at their best and worst: they can deploy their natural charm and take services directly to their target audience, but if they need anything from HQ – as they often will – they’ve historically been at a loss. Furthermore, many simply don’t want to operate from an office if they can help it. Flexible working is something modern employees have come to expect and demand.
And frankly, why shouldn’t they? Modern technology makes it entirely possible for employees to carry out their duties from anywhere: the park, public transport, or at home. By using sales intelligence software, employees can be equipped with everything they need – wherever they are, and on whatever device they happen to be using.
The report’s most interesting findings however relate to decision-making. Salespeople have a tendency to make decisions that do not have the most robust evidential foundations: 40% base their choices on the relationships they have with their customers, and 6% base their choices on “gut feeling”. Simultaneously, 49.5% asserted that their main problem was identifying those customers that are falling in sales and identifying new opportunities. It’s not hard to see a meaningful correlation between these stats.
Instinct is important, but it’s not everything. Relationships are fickle, and that gut feeling is often simple indigestion. Sales intelligence technology can provide meaningful trend analysis and actionable information based on past data: if a customer seems to be flagging, it will alert the relevant representative; if there is a marked uptick in sales of a certain product among some of your clients, it will suggest possible cross-selling opportunities.
Technology, of course, is not a miracle cure-all, and it’s never going to be possible to entirely eradicate the pressure on salespeople. In many respects, it’s simply the nature of the beast. Equally, software cannot turn a bad employee into a good one, or raise flagging revenues on its own. Salespeople need to be persuasive, they need to win new business, and they need to meet targets: it was ever thus, and ever thus will it be.
But it’s worth acknowledging that much of the pressure that prevents a good employee from being a better one is entirely unnecessary – especially with the advantages provided by modern technology. Savvy, forward-thinking companies will make the most of any opportunity to alleviate it.
By Paul Black, CEO, sales-i