Episode 261: Andy Springer on Top Sales Trends in Today’s Business Landscape

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO Podcast. I’m Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space, and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, I’m excited to have Andy Springer, the chief client officer at RAIN Group, join us. Andy, I would love for you to introduce yourself, and your role in your organization to our audience.

Andy Springer: Hi, everyone. Thank you very much for having me. I am Andy Springer, the Chief Client Officer at the RAIN Group. My role is one that each and every day I am a practitioner leading teams in terms of supporting large-scale sales transformations and also working with small, and medium-sized enterprises in terms of upscaling and developing sales skills that are going to shift the dial in terms of sales performance.

SS: Wonderful. The reason that we wanted to pull you on to this podcast is because RAIN Group actually recently released a study that identified some key trends in the current sales landscape. In your opinion, what are the trends that have the greatest impact on businesses and their ability to succeed in the current environment?

AS: Yeah, I would say that the trends that we saw through our research were a significant increase in terms of sales cycles. Opportunities are taking longer to close. There’s more complexity in terms of that. The amount of opportunities that are being led to a loss due to no decision. While there may be significant needs, significant problems to solve, and objectives to be supported to achieve, for whatever reason we’re seeing a lot of no decision being what they lost to instead of competitors.

I think the third one is selling in an uncertain economy. If you look at the post-pandemic world and you look at the political challenges that have impacted the market, you look at the shift in terms of the financial impacts in terms of the post-pandemic inflationary world and then how that’s changed the dynamics of the economy, it’s made it really challenging particularly in the B2B space, but not exclusive to. That uncertainty cascades uncertainty in terms of sellers and how they approach the market and what they are dealing with.

SS: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. From your perspective, Andy, how have these trends influenced or created top challenges that sales organizations are facing today? What would you say those top challenges are?

AS: I think it was pretty clear from our research that in terms of when I look at it through the lens of a sales leader and sales enablement space, one of the most consistent challenges that keeps showing its face in the sales space is recruiting and hiring sales talent and the associated challenges with that.

Also, the uncertain economy piece was represented very strongly, generating qualified sales leads continues to be a significant challenge for a lot of organizations. We dive into the skill areas where the key challenges in developing sales skills are relevant in the real-time selling environment. Also, the one which I found unsurprising, but I think some who I’ve spoken to in reflection on the report found surprising, which was the challenge of developing sales managers. Often in the sales enablement space, I see that sales managers are the ones who are most forgotten about. They’re also the ones that are often the loudest in asking, requesting, and demanding skills from their sellers. Often when it comes to developing skills for them to be better managers, it’s something that they’re either left out on, it’s not a focus or it may not be that there’s a budget to focus on developing them.

SS: Absolutely. Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. To that point, especially for our audience, what role can enablement play in helping businesses overcome these challenges?

AS: I think there are three key areas that we’ve really isolated and focused on. The first one is improving sales productivity as a whole. One of the fortunate things that we get to be involved in is introducing productivity thinking tools and ultimately seeking to shift behavior in productivity. Why is that? Well, every organization you go into, whether it’s, you’re going into a sales organization or the sales area of an organization or other parts, everyone says the same thing. ‘I’ve always got way too many things to do and not enough time to do them in.’

When we really focus on the sales organization, what we see is some of the greatest deficiency in skill is not necessarily around how to sell, it is how do I produce more? Everyone has the same amount of time in a week, and in our studies, what we seek to do is often define, well, what top performers in sales and sales management do that others don’t that makes them top performing.

I think one of the things that cried out really clearly was top performers have an incessant focus in terms of the productivity of their sellers and sales leaders inside their organization. and they seek to improve the way in which they focus on productivity before selling skills.

The next one I would say then leads to developing multi-skilled sellers. If you look at the journey that we’re just starting to build here we’ve identified ways to free up time for the sellers so they focus on what’s most important. Then, when we align that with the development of their selling skills in that multi-skill space, we start to see more time focused in the right areas, which means we’re going to start to see an impact on the win rate.

Those two factors are critically important. The last thing I’ve kind of touched on is leveraging our sales managers. I understand that a lot of organizations do a really good job in developing broad-based management skills, and a lot of that links very much to sales managers. We often go into organizations and we see that the management skill and application in the sales area is fairly good. I mean, obviously, there are deficiencies in some areas and industries and types, but broadly we see a consistent level of management skill. What we see as a broad-based deficit in terms of skill is coaching. Sales managers not just focusing on the management aspects, you know, territory planning, pipeline management, those sorts of day-to-day or weekly, quarterly activities including planning and those sorts of things when I’m talking in the management context, but what about the coaching? What are the coaching elements?

If we’ve got increased levels of productivity in our selling organization, we’re training our sellers in terms of the skills that are going to help enable them to perform better. When we combine that with a focus on the development of sales managers to not just manage but to be really good coaches of their selling team as well, and we develop coaching skills within that we see a transformative effect start to take place.

Now the team is operating as a whole and everyone knows their role in a lot of cases, we’re talking critical mass here. I know there’s a lot of people that will be listening to this saying, well, we’re never going to achieve that. With 100 percent of our selling organization, you don’t need to in order to see significant sales performance improvement. You only need a critical mass that is developing the learning and applying this new dynamic in their selling organization to see a significant shift. Often the first measure that we start to see lift his win rate.

SS: Absolutely. You just kind of got to thaw that frozen middle, right? What should enablement leaders be prioritizing in their strategies for the year ahead to help businesses address these challenges?

AS: What I’m seeing get the greatest traction, as I said, is probably the gap in terms of sales manager focus. How do we make our managers better managers and better coaches in order to help drive sales performance improvement? Particularly I see a lot of organizations do one thing really well, right? Selling organizations invest in training their teams.

Now, the one other thing about training is that sellers and sales managers get access to new information and knowledge. That knowledge can have an informative, motivational, and inspirational impact, but we all know that, outside of the virtual training room or the physical classroom, once they have obtained that knowledge, it means nothing without the application of that knowledge.

I think one of the critical areas is if we’re going to invest in improving the productivity of our sales organization, we’re going to develop the skills of our sellers, we’re going to develop the skills of our managers. How are we going to support the application of that learning over the first 7, 30, 90 days and beyond, so that we get the true impact of what we’re seeing?

When we see applied knowledge implemented, and then we see sellers and sales managers effectively held to account for the application of that learning, we start to see the rubber meet the road and ultimately the business outcomes that you’re seeking through developing your people start to show, as we say, the dial starts to shift in the direction that you want it to. That gap in terms of applied learning is a big one. There’s no point in working on those three areas that we’ve talked about without a significant focus on the enablement of that throughout the organization over a sustained period.

SS: I love that. You’ve talked about the importance of frontline managers, as well as I think sales leaders. How can enablement leaders and sales leaders partner to better align their strategies to the top priorities of the business?

AS: First of all, don’t fall into the delegation trap. The delegation trap is where we see sales leaders go, ‘we’ve done a training needs analysis, and here are all the skill gaps in terms of our team. I’m going to wheel in the sales enablement people and I’m going to say, here’s all the gaps that we have inside our organization. You go and figure out a plan and come back to us with how we’re going to fill those gaps and how we’re going to provide or bring some solution into the business.’

Where we see that occur, it is almost just the beginning of failure because sales leaders need to take and be heavily invested in that journey, not to just close skill gaps, but to align themselves with the support top down in terms of how we’re going to keep that change that we’re seeking to see sustain itself within the business ongoing.

Actually, if we don’t take a change management approach to any sort of meaningful development outcome that we’re seeking, we get a training event or series of training events occur, people walk away feeling good, they feel invested in, and not much happens. Where does that begin? It begins with senior executives, understanding that this is a transformation that involves change management. It also means having sales leaders and sales enablement glued to their hips because when we see they are operating as one team and sales enablement is in the selling organization, not separate to, not sitting in Learning and Development or sitting in an HR function, that they’re in the selling organization and we see a strong partnership between the importance of sales enablement and how it’s going to support the realization of the sales performance improvement. It is the recipe as a starting point for success.

I would encourage anyone who’s sitting outside of the selling organization in their function right now to have a really good look at, whether is really serving us. I can tell you it’s day and night when we go into all different types of selling organizations and we see the dynamic between the sales leadership and the sales enablement function. We already know we have a fantastic springboard to partner with them to build from. When they’re separate, we already know that if we don’t make some attempt before we go on a transformation to bring those teams together and unify, we’re going to struggle to create meaningful change.

SS: Absolutely. Last question for you, Andy. To close, what is one thing you’re surprised to learn from the survey and what would you recommend practitioners take as an action based on that learning?

AS: I think there are a few. I wasn’t surprised by productivity and the need to develop multi-skilled sellers in terms of the solution focus areas. I am constantly surprised by how forgotten about sales managers are, because as I said, they are often the ones who are requesting the development of their sellers, but they’re not proactive or they’re not realizing the need for their own development. That is certainly not a criticism, it’s an observation. There could be various reasons for that.

It screams to me how important sales manager development is, how often it’s an afterthought or it’s not included in terms of an overall sales development strategy, and the critical role that they play beyond just being a manager and how we have to develop sales coaching skill combined with really good sales management to create meaningful change in any development program, sales transformation, change management outcomes we’re seeking from change management program.

I think that was probably one of the things in terms of a surprise that most resonates broadly in the market because people go, yeah, we don’t really focus on our managers. We focus constantly on our sellers. It’s an all-around focus that we need to take.

SS: Could not agree more. Andy, thank you so much for joining us to talk about the findings from your recent research. We really appreciate the time.

AS: Absolute pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

SS: To our audience, thank you for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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