Are today’s salespeople just not as good as they used to be?

Liam Halpin, head of sales solutions at LinkedIn, explains what's gone wrong.

July 30, 2018

Are today’s salespeople just not as good as they used to be?

Give us the blunt truth. Are sales people getting worse at their jobs?
No, it’s not that sales people are getting worse, it’s that in too many cases their managers expect them to do what they did in the past and deliver the same results.

The rules of sales have changed. Back in 1991 when I began my career, sales people were the primary source of information for customers. It was their job to know all about the product. Buyers had no other way of learning about what was on offer. Today that is no longer the case. The internet offers a proliferation of information. A recent Forrester report said 60 per cent of buyers prefer to self-source, up from 50 per cent the year before. The traditional sales role of providing information is obsolete, yet that's what sales people are trained to do.

Second, the personal nature of sales has changed. Years ago the sales person would hunt down the person responsible for buying – the decision maker. And you'd stay in touch with that contact for years, building a relationship as they were promoted from IT sales manger to CIO. Today one in five decision-makers changes roles each year. It's chaos! It's so much harder to build that relationship when there's no job stability.

Sales people that don’t adapt to the new rules will struggle.

How can companies improve?
The first goal is to align sales and marketing. Most people assume these are the same function. The words even come together as a package, “Sales & Marketing”. But it's rarely true. The marketing message is going to one set of people, and sales are talking to another set. It's vital to get the two departments working together. We've found if you are marketing to the same people your sales people are selling to, that client is five times more likely to re-share your marketing message with their peers.

If people keep moving jobs, how can they know who to target?
It's not easy. Worse, decision making is now a done by a team. Gartner CEB tracked the number of people involved making a buying decision, and found it's 6.8 on average. The membership of that team is changing frequently, so it consumes serious time and energy finding out who to target. A CFO Insights report found VPs of Sales spend 40 per cent of their time on average on non-sales activities, such as basic client research. There is a solution. Introduce automation. A tool like LinkedIn Sales Navigator gives you a customised feed telling you of employee changes at your clients, and what their company news is. Now, when sales people turn on their laptop or smartphone each morning they are notified of job changes, and told what their clients are talking about. It automates research, empowering sales people to reach the right audience with the right insights, and focus on building relationships.

Surely there's still a place for the personal touch in sales?
It's essential. People will always respond to a warm, personal, human approach. For example, we all know that generic email marketing is failing. No one opens these messages. But add personalisation and the response rate soars. LinkedIn offers a tool to help you personalise messages on a large scale. Our messenger service, called InMail, offers prompts as you write, suggesting things you and your contact have in common. Maybe you have a shared interest, or went to the same university. It's a way to build a human connection. And it works. Sending a generic email has a response rate of 1 per cent. Using LinkedIn InMail raises the response to 15 per cent. And use InMail to personalise the message it's 30 per cent.

So it's not about sales people being bad, merely poorly equipped
Yes! Times have changed. At the start of my career I used to go into a prospective client and ask questions like, “What's your role here?”, and “Where does your company operate?”. Today I would destroy my credibility talking like that. I ought to know! Sales people should be provided with technology to guarantee they have information they need, and to personalise their interactions. To explore this concept, a global IT company adopted LinkedIn Sales Navigator for only part of their sales team over a two year period. The rest were excluded, for comparison. The team using Sales Navigator had nine times the engagement with four times the decision makers compared to the control group. Now the company offers Sales Navigator to all sales people. SAP repeated the experiment, with similar results. Sending out your sales team to work as they did twenty years ago is sending them out to fail. But align sales and marketing, automate research, and personalise your messages with technology, and you can make a real connection with the people who matter.

Thanks Liam!
My pleasure!