Sales Hacker’s 2016 Sales Metrics Report states the average tenure for a B2B sales person is 1.4 years. It takes a new salesperson six months to become effective which doesn’t give them long to succeed. This is a huge problem for sales leaders – so what are we doing about this? Often the wrong thing.
Every vendor is after gun salespeople who can bolt out of the gates, meet quarterly targets, achieve constricting KPIs and work ridiculous hours. The mantra is “More calls, more emails, more content. Selling is a numbers game. If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”
Salespeople get a year then they’re out. Or they burn out and move from job to job. The revolving door spits them out and they take their relationships and knowledge with them.
Sales leaders are so short term focused they kill the goose laying the golden eggs. There may be a sugar hit when a new sales leader pushes the troops over the top but the law of diminishing returns kicks in and the downward spiral continues.
That’s why the average tenure of a sales leader has shrunk to 19 months. It’s the same pattern. Start full of energy, push and hustle, burn out, move on.
It wasn’t always thus.
At 42, after a career in professional services and marketing management I found myself working as a BDM selling ERPs for a 15 person Australian company. We competed with huge US & European companies so we focused on publishing & consumer electronics distribution, where we had a competitive edge.
It was my first sales job. I used the phone and personalised snail mail, writing about industry issues, not about our software. I talked to publishers about the hassles of managing claims and returns, to consumer electronics distributors about rebates and spare parts.
In my first six months I sold… nothing. Nowt. Zip. Not a sausage.
Transworld Publishing’s CIO said they wouldn’t replace their ERP for 5 years. Macmillan Distribution’s MD liked us but had no budget. HarperCollins’ Finance Director wasn’t interested. Sanyo, Makita, Pioneer, Homedics, JVC said thanks but no thanks.
After nine months I’d sold….
Then Transworld Publishers’ support person retired. My first sale.
Macmillan Distribution needed a system for their new warehouse. I’d built a relationship with their MD and scored my second, much bigger sale.
HarperCollins’ new CIO realised they needed another system. Sanyo needed a new ERP for Y2K. Pioneer bought our software when GST came in. Homedics needed an ERPto do their own distribution. Makita’s CEO defied orders from Japan to buy us.
After five years I’d sold millions and was in charge of sales & marketing worldwide. Those companies that had said “no thanks” were customers. We’d tripled in size. Bookmaster became the most widely used publishing ERP in the world and I sold over $100 million in 26 countries on 6 continents.
My sales career ended with a bang – but it began with a whimper.
I was lucky. I was given time to learn, to develop a strategy, to get to know my prospects’ business issues. I could have been fired after nine months of “failure” – my groundwork and relationships would have been wasted and my replacement would have started from scratch with no better prospect of success.
But they saw my potential, gave me time to succeed and it paid off.
There’s a myth that failure in sales is due to lack of motivation or activity. It isn’t.
It’s due to poor strategy, poor targeting, short term focus and bad management. That’s why sales are tanking. The emphasis on more and more activity, more and more control, is burning salespeople out. They aren’t enjoying their jobs. It’s a slog and unsustainable.
Customers are getting frustrated too – at the volume of calls & emails, the high turnover of salespeople, the lack of understanding of their needs and the hard sell.
If we slow down, qualify our targets BEFORE we call, have a well thought out strategy, plan for the long term while managing the short term and replace “more” with “better” we’ll slash turnover, sell a lot more and have happy, healthy productive salespeople, not frazzled frustrated ones.