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Proven strategies to break through sales challenges

Posted August 31, 2022 - Updated January 16, 2024
Salesperson speaking into a computer

Getting sales right at an organizational level isn't easy. You've got to be able to zoom out and understand your broad customer base, yet retain your ability to zoom in and interact with individual customers. You've got to hire talented sales personnel, and then work tirelessly to ensure they're aligned, engaged and well-trained. There are hurdles all the way down the funnel.

For organizations looking to exceed their inbound sales targets and foster customer loyalty, there is value in developing an understanding of the common challenges facing sales teams and formulating a customer acquisition strategy to overcome them. Keep reading to explore the challenges, as well as best practices like ongoing learning and development, personalization and more.

Four common sales growth challenges

The following four hurdles represent common sales challenges for organizations big and small:

  1. Under-trained agents: Recruitment and hiring well is just the beginning. Too often, organizations bring in great talent and fail to take a thoughtful, ongoing approach to training. This is a real problem — according to software marketplace G2, 84% of sales training is forgotten in the first three months. Worse still, those you don't train effectively are more likely to leave, putting a dent in your bottom line. A staggering 60% of sales agents will leave within four years if they don't feel that they're learning and growing, per G2.
  2. A generic approach to customer interactions: TELUS International survey findings show that 43% of consumers say interactions should become more personalized. And while that rings true of all customer touchpoints, it is particularly resonant in sales. Organizations must step beyond broad customer personas and a one-size-fits-all approach, and take the time to understand each customer's needs before suggesting additional products or services.
  3. Long buying cycles: Buying cycles can be long — and complicated. According to Hubspot, there's an average of five decision-makers involved in sales processes today and 70% of sales professionals report that the main reason prospects back out of deals is the sales process taking too long. The longer the cycle, the more resources you're committing and the higher the stakes become.
  4. Customer indecision: Customer indecision is an important point of focus that doesn't always get the attention it deserves. Matt Dixon, a bestselling author and expert in sales and customer experience, speaks at length on the phenomenon, which is used to describe a tendency to delay commitment to a purchase decision as a means of risk aversion. A B2C customer may delay spending their hard-earned cash to mull things over. A B2B customer may pause at the thought of committing their name and reputation to a purchase contract. According to Dixon, 87% of sales opportunities contain moderate or high levels of customer indecision and "as indecision increases, win rates plummet."

How to overcome sales growth challenges

The good news is that these common sales challenges are not insurmountable. By applying the following strategies — and with the help of a partner that has experience helping organizations design, build and deliver effectives sales programs — you can persevere.

Harness the JOLT effect

Dixon's latest book, The JOLT Effect: How High Performers Overcome Customer Indecision, offers a set of four behaviors that can help you drive beyond customer indecision and shorten long buying cycles. In this case, "jolt" is not just a sensation, but also an acronym:

  • Judge the level of indecision: An agent should practice active listening, ask good questions and assess whether the buyer will be able to make a decision in a reasonable amount of time. If you determine that the customer won't be able to do so, pivot.
  • Offer your recommendation: If an agent truly understands a customer, they should be able to provide a specific recommendation based on the customer's needs. Directing a customer to a solution page with countless options only breeds indecision. Take the time to explain how the recommendation addresses specific items or pain points mentioned by the customer.
  • Limit the exploration: In an honest attempt to make sound decisions, indecisive customers are prone to embarking on seemingly endless research missions. This exploration lengthens the buying cycle. Dixon explains, "And so we've got to put a limit to their exploration, and the way we do that is we've got to earn the trust," before adding the agent must show "that we can guide them through this learning journey and that they don't need to consume all the content because we've already done that. And we are their trusted advisor."
  • Take risk off the table: There's no such thing as a sure thing, but a salesperson can certainly minimize risk for a potential customer. Effective strategies include offering up resources that help the customer make the most of their purchase, and creative contract structuring that calms fears and provides a safety net if things don't go according to plan.

Introduce effective learning and development for agents

Agents can be retained longer, and sales win rates can get better, with proper agent training. In fact, G2 found that effective coaching can lift win rates by 29%. It's all about raising the standard among your agents: Dixon's research indicates that when faced with moderately indecisive customers, high performers convert 57% of deals, whereas average performers win only 26%.

So what does an effective learning and development program look like? Beyond creating immersion for agents and familiarizing them with the business and the customer right away, an effective program should be ongoing. It's simple when you think about it: For continuous improvement, you need continuous training.

More than that, the program should provide training content in varying mediums to account for different learning styles. That means utilizing text, visuals, videos, audio and even quizzes. What's more, training material should be accessible at all times, which calls for easily-searchable knowledge bases that encourage agents to find answers to their questions, or brush up on past material.

Take a personalized approach

When he was a regional sales manager at LinkedIn, Kwesi Graves spoke with Hubspot about adopting a buyer-first mentality in sales. The approach aims to build trust, and that trust comes from understanding. Graves explained, "I always encourage my team to take off their [sales] hats and put on their [customer] hats until they understand them," and continued, "Until we really understand [the customer], we shouldn't be selling to them in the first place."

By understanding the individual customer, an agent can personalize recommendations and fine-tune their positioning. Besides active listening while interacting with customers, personalization can be enhanced with data. Make the data that shows the customer's past behaviors and purchases accessible to your agents to highlight opportunities.

Apply customer retention strategies

As the idiom goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. In the sales context, focusing on customer acquisition can’t be at the expense of customer retention. Consider this: Research from HubSpot indicates that there is a 60-70% chance of selling to an existing customer, whereas there is only a 5-20% chance with new customers.

So after you've harnessed the JOLT effect and you've made a sale, it is now time to honor your brand promise. You helped to establish an expectation during the sales process, and now it is time to help your client realize that expectation. There are countless sales retention strategies, which differ by industry, whether you sell B2B or B2C and a host of other factors. Common among them is open communication, ongoing collaboration and a determination to help clients gain positive results from your product. If they enjoy working with you, and are seeing ROI by using your product, you maximize your chance of an ongoing business relationship.

Realizing your sales growth potential

Whether it's training, technology or talented personnel that you're seeking, TELUS International has the global scale and earned experience reinventing sales programs to deliver results.

Working with one of our Fortune 500 clients, we applied these sales growth strategies to provide inbound sales support via chat, assisting customers and converting shoppers into buyers. The program has generated $4.5 billion in revenue since inception, and has grown from a program of 50 team members to a team of 300. For another client, we helped to maximize customer lifecycle by providing order assistance and customer support, resulting in a $316 increase in average order value.

If you want to hear more insights from experts like Matt Dixon, check out our podcast, Questions for now. And if you want to get right to it and optimize your sales operation, reach out to our team of experts.

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