The Wall Street Journal Shares News About What it Takes to Succeed in Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 14, 2022 @ 07:11 AM


Brad Bolino emailed me a link from a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, "Millennials are Changing What it Means to be Successful in Sales."  

I read the article three times to make sure I wasn't rushing to judgement, didn't experience an inappropriate knee-jerk reaction, and that I correctly interpreted what the article implied:  The journal relied on anecdotal evidence from a handful of millennial salespeople and buyers to suggest that millennials are transforming the sales profession. 

I agreed with only one sentence in the article and it was the opening sentence which said, "Drop the hard sell." That's certainly not new as the hard sell was never a welcome component of professional selling!

I'm not anti-Wall Street Journal - at least I wasn't.  I haven't written about their articles before. After all, they aren't known for writing the kind of crap that the Harvard Business Review  writes with regard to sales and selling.   

While reviewing the article, I identified two themes - how much harder it is to sell today versus years ago and how millennials have adapted to changing times.

There is no doubt that selling has changed - a lot - but while selling in general has not become more difficult, it is very difficult for those who suck at it, as well as those who must find new business because they don't get repeat and/or residual business from existing accounts.  

While it is more difficult to reach decision makers today (it takes 10-15 attempts and most salespeople give up after 4 attempts) than ten years ago, there are multiple tools and methods for reaching out that were not available to past generations of salespeople.

If the recession deepens in 2023 it will be harder for prospects to get funding but this isn't new either.  It was true during the Covid lockdowns of 2020, the financial crisis of 2008-2010, the aftermath of 9/11, the dot com bust that occurred earlier in 2001, the recessions of the early 90's and 80's and the oil shortage of 1973-1974.  Recessions are not only cyclical, you could argue that we are in a recession every 10 years or so!

There are more decision makers involved in the buying process at larger companies but there have always been multiple decision makers in larger companies. 

Those interviewed for the article said that sales cycles are longer too.  Boo hoo. Getting business closed at the largest companies has always required a very long sales cycle. Millennials have adapted by using texting to communicate with their millennial prospects and customers.  Texts instead of emails. Remember when emails replaced the phone?  Email is a great tool for exchanging information but up until now there was nothing worse than email for having actual conversations.  If email was bad for conversations, can you imagine how much worse text messages are for having conversations?  Of course sales cycles will take longer if you're running sales cycles via text!

Reverting back to the article, I had several problems with it:

  • The sample size was minuscule - it was not representative of anything except a handful of opinions. For example, let's pretend that a reporter talks with five female millennials in Florida and reports that "Female millennials love Ron DeSantis."  However, the data shows that as a general rule, female millennials align with Democrats.
  • The salespeople interviewed claimed to be successful but there were no standards on which they were measured or compared.  Successful compared to who?  Compared to what?  Selling what? Selling to who?  At what price points?  Against which competitors? For example, let's pretend a resume states that the sales candidate was consistently the #1 salesperson in the company for 2 of the last 3 years.  We ask how many salespeople there were and find out there were only two and the other one was brand new.
  • The salespeople in the article are clearly facilitating sales cycles, not leading them; And they weren't facilitating because today's millennial prospects demand it, they were adapting and waiting out long sales cycles as a consequence of facilitating.  They're basically admitting that they aren't following a sales process, they're following a buying process.  They don't push back and ask the right questions, they play Simon Says and - sorry millennials from the article - you aren't Simon!
  • The salespeople interviewed were selling only to large companies which is not representative of selling to small, medium and mid-sized companies.
  • One sales leader said the profile of what it takes to be successful in sales has changed.  Not true. Her perception may have changed now that she is more experienced and wiser.  While the criteria required for success differs by selling role, it is still based on 21 Sales Core Competencies.
  • The millennials they interviewed on the buyer side were in procurement.  There isn't a single professional sales development expert or trainer that instructs salespeople to call on procurement!

In summary, this article was no better than the dozens upon dozens of articles from non-sales experts sharing their anecdotal knowledge about the traits required for sales success.  They are almost always personality based, are not predictive of anything, are not backed by science, and are pure click-bait.

Image copyright 123RF

Topics: Dave Kurlan, keys to sales success, sales cycle length, reaching decision makers, millennials

Study Says to Highlight 3 Features in a Sales Presentation

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 25, 2013 @ 05:11 AM

A very interesting article caught my attention on Inc. Magazine's website.  You must read the article in order to understand the following questions.

The goal of this study was very cool indeed, but the study, despite being developed by two business professors from Georgetown and UCLA, was poorly designed.  For example, how would the results have differed if:

  • The students were actually going to choose, instead of answering questions,
  • The students were going to spend their own money,
  • The students were choosing between only 3 ice cream shops,
  • The study participants weren't students,
  • If we knew in advance which features were most important to the students and presented only those features, regardless of quantity, as one of the options.

In the end, we are all in search of a shorter, more effective sales cycle and any help we can get is always appreciated.  This video, posted last week at Sales2.0Circle, has a nuance that will help shorten your sales cycle.  

Dave On Selling

One thing to keep in mind about sales cycles is that everything is relative.  For example, if you are standing on the road and a car goes by at 60 miles per hour, that vehicle appears to be flying by!  On the other hand, if you are in traffic, driving 60 miles per hour and a car passes you at 65 miles per hour, that car appears to be barely moving.  So, a sales cycle length, on its own, is meaningless until compared with the cycles of your competitors, or a new, customized, staged and optimized version of your own sales cycle.  A newly designed sales cycle must have the power and nuance to significantly shorten your current sales cycle.  In my experience, most companies that reach out for help have been able to shorten their sales cycles from 1/3 to 1/2 its original length.  However, I have also witnessed companies that attempt the sales cycle redesign on their own and end up with a cycle designed by committee.  This version is usually long on steps, short on the proper staging and milestones, terribly out of sequence and no more effective than what they began with.

An effective sales cycle not only will be shorter, but opportunities will convert from stage to stage with higher frequency.  While there is an advantage to closing the same percentage of opportunities in less time, the greater benefit is closing a larger percentage of opportunities in less time.  Sales cycle redesign is a good start, but the salespeople must be able to execute on the new sales process as well.  Many sales processes die upon introduction as sales managers are unable to hold salespeople accountable for following the process and aren't able to coach to the new process either.  

Integration is key.  You can't pick one of the following from a menu.  They must be implemented together to assure success:

  • Evaluate your sales force,
  • Customize and optimize your sales process if necessary,
  • Introduce the new sales process to sales managers in a memorable, meaningful way,
  • Train your sales managers on the new process and hold them accountable for owning it,
  • Train your sales managers to coach to the process (the key to any training initiative),
  • Introduce the new process to salespeople in a memorable, meaningful way, 
  • Train salespeople to execute the new process,
  • Train your sales managers to hold salespeople accountable to the new process.
What I described above could, and should, take the better part of a year!  No, not the sales process customization - that takes 30 days - tops.  The introduction?  That's a day.  The training - prepare for a year.  Why so long?  You won't be changing  simply the stages, steps and sequence of the sales process.  You'll really be changing the way your salespeople sell and change like that takes time, especially as they learn to sell in a more consultative way - the only way for them to truly differentiate in the market place.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales cycle length, presentation tips, video

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

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