5 challenges to achieving sales excellence – it’s more important than ever yet harder to achieve


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Success in major B2B accounts is based on a salesperson’s ability to get on the customer’s side of the table and do a great job in meeting customer expectations.

What makes things more challenging is that customer expectations are a moving target.  Looking at what customers expected five years ago versus today presents a dramatic contrast.

It is a fair statement that customer expectations have become more demanding.  It is equally true that the consequences of failing to meet them have become more significant.  Moving to a competitor is done for less reason and with greater ease than yester year.

Because of all this, the focus of sales calls and level of business conversations must be substantially different than in times past. 

Let’s review some of the more significant challenges:

  1. Be more knowledgeable about their company and industry. Salespeople must come to sales calls with a comprehensive understanding of the customer’s industry and company. Just knowing a little and asking traditional “discovery questions” is no longer the acceptable standard.
  2. Sell the problem first. This has always been true but in today’s risk-averse environment it has taken on a new importance.  Today a significant number of sales are lost not to the competition but to “no decision.”  Problems in major B2B sales are extremely complex – different customer players have differing perceptions of the problem, the consequences are difficult to assess, and many of the payoffs are intangible. Salespeople must first focus on understanding the complexity of the problem and conveying the urgency of solving it, before they ever enter into a discussion of the solution.
  3. Bring perspective and insight. Customers expect salespeople to do more than uncover their problems. They expect salespeople to bring an informed, fresh perspective to framing the problem. Salespeople must help them think about their problems more broadly – bringing imagination and creativity. It also means that customers expect salespeople to have a point of view about alternative innovative solutions. The higher up in the organization – the truer these propositions.
  4. Focus on the customer’s buying process, not your selling process. Given all of the information available to customers, by the time salespeople are engaged in the customer’s buying process, customers are often half way through it. Second, the buying process in major accounts is no longer linear – in fact, it often is redefined several times before a final decision is made. This means in 2014, the challenge is not about doing a better job learning and following your sales process; it will be about understanding how to adapt and redefine it in real-time. It is becoming increasingly important for salespeople to engage the customer where the customer is in the buying process. This requires bring flexibility and adaptability when implementing the sales process.
  5. Excel at team selling. Salespeople alone will not be able to provide the needed knowledge and insights to meet the customer’s emerging expectations. The lone salesperson is increasingly being replaced with the sales team. Team selling provides new challenges to salespeople. A sales team is more than having three people in the same room at the same time. Successful team selling requires salespeople to learn new skills, like: how to marshal and leverage scarce internal resources, how to manage sales teams, and how to plan and execute team sales calls.

To be a top performer today, a salesperson has to know more and know it at a higher level of competency then ever before.  There are no tricks or easy to learn tips for achieving sales excellence.  It is all about constantly working at getting better – having great sales coaching and superior support from your entire company.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Ruff
For more than 30 years Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Dick has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Dick is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers, and the Sales Training Connection.


  1. These are good points, but I have a different take on your second item, ‘sell the problem first.’ I recommend instead DEFINING the problem early in the sales process. This is one of the hardest things to do in sales, and requires collaboration with prospects. The issue is so pervasive that we’ve coined the adage, ‘if what you sell is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.’ And there are gobs of salespeople narrowly (and often incorrectly) defining customer problems, and heading down a completely wrong road before recognizing that the issue they’re trying to solve isn’t the same issue the customer has. An added difficulty occurs because customers often don’t pipe up and say, “hey, you’re looking over there, but our problem is right here!” Instead, it’s just “. . . . well, your proposal doesn’t really address our needs.” Or, “your prices seem way out of line for what we want to accomplish . . .”

    Second – and I’ve written about this relentlessly – even though it’s widely believed, salespeople do not lose to “no decision,” because “no decision” is so often mistaken for “stasis,” which IS a decision. With stasis, a person (or persons) has made a choice that a proposed solution doesn’t return sufficient value to the organization versus what’s already in place – flawed or problematic as that legacy system or process might be. The sales team that understands that stasis is a result of a management decision (versus “no decision”) has an advantage over other teams that persist in believing the choice represents some sort of purgatory, made by managers who throw up their hands in utter confusion, or are unable to garner consensus.


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