What Are The Biggest Challenges Facing Sales VP’s In This Economy


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I had hoped we were beyond the, “How do we cope with this economy” questions.  However, I recently had the question, “What are the biggest challenges vice presidents of sales and marketing face in this economy?”  Implicit in the question is the challenges have changed because of the economy.

It’s clear, sales and marketing executives face a lot of challenges, but I don’t think the challenges are different than those that existed before the downturn.  What the economy has done is brought many of them into sharper focus or raised their importance to executives.

Sales and marketing executives have always had the responsibility to make their organizations as effective, efficient and productive as possible in executing their organizations’ business strategies.  They’ve had the responsibility of growing the processes, capabilities, and capacity of the organization to execute the sales strategies.   Sales and marketing executives have always had the responsibility of determining how to connect with customers, grow relationships and business.  These executives have always had the responsibility of managing the performance of their teams, coaching, training and developing each individual, managing performance issues.  They’ve also had the responsibility of being the “voice of the customer” within their own organizations.

These responsibilities haven’t changed, but bad performance or lack of attention to these issues have become more visible as a result of the economy.  In the robust period that preceded this economy, many organizations were producing revenues almost in spite of themselves (I’m being a little harsh, but you get my point).  In a seller’s market, it’s easy to hide a lot of inefficiency, bad processes, or bad practice.  A down period gives us no room to hide, provides no opportunity for wishful thinking.

To be honest, it’s wrong to lay all this at the feet of sales and marketing organizations.  Robust economies, growing revenues, rising stock prices distract people in all functions from many of the fundamentals of great business practice.  It’s easy to get distracted or to take short cuts when things are going well.  It takes tremendous discipline, focus, and courage for executives to say “things are going well, but we can always to better.”

Having said all this, I do worry that we have been distracted from major changes that were occurring even when the economy was robust.  In virtually every market we have been involved with, there are major shifts in the way people and organizations are buying.  The web, new tools, social business and media are driving a revolution in how people buy.**  The processes, skills, and expectations of customers–buyers are changing profoundly.  The way customers are engaging suppliers is changing–forever.  This started before the downturn, has persisted through the downturn and will continue beyond the recovery.

The critical issues facing sales and marketing professionals are not a result of the economy, but a result in this shift in the way people buy.  The choice sales and marketing professionals have is whether they are going to embrace and help drive these new changes with new ways of engaging and working with customers, or are they going to become victims.

To be leaders, whether we sit on the selling or buying side, we need to be asking ourselves, What Is The Future Of Buying? 

What do you think?

** This change is not a social media/Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 or whatever 2.o initiative you want to identify.  These are components of the change and help enable the change.  But simply trying to address this as a social media issue, in my opinion, is missing the mark.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Bob, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I really like your ideas around helping customers to become curious about new opportunities to improve their businesses. One of the overlooked responsibilities of a top sales professional is not only responding to the customer in helping solve their problems (while they may decide they are not worth solving), but to help the customer discover new opportunities to grow their business and achieve their goals. It’s another level of engaging the customer in a conversation about their business.

    Thanks for reminding us of that! Regards, Dave

  2. Dave,

    I think you are spot on in your assessment: the changes in buying behaviour were happening anyway, but they weren’t as obvious until the swamp started to drain.

    These changes are not just affecting how our prospects make decisions about what to buy; they are affecting their decisions about whether to buy.

    We’re not just facing our obvious vendor-competitors – we’re also having to compete with the prospect’s increasingly common conclusion that they might just as well sit tight and “do nothing”.

    We clearly need to try and reach our potential prospects through multiple touch points, and at every stage of their often complicated buying decision journey.

    But most of all, we need to offer our prospects a valuable learning experience that stimulates them to take a fresh perspective about the issues they face and if, why, and how they might choose to resolve them.

    Making them curious to learn more is always going to be more powerful than force-feeding them information – or having another misguided attempt to close the prematurely.

    Bob Apollo | Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners


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