In a now-famous article published in The Wall Street Journal in 2021, author Patrick Thomas asked the question many business leaders have been wondering: Why are so few people pursuing a career in sales?
The article touched a nerve and went viral, getting shared over and over on LinkedIn and other platforms.
The question was a valid one.
Despite high earning potential and a slew of openings, young professionals were not choosing sales as a career — and mid-career salespeople were leaving the field. Sales offers a lucrative career path, but it has its challenges both as a career and as a responsibility within an organization.
Whether you’re a young professional looking to get started in sales or a veteran sales rep hoping to solve some of your persistent challenges, this article is for you.
Below, we’ll cover:
- The state of sales today
- Five common problems sales teams face
- How to solve them
Whether you’re a sales rep, sales manager, marketing team member, or business leader, this information will help you.
Let’s dive in together.
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The state of sales
The sales industry is full of myths and misperceptions. If you’ve never worked in sales, you likely have an image of a used car salesman in your head, complete with a phony smile and aggressive sales pitch.
Sure, there are some industries where that’s the case, but that’s generally an outdated exaggeration.
In reality, modern salespeople are relationship builders. They guide and educate prospects toward a purchase. There’s a lot less pitching and a lot more listening than there might have been 20 years ago.
Sales reps are not just answering questions, they’re managing emotions, shaping expectations, and building trust with prospects. Taking these steps helps eliminate many sales problems from the very start.
To watch a good sales rep in action is to see deft emotional intelligence on full display.
Salespeople are a business’ gatekeepers
Salespeople are the vanguard of your organization, reaching out, shaking hands (often virtually), and bringing customers into the fold.
They are the face of your brand. In this role, they are always in the process of building relationships and providing guidance. Sales professionals who give off a pushy, arrogant, or aloof vibe make your whole company seem that way.
Sales teams that freely share the internal knowledge base of your company create bonds and build trust with their audience of prospects and customers.
5 common sales problems (and how to solve them)
Whether they’re selling products or services, B2B or B2C, pros everywhere face the same sales challenges and there’s a reason these problems are so widespread: They’re notoriously tricky and hard to solve.
Below, I’ll lay out five common challenges, as well as the solutions I’ve found to work.
I’m not saying I can instantly boost all sales performance. In fact, the solutions I’m presenting take time and commitment, but they should start moving you and your sales team in the right direction.
Here are the five common sales problems — and how to solve them.
Problem 1: Your sales process is way too long
What it is: The bigger and more expensive the thing you sell, the more likely that your sales process is lengthy. After all, there’s no process to sell a stick of gum, but bigger ticket items require more information, more questions, and more touchpoints.
Your sales process stretches from the first touchpoint a prospect has with your team to when they make a decision to either make a purchase or to not.
Why it’s a problem: Long processes are a problem for a number of reasons. First off, the longer a sale takes, the more time your team has to spend on it. This translates to fewer opportunities and fewer sales.
But it’s not just that.
Salespeople get emotionally bought in to every prospect. They build relationships. We sometimes speak with clients whose teams have a months-long process.
For a sales rep who invests four months into a prospect only to have the deal fall through, the effect can be devastating and demoralizing.
How to solve it: Answer prospect questions ahead of time with content
The fastest way to shorten the sales cycle is with sales enablement materials. Have your sales team compile a list of the most common questions they hear from customers. Then, work with the marketing team to develop resources that thoroughly answer these questions.
This sales enablement content could take many forms: blog articles, videos, buyer’s guides, research reports, or case studies. And it should be suited to different steps in the sales process.
More broad, generalized content can be given to prospects early on, whereas case studies would work well with later-stage prospects.
This type of content only gets created when your sales and marketing teams work together, so get ready to collaborate.
Problem 2: You don’t have enough leads
What it is: Every customer who buys starts off as a lead — but not every lead becomes a customer. A healthy sales funnel has leads coming in all the time so that paying customers can come out the other end.
Why it’s a problem: You need leads to have sales, and you need sales to have revenue. Without leads, your business is in rough shape.
Sales managers should routinely check on each sales rep’s pipeline. While it’s exciting to see late-stage deals move closer to closing, it’s critical to pay attention to the other end of the funnel, too, to make sure good-fit leads are coming in.
How to solve it: Generate better leads with high-quality content.
There’s no silver bullet to bring in more leads. Many companies will seek to boost organic web traffic, hoping more traffic will mean more leads. Unfortunately, this marketing and sales strategy often leads to fluffy content that might drive traffic, but not the kind you’re looking for.
Marcus Sheridan, developer of They Ask, You Answer, started his career as a pool installer. He found that he could get thousands of visits to a blog post titled “Top 10 games to play at your pool party,” but this was not traffic with buying intent, so the high numbers didn’t really matter.
Instead, he found that thoroughly answering buyer questions was a better tactic. So, instead of a games article, he’d write something like “Fiberglass pools vs. concrete pools: An honest comparison for your project.”
Sure, the traffic numbers weren’t as high, but the second article drove real leads to his website and gave his sales team a solid foundation.
To capture contact information, he created premium resources — an ultimate guide to pool installation, a budget calculator — that lived behind a form.
Thus, premium content prompts lead generation, with some help from the marketing team.
Problem 3: Your leads are unqualified
What it is: Sales success depends on a steady stream of qualified leads. That is, leads who:
- Can afford what you sell
- Are ready to buy
- Are decision-makers for the organization (in the B2B world)
Unqualified leads are just the opposite, and if your sales funnel is full of people who won’t ever buy from you, all your other efforts will be for nothing.
Why it’s a problem: You can do everything right — great sales calls, good rapport, smooth product demo — but if the prospect can’t afford you, you’re not going to get the sale.
How to solve it: Commit to buyer education on your website.
The biggest factor in lead qualification is budget. If someone can’t afford what you’re selling, it’s best for everyone to know that as early as possible. Yet, thousands of companies are reluctant to address pricing on their website.
As a result, potential customers enter the sales process without knowing if they can actually buy the thing they’re looking at.
And it’s not just price.
Buyers have questions. The more questions you can answer on your website, the fewer unqualified leads you’ll have. Those who are not a good fit for what you’re selling will opt out and stop wasting your sales team’s time.
Problem 4: You’re wasting your effort on bad-fit prospects
What it is: It’s usually pretty easy to spot an unqualified lead. They usually can’t afford what you’re selling or they’re simply not ready to buy. Bad-fit prospects are a little different.
Think of a bad-fit prospect as a person who is sure to become an unhappy customer. They might have the money and the inclination to buy, but the fit just isn’t right.
Maybe they have unrealistic expectations. Maybe there’s a cultural misalignment. A bad-fit prospect might seem good on paper, but it’s just not going to be the right decision for either of you.
Why it’s a problem: Happy, satisfied customers build your brand and talk about your organization with friends and colleagues. They leave positive online reviews. They bring you referral business.
Unhappy customers do just the opposite. Selling to someone who will steer others away from your brand is worse than not making a sale at all.
How to solve it: Know exactly what you sell — and who it’s for.
It’s tempting to say that what you sell is the right solution for everyone, but we all know it’s not true.
- A pickup truck is the right vehicle for some buyers but not others.
- An adjustable-rate mortgage is perfect for certain homebuyers but a nightmare for others.
Every business needs to determine what it sells and who it sells to.
You never want to force prospects to buy something that’s not right for them — and the sooner you’re aware of a bad fit, the sooner your sales team can counsel them out of the sales process and toward a better fit solution.
Doing so benefits the prospect and your business, which will see an increased customer lifetime value.
At IMPACT, we teach our clients to produce “product/service fit” materials that sales reps can share with prospects. We want them to specifically make sure your web content reflects what you present in the sales process.
Look at this example from IMPACT client Office Interiors. This video explains the product and provides information, but it doesn’t go for a hard sell. Instead, it explains who would (and would not) be a good fit for what they’re selling:
Problem 5: You’re spending too much time on low-value tasks
What it is: According to research from InsideSales, your sales reps spend only about 37% of their time actually selling.
Why it’s a problem: Sales is a numbers game. If you want more sales to happen, you need to have more of everything that comes before a sale: more leads, more sales calls, more opportunities. More time spent not selling translates into decreased sales performance.
On top of that, your sales team is compensated based on the deals they close. With limited opportunities comes limited earning potential — and this leads to anxiety, frustration, and resentment, compounding any sales problems greatly.
How to solve it: Sales reps need to guard their calendars
The statistic above should be a call to action for all businesses. Yes, there are always going to be meetings, training, and administrative work. But the fact is that your sales team likely spends 63% of its time not selling.
- For sales representatives: Advocate for yourself and guard your calendar. If you need time for prospecting, block it off on your calendar. Doing research ahead of a call? Block it off. If someone books time with you during prime selling hours, ask to reschedule. Your time is a vital asset. Don’t let other people squander it.
- For sales leaders: You will need to run point on this. Is there a meeting that could be an email? Could training and feedback come asynchronously? Could that 60-minute huddle be completed in 30 minutes? Take a fresh look at your team’s calendars. Get creative about how you can give your team its time back.
Sales reps need to focus on education — including their own
Some of the biggest problems sales reps face can be solved by putting the customer at the center of the whole buying process.
Today, buyers are more savvy and well-informed than ever. Unfortunately, some sales teams are holding on to outdated sales techniques that don’t fit the way today’s customers make purchases. They’re still stuck in the hard-sell mindset that’s turning off buyers — and causing so many young professionals to resist going into sales.
The antidote to the vast majority of sales problems is education:
- When we focus on buyer education, some of our most persistent sales challenges vanish. We shorten the sale cycle, build trust, and weed out bad-fit prospects.
- When we focus on our own education, we stay up to date on new technology that can help us do our job better. But that’s not all. Education keeps us open to feedback, willing to grow, and more likely to collaborate.
Before the internet changed how people buy, sales reps held all the information. This led to distrust and unhappy customers. Today, education can free the buyers and the sales reps from that highly flawed model.
Empowering your sales team for success
The pandemic upended the sales profession. With business travel and trade shows shuttered, with boardroom presentations on hiatus, sales teams were forced to adapt quickly to an unfamiliar reality.
Suddenly, teams were selling over Zoom.
Almost accidentally, this put the buyer’s needs back into the buying experience. Research by McKinsey found that roughly 75% of B2B customers prefer remote sales interactions over traditional face-to-face ones.
By now it’s safe to say that businesses are unlikely to go back completely to how they did business before — and this is especially true of sales.
We should take this opportunity to solve the most persistent sales problems. Because, just as with the pandemic, doing so will solve for both seller and customer.
At IMPACT, we train businesses to put their customers at the center of their marketing and sales efforts.
If you want to begin to see what’s possible, take our free course: The Fundamentals of Virtual Selling. Suddenly the sales outcomes you’re shooting for will not seem out of reach.