"Why are 60% of your salespeople failing?" discussion with Tony J. Hughes

John Smibert

Sales failure 50%

About 60% of B2B salespeople are not achieving their numbers.

There are a number of reasons for this yet one of the key ones is the challenge of growing and maintaining a quality pipeline in a changing sales world.

This issue is addressed In this interview with Tony Hughes, conducted by Steve Ludlow, following the recent Sales Masterminds APAC seminar in Sydney, Australia.

Tony provides insight into how we should go about building quality sales pipeline and talks about sales managements role in ensuring this happens..


Steve:              Hi everyone, this is Steve Ludlow from Harlow Group! Today I have with me Tony Hughes, and Tony was the speaker today at the Sales Mastermind Event which is happening every two months. Tony is actually the most read B2B sales blogger on LinkedIn, and he's spending some time with us today - thanks a lot for having a chat!

Tony:               Thanks Steve, and it's good to have you on board as a sponsor!

Read about the next seminar OR


Steve:              Yes, absolutely - met some great people today and there was some great content shared. I just wanted to dig a bit deeper on a couple of the topics that you've spoken about at the event today. You mentioned that around 60% of B2B sales teams are short of their number right now.

Tony:               Yes.

Steve:              Why? What's the biggest cause in your view?

Tony:               Well, depending on whose statistics you believe, anywhere from 40% up to as high as two-thirds of B2B salespeople don't make their numbers, and there's a number of reasons for that. Obviously in the as-a-service world average transaction size is getting smaller and selling is not becoming any easier and everyone's high-value solutions over time become commodities. If you add to that the way that most companies operate is they have this insane, relentless desire for growth, so they're constantly increasing quotas and reducing territory. So salespeople are certainly in a very, very tricky position today.

SteveHall 250 x 250

Who is to blame

Steve:              Who is to blame? There's a lot of blame put on salespeople, especially from sales managers, but who needs to bear the weight and who needs to solve the problem? Is it salespeople, sales managers, a combination?

Tony:               The truth is everybody does, so from the CEO down everybody needs to own the responsibility of creating pipeline. It's not really a case of apportioning blame, it's a case of finding people to take ownership for pipeline creation. The reality is that every salesperson needs to own the creation of their own sales pipeline, regardless of what sales and marketing are doing for them, and also inside sales with sales development reps providing leads.

No salesperson today can make quota just on the leads that come from marketing and inside sales, and the reality is the weakest link in the revenue chain for most organisations is sales management, it's not the salespeople. Sales managers need to lead, they need to get out of their spreadsheets and they need to get in the field with people. They need to sit on the sales floor and really lead by example, getting on the phones first thing in the morning, using social in a pragmatic way, not a "black hole of wasted time" way, to do pragmatic research and then get on the phone and build pipe.

Sales Pipeline?

Steve:              Pipe is an interesting one, because we speak to a lot of sales directors and we ask them at the beginning of a meeting around their sales talent, why is it that the last person failed or that people fail in your business, and there's two reasons. One is lack of pipeline, and when they diagnose it themselves it's a lack of discipline around getting on the phone and speaking to enough prospects and using the social phone I think you call it.

Tony:               Yes.

Steve:              So that's the first thing. The second thing is that when they do get the opportunity to meet with the customer, they have an inability to peel back the layers of their requirements and truly understand the business need in order to sell their solution as the solution to that need. From your point of view, and certainly from my point of view, it's actually the format that's the biggest problem.

Tony:               Yes.

Steve:              How do we solve that in our sales team? Sales managers are pointing at their salespeople, saying, "I want you to make more calls," but ultimately you've got to look at the coach for the answers. What can a sales manager do to solve that problem?

Sales leadership?

Tony:               Sales managers need to lead by example. People are reluctantly investing in technology and tools like Sales Navigator, but what we need is a foundation before we drive outreach, we need the right kind of narrative. What I see in organisations is people mistakenly run a conversation along the lines of "This is who I am, this is what we do, this is how we do it," and no one is interested in that. No person worth getting to as a potential client is lonely and bored and looking for a new friend, so trying to lead with a "Hey, I want to be your friend," kind of approach is a mistake. We need to provide value in the conversation, and no one worth talking to is lying awake at night, hoping a rep is going to call them the next day and tell them about their product.

We need to lead with a level of insight, and every person needs to own that. The salesperson needs to think about other customers with common characteristics, they need to understand what trigger events cause those existing customers to start their journey that ended up with them buying something, and use that to generate some kind of insight conversation. So don't lead with product, don't lead with solution; we first need to have some kind of relevant insight that we can talk about.

Social Selling?

Steve:              Okay. The problem I'm seeing increasingly so is that there's a lot of talk about social selling. We're using LinkedIn, we're using all these sorts of tools, yet one of the things that you spoke about today is making sure your people are on the phone at 7:45 AM in the morning every day and getting out an hour or two or whatever is required of prospecting time, using the social phone as you call it. That's happening is very few organisations. You mention you sat on a sales floor the other day and it was silent for two hours, and we all see it. What's stopping these people from getting on the phone, and how do we balance social and hiding behind the keyboard and the screen with actually getting on the phone? What's the right balance?

Tony:               Social really serves two purposes, and the first is there's no reason to ever make a truly cold call. We can jump in social, and very pragmatically within a short amount of time get enough context and find a common link. Because the fastest path to revenue is a referral, the most probable chance of doing a piece of business is where there's a referral, because trust starts very early, so we can do research in social and find an introduction or a path or a point of context. The other reason social is important is about three-quarters of people that we do outreach with will research us. When they have a look at our profile, we want to make sure that we don't look like a lower-level salesperson but rather look like an industry person with insight.

So social is relevant for those two reasons and others that I won't go into now, but the truth is the phone is the original and most powerful social selling tool there is. The idea is to get human engagement, so that's why this term that Kenny ~Maddins~ coined, the "social phone", it's the social and the phone together is how you go and get the right level of breakthrough.

Sales Narrative?

Steve:              You speak about narrative a lot. What is narrative to you in a sales process and why is it important?

Tony:               Narrative is critically important, it's the conversation that we're having, so it's a case of leading with why the client should have a conversation with us. If we were talking to an existing client, I would try and create a narrative around the fact that I'm not happy with the level of value that they're getting from us in the relationship. Because every buyer wants a greater level of value from fewer supplier relationships, they're trying to drive cost out and get greater value.

Steve:              Okay, so you're working against the flow there.

Tony:               Exactly. Then if someone is not yet a client, I'd be saying, "In working with others in your industry and doing some research on your own organisation, I really think there's an opportunity for you," and then you say what you think that opportunity is, "That's what I'd like to come and talk with you about, and also let you know what we're seeing with other organisations out there that I think have some relevance." That's something that the buyer should want to have a conversation about, they're interested in what competitors are doing, not that we would ever betray the trade secrets of one of our clients to their competitor, but we can certainly take a level of insight, they're very curious about that and that's a good reason for them to meet. Then we need questions that lead to the business value we offer, the outcomes we deliver and the way that we can manage risk.

Steve:              So it's very much about anticipating a potential problem or challenge they might be facing in their business and leading with that narrative, rather than "Here's what we do," and turning that into a face-to-face meeting where that can be delved into a little further. Eventually you'll get the opportunity to tell them how you can solve their problem, but obviously it's about exploring that first.

Tony:               Yes. The thing is, if we're trying to elevate our conversations, we need to talk the language of leaders; if we fail to do that, we'll get delegated down to who it sounds like we deserve to talk to. We need to talk about the outcomes we know that they're trying to achieve in their company and industry, how they can manage their risks in pursuing that and then what the business case looks like. The real language of business is numbers more than words, so if we can have that kind of narrative, the person will think, "Wow - this person deserves a conversation with me."

Steve:              Okay, great - that covers everything off. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today and congratulations on your event!

Tony:               Thanks, Steve!

Steve:              These events are happening every two months?

Tony:               Yes, every two months, and really aimed at the business-to-business sales leadership community.

Steve:              Great, so that's the Sales Mastermind Event series with Tony Hughes, and we've got plenty more speakers coming up in the coming series - thank you so much for your time today, great to meet you!

Tony:               Steve, thank you!

Steve:              Thanks!


Seminar June 6th

ThTicketse next Sales Masterminds APAC seminar in Sydney on June 6th: "The future of B2B sales: How to adapt to survive and thrive" with guest keynote by Graham Hawkins.


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