I once had a CEO who told me, as Vice President of Sales, that he didn’t understand why he employed a highly compensated salesforce. He said all he needed was a team of “trained monkeys.”
I think he was half-serious. He knew that he could not hire a trainer and send monkeys out on the road to call on executives at Fortune 100 companies. However, looking at commission reports, it is likely he believed that the product he helped design was so rich in features and functionality, that it could “sell itself.” (I once worked out the ROI on salespeople for him and found that if everybody achieved only 60 percent of their quotas, he would break even.) The CEO had accompanied salespeople on sales calls and closed several sales on his own, buyers were usually pleased about the product and impressed that the CEO was calling on them, and since the sales closed, he thought selling his product was easy.
I dismissed his comment as not being serious. But he repeated it to me on several occasions during the time I worked for him. The reality is that now, more than ever, companies need highly skilled salespeople. The need is greater than it was a few years ago, and salespeople need to step up their skills to be successful in today’s highly competitive environment. A trained monkey could entertain an audience, not sell them.
The sales landscape today consists of very knowledgeable buyers who are armed with more information than ever and have done hours of research before sellers arrive. They limit the amount of face time that sellers receive, going from several face-to-face meetings to, more typically, just a few shorter meetings over videoconference. Competition, including the do-nothing decision, is fiercer than ever. In addition, many companies now have included procurement or strategic sourcing experts in their most rigorous selection process, and especially in contract negotiation, to assure themselves of supplier due diligence and better contract terms. And buyers now want sellers who promote company social responsibility (CSR) and what is termed “ethical sourcing.”
Among other capabilities, salespeople selling complex products now need to:
- Demonstrate greater expertise of the products and industry to the buyer; to tell the buyer something they don’t know.
- Gain an understanding of the problems the buyer wishes to fix through both open and closed-end questions.
- Succinctly articulate the value proposition – what is in it for the buyer?
- Be viewed as a trusted partner by the buyer, not an obtrusive salesperson, by demonstrating empathy throughout the sales cycle.
- Be current on digital marketing technology.
- Do a better job of qualifying buyers to eliminate those who will not buy now, or are not in the product’s “sweet spot” and will be a waste of time.
- Have business acumen and an outstanding understanding of business terminology.
- Be agile and adept. The sales cycle will rarely go as planned. Your time with the buyer will be more limited.
These superior sales skills will normally take years, not months or days to develop. Top-quality skilled and higher achieving salespeople need to be considered as valuable assets by executive management. Their job performance is critical for the company to achieve its growth goals. A strategy of employing lower-paid and barely competent salespeople is doomed to failure. Selling today is no longer a “smile and a shoeshine” job.
Trained monkeys may be able to do some routine tasks, like putting small items into boxes. But trained monkeys to sell for your company, no way!
Steve Weinberg is an expert at building, guiding, and sustaining high caliber sales teams, and creating exemplary standards in account management. He has over three decades of leadership experience in sales, including Vice Presidencies at Dun & Bradstreet Software, AC Nielsen, Solcorp, and Deloitte and Touche. He is the author of Above Quota Performance (Armin Lear Press, 9/20/2022).