“Some people don't like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.” –Elon Musk


Answering Important Questions on Why Sales is Broken

HubSpot recently asked survey respondents if they would want help from a salesperson to learn about a product. Only 29% wanted that help, while the other 71% preferred to learn about the product themselves. Let's assume these numbers are directionally right and that a large percentage of people would prefer not to acquire the help of a salesperson. To start reversing that trend, we need to answer several questions.

Why would such a high percentage of people avoid getting help of a salesperson?

Forrester reports that 59% of buyers would rather do their own research than deal with a salesperson, largely because they believe the salesperson will push their own agenda. This brings up another important question. 

What do salespeople do that causes contacts to believe they are pursuing their own agenda?

Before CEB was Gartner, they released the infamous talking point that fifty-seven percent of clients’ decisions are made before ever speaking to a salesperson. This statistic was misinterpreted by the "Inbound-Only" charlatans to suggest there was no reason to pursue cold outreach, least of all the cold call. Brent Adamson recorded a video for me to explain that you are supposed to show up in your buyer’s world before they start their journey.

One reason people are further down the path than you might expect is the proliferation of information. But that doesn’t fully explain the tendency to wait to engage with a salesperson until after you have done your research.

Other statistics show that many buyers suffer from buyer's remorse. Harvard Business Review published data showing that seventy percent of all B2B change initiatives fail. And yet, few people connect these poor results with letting people without the knowledge and experience decide what's best for them.

In The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, I argued that it is the salesperson's duty to control the process, preventing their clients from making mistakes by avoiding the work of buying.

Sales cycles are growing ever-longer, with almost 75% of B2B sales taking four months and close to 50% taking seven months or more. There is evidence that B2B sales cycles have grown by 22% in the past five years, driven at least partly by the presence of many more stakeholders.

What are salespeople doing—or not doing—to cause sales cycles to grow longer?

The Bureau of Labor Statistic counts 15.8 million people in sales. They believe that 2–3 million are in B2B sales roles. The studies show that between 57% and 67% of salespeople do not hit their sales targets. 23% of surveyed organizations don't even know if their sales force reached their quota or not.

Why do so few salespeople reach their target goals? What prevents them from reaching their quota?

If the data is correct, and I believe it is, a salesperson spends about one-third of their time actively selling. I have also seen a report that internal communication dominates most salespeople’s time, with email stealing the most hours that might be spent selling.

What should salespeople do to be able to spend their time creating and winning opportunities? What do their sales managers need to do to help protect their time?

Perhaps the worst way sales is broken shows up in broken salespeople. The average tenure of a salesperson has declined from 2.5 years in 2010 to 1.5 years in 2018. The main reason they cite for leaving is unrealistic quotas.

What makes a quota unrealistic?

I'd lay this one at the feet of sales leaders and sales managers spending more time on internal functions than training and coaching their salespeople. If sales is broken, then sales leadership is broken.


Exiting the Legacy Approaches and Adopting a Modern Approach

The late Andy Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel, helped popularize the concept of an inflection point, the point when the trajectory turns sharply in another direction. When you miss an inflection point, you continue doing things how you are accustomed to, not recognizing that new contexts have made your approach obsolete.

The world has undergone incredible technological change over the last twenty years, revolutionizing both how we buy and sell. Things move faster now, there is greater transparency, and new models have disrupted an already disruptive environment. Yet, while few would argue that nothing has changed, we have done too little over too long a time to catch up to what is now required to succeed in sales—and to lead salespeople.

Both buyers and sellers are failing: few initiatives provide the results buyers need, while sellers fail to reach their goals. That’s an indication that we need a reset. Instead, we get automated sequencers and yet another technological offering that promises to revolutionize sales.

It's time we exit the legacy approaches to selling and get serious about adopting a modern approach. Modernizing sales would encourage our prospective clients to engage with a salesperson, one who has been enabled to create value in something like a facilitated, needs-based buyer's journey, allowing them to enable the right decision and deliver the results their clients need.

Taking Responsibility for Making Change

One lie that I tell myself is that everything is my fault. I prefer to believe this lie because it empowers me to take responsibility for making whatever change is necessary. Even though there are forces I have no power to change, I have the power to change what I do in response these forces, and so do you.

Nothing changes until you change. If you think change is challenging, wait until you discover how much more challenging it is to stay the same.



Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
October 6, 2021