Spring, to state the obvious, is a time of regeneration. As Tennyson said, “It’s when a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast”, and when the Spring Triangle becomes visible on a dark night. Not that any of these flights of fancy leave much of an impression on sales people. They are spending spring, as they tell us, on camera, attending yet another internal meeting.

Download the infographic with the full survey results here. 

But before we get to that, let’s take a look at how sentiment has changed since January of this year. The good news is sellers and sales leaders see the general business environment improving. The bad news is, they don’t share the same opinion of their own situation.

A look at the trend since June of 2020 shows that individuals continue to feel a little less secure about their position and the fortunes of their own organization. It’s an interesting contradiction.

One hypothesis is that strategic choices made in early 2020 are only now bearing fruit. Our suspicion is that organizations who tried to wait out the bad days of 2020, curbing investment and pushing strategic decisions in a “wait and see” mode, will now struggle against competitors who made those investments and took those bold moves.

Time Spend

One clue as to why sellers might feel less optimistic about their organizations comes from looking at how they spend their time. The first thing that stands out: Sellers report spending only 27% of their time in substantial interactions with customers. Ideally, they would increase it by 50% (desired customer-facing time is 42%). On a related note, the sales force would also like to spend more time on prospecting. This decrease in customer-facing time is fairly surprising, particularly as no one currently is spending that much time on travel. Both buyers and sellers should be more available to connect. But in practice, we are not seeing that.

Instead, we see sellers spending too much time in meetings. Some of these are undoubtedly necessary, but we suspect we’ve become too reliant on video. When a meeting is just a click away and everyone is at their desks, why not meet? And beyond an overreliance on video, we also hear that decision-making has gotten slower. In the words of one executive, these days it’s “more internal meetings, more decisions by team as opposed to individuals having autonomy to make those decisions”. It is perhaps not surprising that sellers find it hard to maintain the same levels of productivity they have shown since 2020.

Staying Ahead of Changes at the Customer 

Given broad shifts in the environment, we were curious to see how companies stay abreast of customer changes. Only 30% perceive their organizations as being “effective” or “very effective” at this.

This should probably not come us a surprise since only 22% of sellers report following up with customers in real-time to develop a full understanding of why a deal is lost or won. A full 31% report having no formal mechanism to collect customer feedback on deals. If we don’t have a system to evaluate what’s changing in the decision-making world of our buyers, we can’t pass that information to the sales force. 

 

Staying Ahead of Changes at the Customer 

In summary, even as the business environment improves, sellers are questioning how their organizations are positioned to take advantage of the upturn. This could be due to sellers not spending enough quality time with customers or prospects. The new buying environment requires sellers to put in superhuman levels of effort (more prospecting, a larger number of shorter customer interactions) to deliver returns. This cannot last if we continue to allow for current levels of time spend on admin and internal meetings. Also concerning is that many sales organizations essentially fly blind when it comes to understanding why deals are won or lost. Better understanding of the customer and the sales experience go a long way in making prospecting and customer interactions more efficient and powerful. 

Spencer Wixom & Timur Hicyilmaz

Spencer is Senior Vice President of Marketing at Challenger, and has helped transform sales and marketing teams in some of the biggest and best companies in the world.

Timur has been conducting research for most of his career. He was part of the team that researched many of the original concepts behind Challenger. Mostly focused on trying to better understand how commercial organizations succeed, Timur has spent time working on everything from trying to understand consumer attitudes toward energy consumption to identifying best practices for hospital operations leaders. His passion is for trying to identify strategies that are more likely to deliver a desired outcome than any others.