Right now, most companies have already developed their sales forecast for 2024. Many of them will be fatally flawed, because they only take into account changes in their own marketplace and offerings, but not changes in the sales profession itself. That’s what I’m here to talk about today. I’ve talked about the changes in selling. I’ve done a webinar on what I see as the top four trends in selling. Now, I’m going to humble myself just a tad.
I don’t have all the answers. I have most of them, and I’m learning more all the time, but I don’t have all of them. What made me realize this was an experience I had a few days ago. At the request of one of my clients, I put together a recommended prospecting blueprint for his new sales hires (and no, you can’t have it unless you’re a coaching client of mine). That used to be an easy task. It’s not anymore, because prospecting, like many aspects of our great profession, is something of a moving target right now, along with others. What I’m about to tell you about sales in 2024 is done with the knowledge that I don’t have every answer – but anyone who tells you that they do is full of it.
Big Change #1: Prospecting must evolve. Prospecting used to be very linear. You dialed the phone from a quality database X amount of times. You would get a contact (a voice to voice conversation with your target decision maker) about 1/3 of those dials. A good prospecting talk-track would get you an appointment on about 1/3 of your contacts. So, you’re getting an appointment on about every 9th dial. A salesperson can dial the phone about 20 times an hour, so an hour gets you 2-3 fresh appointments. That was pretty nice.
Now, as I’ve noted before, the contact to dial ratio is about 1/8, and everything else flows from there. Contact to appointment ratios are about ¼, which in my opinion is because people get so many messages that they are more skeptical. Now you’re getting an appointment on every 30th dial. That means that we have to redefine and rethink prospecting in order to succeed, incorporating multiple channels of contact. That’s the topic of my next Webinar.
Big Change #2: Customers expect more. Your customers are carpet-bombed with information every day, and they expect you to use information to make better use of their time. Showing up, talking about football for 30 minutes, and walking out with an order is a thing of the past. Your customers expect you to have expertise about your product or service and to use that expertise, coupled with knowledge of their situation acquired through your great questioning skills, to help them improve their condition.
Big Change #3: Customers expect less. Wait, WHAT? I said what I said. While customers expect more from you in your use of their time, they also expect less of some things. Customers want less meaningless pressure, less of the old sales tactics, and fewer “donut calls” to just “check in.” Those things are for YOU, not for them. Customers are all about their own Buyer’s Journey, and if you don’t know what that is and how to make it work for you, customers will have less of you, and you’ll have less of their business.
Big Change #4: Hiring is different. If you’re a sales manager, you’re probably dealing with smaller candidate pools and less responsive candidates. That’s a simple function of supply and demand. While the supply of quality salespeople has decreased, the demand has remained constant – which means that you have to employ more competitive practices to hire good salespeople. I can help with that through my Hiring Assistance programs. Your hiring must be more marketing-centric than ever, you must be responsive to good applicants, and when you have good applicants, you still have to employ a quality hiring process to vet the candidates.
You might not be excited about all of these changes – prospecting, for instance, is much tougher and more challenging – but you should embrace them. Salespeople that embrace them will quickly gain separation from their competitors. And if your sales forecast for 2024 doesn’t take account of these changes, you might need to revise it. Might I suggest a Sales Audit?
Now, what hasn’t changed? Well, there are a few things.
Questioning remains the primary sales skill. In my 33 years in the sales profession, the most important skill is to ask great, incisive questions that make the customer think. In fact, I teach in my Elements of Sales training that 80% of your chance to win or lose the sale depends upon the questions you ask. Still true. In fact, great salespeople are constantly refining and learning.
In-person sales interaction remains king. Much like Mark Twain, the rumors of the demise of in-person interaction (face to face sales calls, networking events, trade shows, and conventions) are greatly exaggerated. Customers still like to see YOU. Networking events and trade shows are still big. Some, in fact, are even bigger than they were in 2020. Keep a focus on generating face to face sales meetings.
You can still benefit your customers. Most of what you sell can be bought without the intervention of a salesperson – but that doesn’t mean that it should. Your role – if you are a good salesperson who is a student of your profession and your customers – is still viable. In fact, it might be more viable than ever, given the amount of white noise that’s out there on the Internet. Great salespeople help their customers solve their problems by separating the wheat from the chaff. That can and should be you.
The Overall Outlook For the Sales Profession
The old saying was, “If you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve always gotten.” That’s no longer true. My sales forecast for 2024 is this: Our profession is changing quickly enough that if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’re going to get less than what you’ve always gotten. In times of change, some companies go backwards and others go forwards. Embracing the changes in selling, while honing your skills on those fundamentals that remain viable, is a way to gain more separation from your competitors than you’d have thought possible just a few years ago.
Now is a time to either win big or lose big. I’ll be here to lead the way. You’ll read about new developments as they come up. As I learn, you’ll learn – and I’ll keep providing articles on my blog and videos on my YouTube channel to help.
And, if you’re the owner or manager of your company, maybe it’s time to take advantage of my complimentary Sales Strategy Review session. Let’s have a great 2024, together.