Yes, But Can You Sell?

Jonathan Farrington

Dear Jonathan,

I am looking for some guidance, and I hope you can help me. We have just been presented with our sales results for Q1 to date, and for the fifth quarter running, I am going to miss quota – by quite a long way. In fact, only two of our team are over-achieving out of twenty salespeople.

What I don’t understand is that I am doing everything right. We have a superb CRM system, which I use rigorously; last year we bought a new lead tracking and management solution; we have a social media strategy in place, and I spend lots of time on Twitter and LinkedIn – in fact, I have 4000 Twitter followers and 50 LinkedIn recommendations. All my customers like me, and I work very hard, so what am I doing wrong?

Best Wishes

This heartfelt cry for guidance is fairly typical of the messages turning up in my mailbox because sales organizations everywhere are waking up to the fact that almost 50% of frontline sales professionals are under-achieving – and this is not a new phenomenon, this has been going on for the past few years.

The reality is that whilst sales costs continue to rise – salaries, commission payments, cars, expenses etc. – achievement levels are decreasing. From a shareholder’s perspective, this is incredibly alarming – paying more and more for less and less. Why?

Over the last 10 years, we have been swamped with new technology: Outstanding CRM solutions; a plethora of data sources, where we can even discover what our prospects had for breakfast; lead generation and tracking packages, which remove so much of the “legwork” that we previously had to endure. Then Sales 2.0 arrived, further endorsing all of this new progress, allowing us to attend exhibitions where we could rub shoulders with famous evangelists, all vying for a place at the “top table of new and exciting ways of selling.”

During this period, social media also made an entrance, and is it not true that today, every second person we encounter in the sales space is a “social media expert?” And they encourage us to build up our Twitter following, as well as spending as much time as possible on LinkedIn, garnering recommendations and endorsements etc.

Be assured, I am certainly not a Luddite, far from it. I have embraced most of it, and in fact I have taken on board all of the advice available, with my unquenchable thirst for improvement – I really am a genuine “how can I do it better” sort of chap.

But, here is my question to you today:

Which two words have almost disappeared from our vocabularies over the past few years?

Answer: “Sales skills” or “Selling skills” or “Ability to sell” – OK, that was three words, but you get the point.

I would suggest that globally, selling skills have never been so inept, and this is the singularly most obvious reason why one in two salespeople missed quota last year, and will, in all probability, miss quota again this year.

Oh, and my response to Antonia? “Yes, but can you sell?”

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