Over the course of recent years, one of the most noticeable trends related to sales performance has been a decline in quota plan attainment rates. Indeed, according to research from CSO Insights, only 53 percent of salespeople are currently meeting or exceeding their quotas and the percentage has fallen steadily for years.

Sales Quota Attainment Graph


The reasons for this decline are numerous, but one of them is the rapidly changing nature of buyers. Over the course of this post, we will explore some of these changes and examine the various buying process challenges that salespeople face in the modern sales environment, dealing with today’s customers.

1. The Need for Personalisation

One of the major challenges facing salespeople is the increased need for personalisation during the buying process. As the CSO Insights 2018 Buyer Preferences Study states, part of the reason for these heightened expectations is the experience customers have in the B2C world, which means they are consumers first.

Whether it is Amazon recommending products based on past purchases, or Netflix recommending films based on past viewing habits, buyers are increasingly used to companies knowing – or seeming to know – what they want. As a result, their expectations within the B2B environment have become greater too.

The study also looked at attributes that buyers wanted from salespeople and top of the list was ‘Understand my business’. Customers have less tolerance than ever for having to explain what they do to a salesperson. As a result, salespeople need to come armed with existing knowledge and personalise pitches to individual buyers.

2. Demand for Self-Service

Among the other findings published in the aforementioned CSO Insights study was the revelation that salespeople are not ranked highly on the list of preferred resources for buyers looking to solve business problems. In fact, only 23 percent of buyers listed vendor salespeople in their top three resources.

Buyers sources preferences to solve problems graph

As the above image shows, buyers are more likely to turn to the vendor website, speak to peers or colleagues, or conduct web searches. This highlights a wider shift towards buyers preferring self-service options, where they only deal with human agents if they absolutely have to, or if they have exhausted other options first.

This provides an interesting challenge for salespeople, because it means they often have their first contact with buyers at a much later point in the buying cycle. For this reason, organisations should ensure they are building sales skills that allow salespeople to provide extra value in the later stages of the buying process.

3. Breaking the Buyer Apathy Loop

The previous problem forms part of a wider buying process challenge; the buyer apathy loop. Essentially, this refers to a series of perceptions by buyers, which form a self-fulfilling prophecy, where they are unable to see real value in the relationships they form with most sellers.

Buyers and Sellers Relationship graph

Most salespeople do not exceed customer expectations, so they are not valued as a top resource. This means they are engaged later in the buying cycle and have less time to differentiate themselves from other salespeople the buyer speaks to. As a result, 68.1 percent of buyers see little or no difference between salespeople.

To be clear, it is the responsibility of sales organisations and their sales reps to break this loop and there are ways to go about doing this. For instance, although buyers are engaging later with salespeople, opportunities do exist for earlier interactions and 90 percent of buyers are open to earlier engagement, as long as the engagement is actually worth their while and exceeds their basic expectations.

Among the things that stand out to buyers and help to exceed their expectations are excellent communication skills and the provision of real, tangible insights. For this reason, salespeople need to serve as experts in their field, providing buyers with the information, resources and perspectives they need during the early stages.

4. The Post-Sale Period

The final key challenge facing salespeople is linked to the final stage of the customer journey. Broadly speaking, the customer journey can be divided into three sections: the awareness phase, which as we have discussed, is increasingly self-service orientated; the buying phase, which is where salespeople tend to be most involved; and the post-sale period, which is actually the primary focus of buyers, but is often neglected by sellers.

Indeed, the CSO Insights study on buyer preferences found a common belief among customers that salespeople focus too much energy on the buying phase, and not enough on the post-sale phase, where customers actually implement the solutions and make judgements on the value they have received.

For this reason, account management and integration services are becoming increasingly important as sales skills, as these help to provide value for customers, create long-term loyalty and generate referrals. It is no longer enough to simply sell a product; the seller must take an active interest in its continued success.

The Final Word

Sales organisations everywhere are facing something of a sales performance crisis, so it is essential that they get to grips with the challenges that the modern buying process presents. In particular, there is a need to personalise offerings, break the buyer apathy loop, contend with customers who expect self-service options, and provide a better level of service and support during the post-sale period.

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