The Overwhelmed Sales Rep

Scott Albro
Co-Founder and CEO, Goldie
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Being a sales rep has always been challenging, but recently it feels like we’ve reached a tipping point. Sales reps have gone from feeling challenged to feeling overwhelmed. Recent data on seller performance is not good:

- 57% of sales reps missed quota last quarter

- 89% of reps are burned out

- Reps only spend 30-25% of their time on actual selling

- 54% of salespeople are looking for a new job right now

Many pundits will explain away the data by pointing to the recent economic downturn, but it’s not just the economy. It certainly plays a role, but so does changing buyer behavior and the amount of internal friction sellers now face.

If 57% of reps are missing quota and 89% feel burnt out, we’re operating in a selling environment that’s not sustainable for sales reps or the companies they work for. As a profession and as sales leaders, it’s something we must fix.

Why salespeople are overwhelmed

To fix the problem, we need to understand what makes selling so challenging today. There are a number of dynamics contributing to heightened seller stress, but three stand out in particular.

Buyer detachment

One major contributor to seller stress is the fact that 43% of buyers don’t want to interact with salespeople in the first place. The future is even bleaker: 54% of millennials want an entirely rep-free buying experience. That’s extremely challenging for salespeople. Imagine that your top priority is to successfully engage prospects and 50% of them simply don’t want to talk to you.

You might say this isn’t anything new - buyers have always been reluctant to engage with salespeople. In recent years though, this challenge has become more acute. Thanks to the proliferation of online information and communities, buyers can make purchasing decisions in a way that is much less dependent on vendors and salespeople.

One sidenote: the competitive nature of sales makes this dynamic even more challenging. Sales reps rarely engage a buyer in isolation. The vast majority of sales opportunities involve multiple vendors competing for the same deal. So not only are salespeople trying to engage hard-to-reach buyers, they are trying to do so with multiple vendors competing for the buyer’s attention as well.

Sales rep accountability

Salespeople are held to a level of accountability that very few other professions are held to. This comes down to the system almost every company uses to measure sales performance. It’s simple and powerful: sales leadership has a specific expectation for how much business a sales rep should close in a given time period (quota); leadership assigns that quota to a salesperson; and leadership then determines whether the salesperson attained quota or not. This system means there’s not as much performance wiggle room in sales as there is in other professions. It’s always stressful, but In an economic downturn, it’s even more so.

To add to the stress, this level of accountability isn’t just an academic HR performance management exercise. A rep’s compensation is largely determined by whether they achieve quota or not. While this form of compensation aligns company objectives with personal performance, it places reps under a great deal of pressure.

Internal friction

More recently, sales reps have had to contend with a new source of stress: internal friction. Over the last 12 years, we spent a lot of time and money trying to improve sales productivity. We threw everything we had at sales - a lot of headcount, technology, data, enablement, methodologies, and oversight. The list goes on. We had the best intentions, but instead of improving productivity, we made it worse.

This is plainly evident in the various studies of how salespeople spend their time. These time studies consistently show that sales reps only spend 30-35% of their time on actual selling. Reps face more internal friction than ever as they struggle to keep up with different processes, tasks, technologies, and other tactical items. As an example, the average rep now spends 15% of their day on administrative tasks such as CRM data entry.

While reps have always struggled to engage buyers and are accustomed to operating in a high performance environment, the increase in internal friction is a more recent phenomenon. The interesting thing about this friction is that it’s something entirely within our control. In most cases, revenue leaders create friction for reps when they make decisions that improve things like oversight, governance, and visibility. Those are valid objectives, but we should ask ourselves: are we burdening reps to the point where the costs (friction) outweigh the benefits?

The threat to sales productivity

These aren’t just issues for sales reps. As companies prioritize efficient growth over growth at any cost, sales organizations must improve rep productivity. In simple terms, sales productivity is the relationship between how efficient a seller is while generating outcomes such as bookings.

While improving sales productivity is required to achieve efficient growth, realizing those gains may be harder than ever for two reasons. First, sales efficiency has been in a downward trend in recent years due to the internal friction that now exists in many sales organizations. Second, reduced buyer engagement and economic uncertainty is already impacting the amount of business a seller can book.

If companies don’t carefully manage this, they may find themselves in a situation where growth slows and customer acquisition costs (CAC) do not improve - an untenable situation in today’s market.

How to reduce sales rep stress

While being a sales rep is undoubtedly challenging, there are decisions that sales leadership and sales reps can make to reduce the stress and friction that sellers routinely experience.

Product-market fit

First, as is the case with many sales and marketing challenges, product-market fit is the ultimate cure-all when it comes to making reps’ lives easier. Marc Andreessen defines product-market fit as: "The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it -- or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You're hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can."

It’s hard to imagine something more helpful to sales reps than customers buying your product as fast as they can. In this world, it can feel like the customer is going to buy your product regardless of what you, as a sales rep, do. Product-market fit is extremely hard to achieve, but when it is found, it’s the best way to remove friction from the sales process. If you’re a sales rep, you should make joining companies that have found product-market fit one of your top priorities when looking for a job.

Go-to-market fit

Remember how 43% of buyers don’t want to engage with a salesperson? Finding go-to-market (GTM) fit is a powerful way to increase buyer engagement. A GTM strategy that fits your target market makes it easier to engage buyers. The right GTM strategy makes the daily execution of sales tactics that much easier.

While many sales and marketing leaders are inclined to jump right on the PLG bandwagon, the most important thing to do is adopt a GTM strategy that fits your target market. For example, account-based is typically the best fit for target markets with a small number of target accounts. According to TOPO (now part of Gartner), account-based everything “is the coordination of personalized marketing, sales development, sales, and customer success efforts to drive engagement with, and conversion of, a targeted set of accounts… As a by-product, account-based alignment extends across the entire organization…”. Imagine being a sales rep, knowing that your entire organization is focused on targeting and engaging the accounts that you care about.

Make simplification a priority

As mentioned above, many sales organizations spent the last 12 or so years heavily investing in sales (some might say over-investing). The investments we made in technology, methodologies, data, enablement, and other areas introduced a significant amount of friction into many sales organizations. Sales reps bear the brunt of this because of their position on the frontlines (although RevOps and other groups certainly experience their fair share of friction as well).

There’s no better place to see this friction than in today’s sales tech stack, where the proliferation of applications means that sales teams now use an average of 10 tools to close a deal. It’s not just the number of applications either; most sales technologies suffer from classic user experience (UX) flaws. They are hard to learn, require active usage by reps, and are difficult to use.

To simplify a sales organization is no small task, particularly when faced with dynamics such as organizational drift towards complexity, sunk cost fallacy, and commitment bias. But decisions to simplify the tech stack or sales methodology must be made if we hope to improve sales productivity.

Focus on the rep

One obvious option for reducing seller stress is to pay attention to how decisions impact reps on a daily basis, but few organizations actually do this. For most sales organizations, accelerating growth rates and improving forecast visibility are far and away the top priorities. Achieving these two objectives usually requires that reps do more, not less.

Take a CRM application as an example. Many sales pundits think a CRM is a tool that’s designed to help sales reps, but it’s not. Its primary function is to provide sales leadership, the CFO, and the CEO with visibility into critical revenue metrics. For this to work though, sellers need to spend significant time in the CRM on administrative tasks such as data entry and pipeline management.

Automate menial tasks

Join the right company

Finally, if you’re a sales rep, join a company that exhibits the aforementioned characteristics. While companies and sales leadership can do a lot to improve the lives of salespeople, reps have the ultimate say in terms of what type of organization they join.

As a rep, you should pay particular attention to whether a company has achieved product-market fit. You should also understand what a day in the life of a sales rep looks like (or month or quarter). Ask to meet with current members of the sales team and get their perspective on both of these dynamics. Other reps are the best source of information when it comes to understanding what type of organization you’ll be joining.

How Goldie can help

We’re building Goldie to help make sales reps more productive. To do that, Goldie solves many of the aforementioned problems, whether that means reducing internal friction caused by sales technology bloat or executing plays that are proven to engage buyers. If you’re interested in learning more about Goldie or getting early access to the product, just fill out the form below and we’ll get in touch.

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