From the Desk of Mike Stokes: The key challenges Sales Leaders are experiencing right now

From the Desk of Mike Stokes, CEO Indicator Group.

A muddled and disruptive start to 2023 has impacted the performance of sales teams around New Zealand. While most companies had considerable momentum at the end of last year, January’s usual reduction in business activity was followed by the devastating flooding and damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Conversations have been dominated by predictions of a considerable business slowdown in the year ahead. For sales leaders this year is already bringing a significant shift in market conditions. Whereas the past year was dominated by capacity constraints and supply chain disruptions, the outlook for the coming period is reduced demand, and tighter budgets.

We are starting to see the early signs of this reflected in a slump in business and consumer confidence, reduced sales pipelines, a noticeable lengthening in the buyer decision making process and potentially fewer opportunities in the market.

In times such as these, the first instinct of some organisations is to cut back on expenses and reduce the overall investment in sales and marketing. We would argue that in slower times, the exact opposite should occur.

We believe that now is the time for sales leaders to focus on three critical areas to ensure they are well positioned for the year ahead.

  1. Focusing even more on your ideal customer profile
  2. Boosting your sales team productivity
  3. Harnessing the power of technology to drive process improvement

Who is your ideal customer?

One of the major positives of a slowdown in market activity is that rather than simply reacting to the inflow of customer enquiries, you often have the capacity to be more proactive. This allows you time to drill down into who your ideal customers are. You can then be more intentional about either growing and developing your ideal current clients, or targeting new customers who fit your ideal customer profile.

How well are you positioned for productivity?

Productivity is potentially the most critical area of focus for sales leaders in 2023. Signs are already emerging that sales team head counts are not increasing at the levels we have previously seen. This means leaders will need to get even more out of their current team.

To do so, there needs to be a focus on the dual levers of increasing activity, and also increasing the effectiveness of the sales team and sales processes.  We encourage all sales leaders to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Are my team aware of what is expected of them?
  • Do we have the right sales processes and systems in place to enable success?
  • How well am I developing the skills, competency, and approach of the sales team to succeed in the current environment?
  • Is now the right time to embrace new technology?

The third area of focus is one that is advancing more rapidly than most are aware of.  The role that digital technology and sales automation can have in boosting performance, productivity, and the effectiveness of the overall sales process.

Kiwi sales leaders have been slow to adapt to technology in the past, but we have finally seen a shift that suggests that times have changed. ChatGPT has put AI and technology in the spotlight – but it is only one of many tools available that can have a significant impact on sales performance.

Our advice to sales leaders is that being left behind is not a position where anyone likes to be. We also caution that sales tools should be owned by the sales team, not by the technology department.

As they say in sport ‘the best form of defense is attack’ and we encourage all sales teams to be on the offensive in the year ahead. With a clear focus on being proactive, boosting productivity and allowing technology to support sales performance – we believe that despite the challenges, 2023 is likely to provide plenty of opportunity for growth.

-Mike Stokes, CEO Indicator Group.

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