Over the last few months we have asked you, our readers to take part in what may be the first general analysis of sales skills in the UK using our on-line assessment powered by SalesAssessment.com.
What is clear there are several areas of essential skill-sets that require urgent action to bring the effectiveness of our sales talent up to high performance levels.
However, when you consider the figures it's as well to remember that skills are defined as “proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience”. So the good news is that any areas of weakness highlighted below can be resolved through effective training programmes.
Thanks to all those of you who took part and here are the summarised finding of your answers to the assessment surveys.
The first main skill we asked you about was ‘customer contact’
This is defined as follows: “These are the skills required to effectively engage the customer in conversation and start the process of qualification, with the objective of gaining an understanding of the customer's needs.”
Here the good news is that 10% of people are very highly skilled in customer contact, 44% are at a level that makes them effective for a sales role but 46% of people surveyed are lacking key skills.
This is made up of four skill areas: spotting opportunities; using probing questions; communicating and; advising the customer. You told us that 13% were highly skilled in spotting opportunities yet there was an even split of 44% both achieving the skill and lacking sufficient competency in this.
Using probing questions revealed just 5% felt highly competent, 54% could achieve adequate levels of skill and a large minority of 41% were challenged in this area.
This is of concern because this is the ability to maintain a clear picture of what information you have and what information you are missing, such that you can formulate and ask appropriate probing questions that plug the knowledge gap. This requires a combination of understanding, analysing and interpreting information in real time.
Communication, on the other hand, is the ability to convey information and ideas so that customers and others understand the message. This involves the ability to express the message clearly, using a range of techniques to help others understand the information. It also involves skills of 'active listening', summarising information and using language which is familiar and acceptable to the audience who may have a variety of cultural and knowledge backgrounds.
Here just 8% were highly skilled, 38% achieved required levels while a whopping 54% were incompetent in this skill set.
Advising the customer involves the ability to guide them through the use of consulting techniques. It covers a range of approaches from offering information through to making recommendations. This requires knowledge of the customer's requirements or challenge. It also requires understanding, communication, using judgement, selecting approaches, using empathy creating rapport and influencing.
In this area 13% were high achievers, 41% were adequate while 46% fell below par.
The second main skill we asked you about was ‘engaging the customer’
This is defined as: “Generating initial interest from the customer in your application, product or service, and starting the process of creating rapport.”
You told us that this is by far and away the weakest of the three skill areas we looked at with 60% of people lacking the key skills to make them effective at engaging the customer! Only 4% were above average and just 36% said they were in the effective range.
Engaging the customer is made up of five skill areas: Matching customer needs to products or services; Awareness of competitors; Understanding the customer's needs; Testing and challenging assumptions; and Keeping abreast of new products and services. Here’s what you told us about each of these skill areas:
Matching customer needs to product and services is the ability to understand the customer’s or prospect's needs or objectives and match them to the company's offerings. Here 9% were highly skilled, 36% were up-to-speed while an alarming majority of 55% were incompetent in this area.
With awareness of competitors things look even bleaker. This is the ability to understand your competitors; their impact and implications for you in relation to their strengths, their marketing activity, the way they position their offerings to your customers and prospects and how they are likely to be perceived by customers or prospects.
Shockingly not one of our respondents felt they were highly proficient in this skill! Some 27% thought they were adequate but 73% felt they lacked the skill to perform well.
Another shock comes with understanding the customer's needs. This is the ability to identify the key aspects of the customer's or prospect's needs and match your products or services to those needs. This involves engaging the customer to test your assessment of the opportunity as well as having a good knowledge of own company's capabilities, products or offerings.
Once again, none felt they enjoyed a high level of talent here, while 36% were acceptably skilled and 64% were below the required performance levels.
Things improve a little with testing and challenging assumptions. This is the ability to test and challenge assumptions in your dealings with customers and others, involving identifying assumptions in anything, testing their implications and challenging their validity. Some 9% were highly proficient, 36% adequate and 55% were below par.
However, things slip back into the concern zone with keeping abreast of new products and services. This is all about assimilating and understanding new trends, products, etc, in order to evaluate and interpret them for use with customers. This requires a ready assimilation and understanding of new concepts and products as well as a probing and challenging approach to new ideas, linked to an ability to interpret these new concepts or products into increased benefits for customers.
Once again none of the respondents felt highly skilled in this area while 45% felt up to speed and 55% admitted to be performing below standard in this skill.
The third man skill we asked readers about was ‘negotiating and closing’
This is defined as follows: “This section covers the skills required to establish the value to the customer of the benefits, often involving simple financial metrics and close the deal.”
Our survey showed that 6% felt highly skilled in this crucial area, 46% felt they were adequate but 48% admitted they needed help in making improvements to reach the acceptable level of skill.
Negotiating and closing is made up of three skill areas: influencing customer expectations; negotiating; objection handling.
With influencing customer expectations just 3% said they were highly skilled, 43% claimed to be adequate but a full 55% confessed to being below par. Concerning findings in the light of the fact that this is the ability to find out and influence customer expectations and use this knowledge to enthuse the customer about the benefits of a potential offering.
Negotiating means working with the customer towards agreeing a position, and ultimately a sale, which has optimal, mutual benefits for all parties. This requires a combination of skills in persuading and influencing, listening, anticipating the concerns and thoughts of the customer, empathy, using techniques to get the other party committed and setting expectations.
Here things improve with 10% claiming a keen aptitude, 50% say they are up to speed and only 40% believe they need to work harder to achieve acceptable performance levels.
Yet things slip again with objection handling. This is the ability to effectively deal with objections raised by customers or prospects. This requires a combination of understanding how your customer or prospect is perceiving your product, service or offering and why and having the understanding of appropriate techniques to handle the objections.
Our survey revealed 5% felt they were highly skilled, 45% claimed to achieve acceptable performance levels while 50% admitted they needed to work harder on this skill.
The data shows that two of the three skill areas are about where we would expect with about 50% of people being above average and about 50% of people being below average in any given skill area.
What was surprising was just how little training our salespeople are getting in the critical area of engaging the customer. Sales managers – over to you!
We will be running more of these assessments in the new year – so watch out for more updates
Now here's your chance to get involved with our fourth of five planned self assessment skill tests we are running to build a vital database profile of the UK sales industry today.