Lead GenerationTop Sales World CEO Jonathan Farrington discusses lead generation and other sales challenges in this month’s guest post.

“Generating qualified leads is the biggest challenge for my sales team.”

That’s what I hear from every sales leader. Ineffective lead generation tactics are a huge blot on sales productivity and revenue. But simply filling the pipeline with contacts isn’t enough to correct the problem. Sales reps must generate a consistent stream of qualified sales leads.

Finally, sales leaders understand that marketing contributes to nurturing and qualifying inbound leads, but sales reps must take responsibility for their own outbound lead generation. How do they get qualified leads? I’m sure you can guess my answer: They adopt a disciplined referral program, build skills in referral selling, and make asking for referrals the way they work every day.

Now that we know the answer to the lead generation challenge, find out what Jonathan Farrington, CEO of Top Sales World, says about the key challenges every sales organization faces. First on his list: “Finding the Opportunity.” (Translation: quality lead generation.)

Read his take in this month’s guest post, “The FIVE Critical Sales Challenges Facing Every Company, Everywhere …”:

“I have been contemplating what I believe are the most significant challenges most companies are currently facing, and I have managed to reduce my list to just five.

Challenge One: Finding the Opportunities

I am continually surprised to discover just how few companies have a formal business development strategy. The norm appears to be ‘If we throw enough mud at the wall, some of it is bound to stick—eventually.’ For ‘mud’ you should read ‘resources.’ This quixotic mantra is costly, unproductive, and naive.

There are so many solutions available today which assist frontline sales professionals to accurately target potential clients/customers—not to mention resources like LinkedIn, etc. It is incomprehensible to me that the majority of organizations are still flailing in the dark.

For example, how many companies do you know that can tell you exactly what each lead is costing them?

Challenge Two: Sales Enablement

It is estimated that between 56 percent and 58 percent of frontline salesmen and women will fail to hit quota this year. Why? Targets set too high? Maybe in some cases it could be suggested that, in a continuing flat-line economy, expectations were unrealistic. But my personal opinion is that we are now witnessing the inevitable results of all those training budget cuts, which were implemented eight or nine years ago when the recession began to bite.

The reality is that you cannot expect an under-equipped and inadequately armed army to win battles—let alone the war!

There is ample and reliable evidence to suggest that, for every dollar spent on appropriate and relevant sales team development, a return of $100 should be anticipated in incremental revenue gained. This isn’t rocket science.

But do note the highlighted words—appropriate and relevant.

Challenge Three: Customer Retention

For more years than I can remember, I have been crusading for greater customer focus and for organizations to work to prevent the constant drip of departing clients out of the back-end—which is happening almost as fast as new ones are coming on board at the front-end.

How many times do we commentators have to point out that it costs at least 15 times more to attract, qualify, and sell to a new customer as it does to sell to an existing one? How many times do we have to highlight surveys that shout at us that the most common reason companies change suppliers is because of a perceived lack of interest? (71 percent was the number I heard last.)

How many vendors do you know who have, amongst all the data they examine every year, accurately calculated the true cost of all the customers they lost in any given period? And if you do know any, I am prepared to wager that not one of them included the total costs of winning that customer in the first place!

The reality is that standards of customer care have never been so bad. It is a self-perpetuating downward spiral. We actually no longer remember poor service; we expect it. But we are surprised when we receive good service! How sad is that?

The good news is that any company prepared to raise their game by just a few percentage points will stand out from the mediocre rest!

Challenge Four: Controlling Costs

Nobody should ever doubt that the successful formula for any company looking to survive today—let alone thrive—is to constantly look for ways to reduce costs, whilst increasing profits. Note my emphasis on profit, rather than revenue. A very wise old mentor of mine—a keen golfer—once said to me, ‘Jonathan, we always drive for revenue, but we putt for profit.’ And how right he was.

It is a fallacy to believe the responsibility for ensuring an organization’s financial health and stability lies solely with the ‘gray men’ in accounts. Every individual has a part to play, and especially the sales team—the engine room of any firm—because although it has become a well-worn cliché, nothing really does happen until we sell something.

Our role is to maximize the profitability of every single deal. That means examining the true costs.

Net margin is NOT simply selling price less buy-in price. True profitability takes into account all of the costs associated with creating the lead in the first place; it allows for all of the pre-sales meetings—including qualification, face-to-face presentations, and negotiation. These are all time-consuming and cost-bearing activities. Then there is the value we must place on after-sales support or technical input. Only when we truly understand the real cost of each sale can we begin to understand how we are able to improve our profitability.

Much of this is down to control, and that leads me onto…

Challenge Five: Leading from the Front

The average tenure of a sales manager today is less than two years. Actually, if the manager was promoted from within because he or she was the most successful salesperson on the team, the average duration comes down to 18 months. These statistics are quite shocking, but not surprising. This role has become the least secure in most organizations today.

Show me an under-performing sales team, and I will show you an incompetent, poorly trained, and inadequate sales manager. This role has now become critical.

So, these are my ‘Critical 5.’ No doubt you can think of others, which we should consider?”

(Read the original version of Jonathan’s post on LinkedIn Publisher.)

4_26_JFarrington_Guest_Post_Five_Critical_Sales_Challenges_finalAbout the Author

Jonathan Farrington is a keynote speaker, business coach, mentor, author, consultant, and sales strategist, who has guided hundreds of companies and more than 100,000 frontline salespeople and sales leaders towards optimum performance levels. He is the senior partner at Jonathan Farrington & Associates, CEO of Top Sales World, and co-editor of Top Sales Magazine. His written work has been republished by a host of journals, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The London Times. He is consistently named amongst the top most influential sales and marketing experts in the world. Check him out on LinkedIn and Twitter @topsalesworld.