The Perfect Sales Storm: 5 Challenges Sales Leaders Are Facing And What They Can Do About Them

Kurt Ghijsbrecht & Hans Smellinckx

Founding Partners @ Markies

Sales teams are currently heading into a perfect storm. Many companies will be struggling to achieve their revenue growth objectives, especially if existing strategies and tactics are not called into question. That’s why we asked Kurt Ghijsbrecht & Hans Smellinckx, founding partners of Markies, to help us understand why we are heading into this storm and what we can do about it. “There are a few developments that took place in the last 24 months and when looking in the near future, we are truly heading for a perfect storm. Especially if you do not plan to change anything”, says Kurt. First, we’ll set the scene by explaining the different challenges and macro trends Kurt & Hans are observing. Thereafter, we’ll give you some tactics to keep winning, despite these challenging conditions.

Revenue Growth Challenges

1. Less or even no sales rep interaction

Gone are the times a sales rep was needed by default to make a sale happen. According to Gartner, 44% of millennials prefer to buy without interaction with a sales rep in a B2B context. This percentage is expected to even increase in the coming years.

2. Time to purchase is constantly speeding up

Your prospects are comparing your service level to other experiences. Because of digital platforms (think of social media, e-commerce giants etc.), people are now experiencing instant gratification. This has a significant impact on your (revenue) operating model. When prospects want information, they should be able to find this information quickly. If they have a question, it should be answered almost instantly. If they want to buy, that process must be swift as well.

3. From intuition-based sales to data-driven sales

Thanks to digitalization, tons of data can be captured regarding the buying journey and the sales activities. It is not enough, however, to have a report on the revenue per product, region, quarter etc.

Being data-driven means two things:

  • Your CFO trust your ability to forecast revenue accurately
  • All customer-facing teams work on the same metrics, funnel & pipeline

Unfortunately, more often than not, this is not the case.

4. Generational gap between teams & end user

Commercial teams often reflect on the customer journey thinking as if they were the buyers. Due to this, they are thinking how they would go through the buyer journey. But what if they’re not the right persona? What happens is that wrong expectations are created for the end user.

5. The economic downturn is a reality

Believe it or not, but we are heading for an economic downturn. Leaders and C-level execs are already anticipating this. According to, phrases such as “changes in market conditions”, “cost increases”, “crazy market”, “until things are back to normal” and “inflation” are more & more frequent in sales calls.

This leads to longer sales cycles, more rejections, less negotiation power in the hands of the reps, and because of all that, sales reps are getting frustrated.

How You Can Still Win

If you are like us, you don’t want to go through the conditions and don’t do anything about it. That’s why we think you’ll like what’s coming. Kurt & Hans provided a system which can help you get through these times.

Here is how you can still thrive as a revenue leader:

(1) Identify your ideal customer profile (ICP)
(2) Map out & redesign the buying journey
(3) Identify the sales interactions in the journey
(4) Have a shared understanding of the commercial operations
(5) Build a culture of continuous improvement

1. Identify Your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

It’s crucial to have an ideal customer profile, linked to each market segment you are focusing on.

For that, build out an inventory of good quantitative & qualitative data on your customers, both internal & enriched data:

  • Internal data: annual deal value, trigger event leading to a purchase, actual buying reason(s), who sits in the buying committee…
  • Enriched data: turnover, profitability, activity sector, geographic location…

Once you have enough data points, take your 20% best customers, and look at the data points. Do you see patterns? Can you define an Ideal Customer Profile on common denominators of your best clients? Once you do, focus only on prospects that fulfil these criteria.

Furthermore, once you have your ICP(s) defined, you can create content that resonates with each ICP and design a sales journey that matches that ICP’s buying journey.

“That one time, we discovered that C-level execs of one of our client’s segments were not using Linkedin at all. Yet, all they did were Linkedin campaigns”, explains Kurt.

Hans goes even further: “Inversely, define who would not be a fit at all, and check how many clients like that you are currently serving. Maybe it’s time to discontinue these business relationships, or at least, minimize the time & effort in those relationships”.

Pro Tip: In times of economic crisis, sharpen your qualification criteria even further. It’s important you focus on the opportunities that are really worth your team’s effort

2. Map Out & Redesign the Buying Journey

“I still find this very surprising, but many sales leaders are not aware how their clients buy from them”, says Kurt. That’s why leaders absolutely should do a mapping of the buyer journey. Ask yourself this question: if you do not know how your prospects interact with your business, how can you then build an effective sales process?

When doing this exercise, ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the status quo? How are they buying today?
  • How can you help your target customers become aware of the “problem” your company offers solutions for?
  • How can you provide them objective information on that problem and how to attack it?
  • How can you support them in making an informed decision when they are comparing alternatives?

Remember that we are moving into a digital-first buying journey. Therefore, it’s fundamental that you at least build a digital experience in the first steps of that buying journey.

When facing an economic downturn, research shows that organizations are cutting in marketing and in work force expenses. If you are confronted with such decisions as a leader, consider the buying journey. Be especially careful that when doing so, this does not hurt the navigation of the buyer through the buying journey. Take therefore a holistic view to this and also incorporate potential opportunity costs.

Finally, “Since buyers always want to buy faster and faster, think of which interactions you could automate. This being said, don’t lose the personalized touch. It remains important that your sales reps understand the context of the prospect when a 1-to-1 interaction takes place.”

This brings us to step #3.

Pro Tip: Do not map out the journey alone, do this with your team

3. Identify the sales interaction in the journey

Not only are we moving into a digital-first buying journey, but we are also avoiding interacting with a sales rep. Therefore, be considerate when sales should intervene.

“It is seller-centric for the sales professional or leader to decide that a purchase can only happen via a sales rep. To me, this is old school or a move to protect the sales role within the organization.”, says Kurt.

“We should turn it around”, Hans continues, “When do clients truly value the 1-on-1 interaction of a sales rep that facilitates the navigation through the buying process? When asking this question, you adapt the sales process to the buying process.”

Leaders often look at the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) to decide whether or not the organization can afford the cost of a sales rep. Even though this is a healthy way to operate, do not limit yourself to only this simple calculation.

For instance, Tesla has been selling their electric cars completely digital and with no interaction of a sales rep. Not because they couldn’t afford sales reps, but because there was no actual need to have a sales rep from the buyer.

Pro Tip: Ask existing customers if your 1-to-1 interactions actually add value or are rather non-essential interactions

4. Have a shared understanding of your commercial operations

This has been a “hot” topic for quite a while now. It has also received several names over the years: sales performance, revenue operations, customer effectiveness or even smarketing.

“We are moving away from ‘leaders of sellers’ to ‘leaders of the revenue process’. We need to get rid of those silos. Yes, there is still a distinction between marketeers & salespeople in terms of ‘performed activities’, but they are both working on the same process”, explains Kurt.

This is also a crucial condition to build a data-driven revenue organization.

Not only leaders, but teams must operate under this same understanding. When discussing KPIs, for example, involve everyone from the different teams. Don’t be the leader planning everything from your ivory tower.

Having a shared understanding of the commercial operations also means great collaboration is necessary between the different teams. For that, trusting each other and having respect for each other are essential.

“During my hiring process to become Sales Director at Sodexo, the CEO made me go on an interview with the Marketing Director. He told me that she had a veto right in hiring me as a member of their management team”, explains Kurt. “The CEO there understood that for the marketing director to collaborate with me, we would have to get along.”

5. Build a culture of continuous improvement

Building a culture of continuous improvement can make or break the team’s performance when times get tough.

“If you want the same results, keep doing the same things. If you want other, better results, do different things.”

It’s as simple as that. Just working ‘harder’ only works up to a certain level, but it sure won’t make you or your team resilient when the going gets tough.

As a leader it’s your absolute mission to facilitate this.

  • Is the team trying out new experiments?
  • Do you give enough space for trial & error?
  • Do you offer educational and/or financial resources to the team?
  • Is the team aware of the existence of these resources?
  • Are you okay with exchanging working hours for this?

Besides facilitating the team, think also in terms of speaking a language that embodies these cultural values. Especially with this economic downturn, if you don’t speak the language of winning, you are doomed already.

Final Thoughts…

There is enough momentum now to put everything in your organization into question. From the level of digitalization of your organization, the level of competency of your team to your commercial strategy & its execution.

We are heading into a perfect storm for the sales team. This doesn’t have to be a bad evolution. As a leader it is your responsibility to anticipate these challenges and this system above can help you with identifying the different challenges & open new perspectives.