Every quarter we run an informal dinner bringing together 12 to 15 sales leaders to openly discuss their challenges and share their best practice and industry trends with their peers in a relaxed environment over some nice food and wine. Here’s a roundup of key discussions:

Cold calling isn’t dead but sales people need to adapt

Everyone around the table agreed that cold calling was more difficult and were looking for new ways to be more effective. Whilst cold calling is still very much a core part of the sales role teams need to get smarter with their approach. Some of the guests said they used social networks to engage with customers first and only tried to call once they had shown a level of interest such as a LinkedIn connection. One company reported they had purposely hosted more events to give them a stronger reason to call in the first place. What’s your approach to cold calling and how has it changed?

Getting the opportunity to sell has got a lot harder

There was a strong feeling around the table that you don’t get the opportunity to sell in quite the same way as in previous years. The buyer is more informed than ever before talking to a sales person and teams need to find ways of adding value to their calls to stand out from all the noise. A couple of ways were discussed including researching the business online to find recent news or social posts to add value to the call. Another idea was relating your own company research to their issues to show you understand their challenges. How are you encouraging your teams to add value to their (cold) calls?

Sales skills sets have changed with technology

Everyone agreed the basics of sales hasn’t changed, but how you get there has and the expectations of what’s required from a salesperson are much higher. Sales people now need basic marketing skills to be able to email and network through LinkedIn and other social platforms.

Sales people now need basic marketing skills to be able to email and network

Keeping up with technology is part and parcel now, you can’t be a good sales person without understanding technology. They also need to be aware of, and take more responsibility for their own personal brand and the impact it has on their customers. Managers need to be mindful of the changing skills required and support with training where needed. How are your supporting your teams with these new skills?

The value of a sales person can take very different forms

One guest referred to the two types of sales people he looks for: he called one the ‘black book’ sales person who was hired deliberately for the relationships he already had with key DMs at target clients. The other is a ‘grafter’ who works very hard, is very productive but may act like a bull in a china shop to get what they want. He’s not managed to find someone who can do both yet, and many of the guests agreed it was indeed very rare to see, but they could all see the value in both.

Return to work mothers provide an untapped sales talent pool

Many women want to balance having children while continuing with a fulfilling working career. After pausing their career to have children, they may struggle to go back to work full time and need flexibility when it comes to hours and school holidays.

Many guests felt this was a great talent pool from which to find experienced individuals that can help them drive sales.

Many guests felt this was a great talent pool from which to find experienced individuals that can help them drive sales. One guest pointed out that we need to be mindful of the different motivations to work. Whilst for many it’s a need, it could be seen more as an opportunity to keep busy and in sales we ultimately want someone who is driven. How are you tapping into this talent pool?

Hiring a consultant can be more effective to bridge senior skills gaps

If you’re clear on the specific skills you need you could find alternative ways to bridge the gaps. We discussed a scenario of hiring a senior sales person at £125k versus a junior sales person at £25k who would need a lot of training and development to get them anywhere near that level. But if you need a big hitter to attend meetings at a CEO level and that’s only 10% of their role why employ them at a full £125k when you could hire a consultant to cover the 10%.