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The past year has been a stark reminder of just how quickly the economy can change, from rising inflation to the Silicon Valley Bank collapse.

While economists debate the Fed's interest rate policies and looming recession—or whether we're in one right now, or whether it'll come at all—consumers and businesses alike have been faced with rising costs and tighter budgets.

For businesses, closing sales has never been easy, and now it's even more difficult. Buyers have higher expectations but smaller budgets. Sellers face more pressure to deliver with fewer opportunities.

Tech stacks are also one of the most scrutinized assets during times like these: when leaders are challenged with showing maximum benefits from every financial investment.

The good news is that those challenges aren't new, albeit they are now more pressing, perhaps. And there are solutions to empower buyers, sellers, and revenue/sales leaders with the tools and strategies needed to succeed and emerge on the other side with renewed vigor.

Let's dive into the current state of sales and the challenges key stakeholders are facing.

The Disconnect Between Buyer and Seller

The recessionary environment is driving the need for sales reps to personalize the buying experience. Buyers and sellers are acutely disconnected during sales calls, indicating a power dynamic that's more buyer-centric than ever as budget cuts continue.

Buyers are increasingly scrutinizing their purchases while being less engaged during sales calls: Buyers asked an average of 18 questions during sales calls, up from 13 the previous year; at the same time, the average buyer talk time was 39% during the discovery stages, a drop from 51% year over year, according to Mindtickle's 2023 State of Sales Productivity Report.

The study also found that only 34% of buyers agree their sales rep is helpful throughout the buying process, whereas customer satisfaction is the main source of successful business outcomes. The emphasis, therefore, should be on the need to create a good customer experience from the very first sales call.

Accordingly, sales reps need to learn how to adapt and personalize the experience if they are to provide value to the buyer. However, in sales training, one size does not fit all. One buyer may be struggling with messaging consistency while another is having trouble with competitive positioning and picking the most helpful content to share with buyers.

By understanding performance and skill gaps, organizations can train sellers in key areas, ensuring sellers are prepped and ready to be the best partners to buyers.

Evolving Sales Training Priorities

Fully 88% of reps reported being coached on open deals, and 34% reported being coached on skills, per the Mindtickle survey. In short, sales teams' conversations are focusing more on discussing specific deals rather than developing long-term skills, likely as a result of the increased pressure they're facing as buying slows down.

Although closing a deal is important, skills training is more imperative to build the foundation for consistent quota attainment:

  • Deals-coaching focuses on buyers and meeting their unique business needs, and results in more temporary benefits for the single interaction.
  • Skills training, on the other hand, focuses on developing the knowledge and behaviors critical to success, which puts sellers in a better position to close deals in the long run.

While the economy is giving more leverage to the buyer, organizations need to focus on skills training to complement and round out sales teams' training programs and give sales reps the lasting, foundational skills for their long-term growth and career—such as learning to use certain keywords, avoiding filler words, keeping a steady talking pace, or mastering product knowledge.

Reps Overwhelmed by Sales Content

Most sales content isn't of high quality, and sales reps are overwhelmed by the number of written resources available to them for selling: Mindtickle's report found that relatively little engagement results from content, generally, and the majority of content-generated engagement is the result of a small percentage of available content.

Accordingly, identifying the most effective sales content is a huge step toward more effective selling.

By using sales enablement platforms, businesses can gather data on how sellers are engaging with content in the field, and how aware they are of specific content, allowing those businesses to determine what information is being used and whether potentially valuable content is underutilized.

Organizations can also measure and track how sales reps are trained and how that training translates to their content use in the field.

Once top content pieces are identified, businesses can stop developing the types of content that never or rarely get used, and instead reallocate resources toward the content that is both used and valuable.

The result is more efficient sales training for new reps and content that is more valuable for reps.

Creating Ongoing, Personalized Sales Training

The way for businesses to overcome ongoing sales challenges, such as those highlighted in this article, is to ensure that their rep training works, period. That includes identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each sales rep—not just deal performance—and using the information to create ongoing training plans tailored to a rep's specific skills and goals.

With the help of conversational intelligence—which uses AI to review call recordings and gather data on key themes discussed, questions asked, and areas of note—managers can get a better understanding of how their reps are performing.

Managers can then compare those behaviors with those of top reps, and go on to build an individualized training program based on skills that are proven to win deals. For example, if a rep is struggling to articulate the company's key messaging, a personalized program can include live roleplays that ask the rep to explain what the company does and recommend content for review, and quizzes the rep on courses they previously took.

The training process also doesn't end with one or two lessons. Without regular learning, sellers forget 70% of the information they learn within just one week of training, leading to lost deals and missed quotas

To combat loss of knowledge, AI can help cultivate a culture of training by automatically creating frequent and ongoing training sessions to reinforce skills and confidence that make reps successful in the field.

By implementing frequent and individualized skills training, organizations ensure their reps are knowledgeable of product details, sales methodology, pitch delivery, and more, resulting in high-quality customer experiences.

More Resources on Sales Training and Enablement

23 Sales Tactics for 2023

Sales Presentation Skills: How to Measure and Evaluate Your Salespeople

How to Upgrade Your Sales Teams for Remote Success

Empowering Sales Success—The Role of Marketing in Sales Enablement: Owen Richards on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

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Selling in a Recession: Challenges and Training Opportunities

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image of Parth Mukherjee

Parth Mukherjee is global VP of product marketing and GTM strategy at Mindtickle, a sales enablement and revenue productivity platform. He has 15+ years of experience in technology marketing and consulting.

LinkedIn: Parth Mukherjee