WALTHAM, Mass. — October 29, 2013 — Think selling in a difficult economy is a challenge? Try doing so without sales materials. That’s a struggle many sales reps are facing, according to a new survey from cloud-based business presentation company Brainshark, Inc. One in 3 sales reps (33%) reports they’re “often” or “always (on a daily basis)” frustrated by their inability to quickly locate sales materials. How dire is it? More than 1 in 5 (22%) say they’d “need a GPS to find the materials [they] need”!
For its “State of the Sales Rep” survey, Brainshark collected responses from more than 400 sales professionals (reps and managers) at companies across industries. Results show that providing easy, central access to content might alleviate some of reps’ struggles. More than 1 in 4 reps (28%) say their company’s approach to organizing sales materials makes finding the right content chance-driven at best.
Respondents were surveyed about processes and challenges related to preparing for meetings with prospects and customers, presenting during those meetings and following up afterward.
For many sales reps, it’s the nature of their fast-paced jobs: prepping for meetings comes down to the wire. Survey results show:
- 40% typically start preparing within a day of an impending sales presentation.
- 12% wait until the day of the meeting.
- Just 16% are early birds – starting at least a week in advance.
Where to prepare? A rep’s gotta do what a rep’s gotta do – and when you need to prepare, it seems just about any place can work. Reps recounted prepping for important meetings in a wide range of locations – from a Porta-Potty to church to a night club to a hospital bed (pre-surgery) to a helicopter and more. Among the top-cited responses:
- In the car: 64%
- On a plane: 58%
- In the bathroom: 27% (1 in 5 reps also prepare in the shower)
- In the prospect’s parking lot: 44%
- On vacation: 42%
- At a coffee shop: 52%
- While working out: 24%
Regardless of prep location – and even in those most conducive to work – reps report facing challenges. In addition to being stymied by a frequent failure to find sales materials (33%), reps contend with other productivity-busters, including:
- Out-of-date materials: 41% (In fact, 39% can’t tell if they’re even accessing the most current version.
- Materials not relevant to prospects: 28%
- Having to devote time modifying existing materials: 51%
Results indicate that closer alignment and collaboration with marketing departments may help. For example, 71% of reps say they receive sales materials from marketing – but of that group, 42% say marketing “rarely” or “never” makes them part of the development process. As a whole, reps say they end up having to create from scratch more than half (51%) of all the content they use.
Reps also note that more/better training would be an asset to them. One in 3 (33%) say they’d benefit from more product-related training; 37% would like more skills training to hone their approaches.
Eye on the prize: Just about any location presents an opportunity for reps to close a deal. In fact, reps described giving sales presentations in a wide range of places – from a wedding to a storage closet to Disney World to a dressing room to a drive-through and more. Top locations included:
- Formal business setting – 81%
- Restaurant: 63%
- Social event: 54%
- Coffee shop: 45%
- Bar: 35%
- On vacation: 26%
- Sporting event: 21%
- Airport: 18%
- Gym: 6%
Reps report using a variety of tools and technologies to assist them in presentations, including laptops (66%), iPads/tablets (59%), PowerPoint (61%), whiteboards (31%), smartphones (28%) and Web conferencing (38%).
Go commando… or go without the iPad? Reps cited iPads as major assets during presentations. But for these reps, do tablets trump all? Sales reps reported they’d rather go to a meeting without these items than go without their tablets:
- Matching socks: 61%
- Underwear: 47%
- Locking their front door: 45%
- Deodorant: 32%
- Brushing their teeth: 27%
But even with the best technology and preparations, sometimes things still go awry during presentations. From accidentally tripping fire alarms to tooting (but not their own horn), respondents recounted anecdotes including:
- “My iPad, laptop and phone all worked perfectly. Then my pen broke.”
- “Instead of giving a prospect my business card, I accidentally gave him the key to my hotel room.”
- “The sprinkler system went off in the room.”
- “A bird flew in an open window.”
- “I forgot to turn off my GPS and it started talking during the meeting.” (“Recalculating!”)
Primary – and more common – challenges reps say they encounter during presentations include: technology not functioning (56%), key decision-makers absent from the room (50%), a disengaged or distracted audience (34%) and not feeling well-prepared (14%).
“Humorous anecdotes aside, our survey shows there are very real challenges that sales reps face when preparing for and presenting at meetings,” said Brainshark CMO Andy Zimmerman. “But on the positive side, these can often be easily and cost-effectively overcome. In addition to working toward greater sales and marketing alignment – particularly in terms of content creation and delivery – companies should also gear strategies around today’s fast-paced and mobile-oriented landscape. Reps need access to up-to-date, relevant materials no matter where they are and which device they’re on. Cost-effective and intuitive technology and apps can help, along with a well-planned content strategy.”
The prep work and presenting are done (phew!), but what about post-meeting follow-up? Reps have this as an important item on their to-do lists, most frequently following up via email (92%), phone (70%), with collateral (37%) and with their presentation decks (32%).
They work to overcome challenges including:
- Unresponsive/difficult-to-reach prospect: 55%
- Not knowing who else is influencing purchasing decisions: 49%
- Having a hard time telling if the prospect is interested: 26%
- Not having appropriate follow-up materials: 17%
“Being able to provide the right follow-up materials at the right time is critical to sustaining buyer interest,” Zimmerman said. “Our results show that with better collaboration and communication across departments, companies can make sure reps have the content they need to close more deals. In addition, being able to follow up in engaging formats, such as through video and with trackable content, can make all the difference. Reps can see whether their follow-up materials are being viewed – as well as when and by whom – helping them ascertain when interest is hot and resulting in more qualified leads.”
Making the Grade
In this survey, sales reps were also asked to grade how well they prepare, present and follow up. Then, managers were asked to grade their reps’ activities as well. Did both groups agree on whether reps made the grade? They didn’t quite see eye-to-eye.
- Prepare: 77% of reps graded themselves a “B” or better for their prep work (16% said they deserved “A”s). Managers weren’t quite as effusive: 58% thought reps merited a “B” or above (only 7% “A”s), with 42% grading reps a “C” or below.
- Present: Only 14% of reps thought their presentation skills deserved a “C” or lower. But managers begged to differ – in fact, 43% rated reps with a “C” or worse. Twenty-two percent of reps thought they earned “A”s for their presentations, compared to 8% of managers who gave reps that grade.
- Follow-up: Reps were twice as likely as managers (21% versus 10%) to think they earned an “A” for post-meeting follow-up. Seventy-three percent of reps rated themselves a “B” or higher, compared to 55% of managers who gave those designations.
“These findings point to the importance of easy, rapid access to relevant, up-to-date content for reps, and highlight an opportunity for organizations to make sales and marketing more productive,” said Brainshark CEO Joe Gustafson.
About the survey
Brainshark conducted an online survey, collecting responses from 416 sales professionals (199 sales reps; 217 sales managers) at companies of various sizes and across industries. The survey, distributed in September 2013, asked respondents about strategies, processes and challenges as they relate to preparing for sales meetings, presenting and following up afterward.
About Brainshark, Inc.
Brainshark enables companies to improve productivity with cloud-based business presentation solutions for sales, marketing and training. With Brainshark’s easy-to-use solutions, customers transform static documents such as PowerPoints into dynamic, mobile-ready content that can be accessed quickly and viewed as on-demand video presentations or presented live – anytime, anywhere. They can also measure the effectiveness of their communications in ways never thought possible and use these insights to take action. Thousands of companies – including half of the Fortune 100 – and millions of individuals rely on Brainshark to increase the impact and reduce the cost of their business communications. Learn more at www.brainshark.com.