Why is the quality of sales talent so poor in the Oil and Gas sector?

This is quite a long post, please do stick with it though as I feel there are some valid points here and I am eager to solicit your views.  

This question may seem a bit controversial, perhaps even unfair.  However, it is a question that I am being asked with increasing regularity.

I genuinely cannot think of anyone who meets more sales and business development professionals, from within the oil and gas sector, than I do.  With this in mind, and of course given what I do for a living, I do at least have a view on this.

From my perspective the quality of sales talent in the oil and gas sector is poor relative to other sectors – specifically I am talking about other business to business sectors.  Assuming you agree with me, the question is why?

The truth is I’m not sure I can truly answer the question.  I can however provide my perspective, but first let me list a few of the all too common attributes that I believe characterise these poor performers:

A fundamental lack of understanding of effective sales process and methodology

There is much more to sales than ‘just talking to people’ and ‘building relationships’.  Of course these are core components, but if that’s all that sales is to you, you need to consider if you are in the right profession.  There is no excuse for this.  If your employer is not providing training, coaching and mentoring then do your own research.  There is some great material out there that will help you to dramatically improve your sales effectiveness.

Lacking in a drive for results

A sales person, business development manager or account manager is there to deliver revenue and profit for their employer.  This is the ultimate deliverable and what they are paid to do.  If you don’t have a determined focus on delivering your numbers, then you need to develop it.  Without this drive salespeople typically will not consistently take the actions necessary to deliver against targets.

Talking too much and not listening enough

The ability to speak easily and confidently in a way that makes people want to listen is often associated with people who sell.  It’s easy to sit back and be seduced by a smooth talker, an engaging individual who doesn’t really need your input to hold the floor and tell you all about who they are, the features of their offering, how good their company is, the successes they have enjoyed, etc.

Today’s world of professional b2b sales requires people who listen first then talk.  They need to be able to take a prospect’s challenges and objectives and build solutions around them, not broadcast about how brilliant their solutions are, or what they are working on for other clients.  Yes you still need a sales professional who is able to engage with people, but engagement should stem from a considered tailored interaction.

There are many other characteristics that I consistently observe in poor performers – the list could be quite long, but the aforementioned are some of my main observations.

That said, poor sales performance is not solely about the quality of the sales people.  Let’s use my three points, above, and look at them from an organisational perspective:

A fundamental lack of understanding of effective sales process and methodology

Here’s a quote I used in my consulting days:

“If you pit a good performer against a bad system the system will win almost every time.  Organisations spend too much of their time trying to fix people who are not broken and not enough time on systems that are broken” 

Far too many businesses across the oil and gas sector have no clearly defined sales strategy, process and methodology.  Their ability to generate sales is 100% reliant on the talent of the individual, rather than being inherent in the organisation.  Surely it’s obvious this is a recipe for poor performance.  How can an organisation consistently succeed when it has no plan of how to do so?

Lacking in a drive for results

I have already said that to be a good sales person you need to have a strong drive for results.  This can be fostered in the individual through building a ‘results’ focussed culture, backed by targets that are clearly defined and accepted by all stakeholders.  A compensation system that is fully aligned with an individual’s success.  A minimum of monthly sales team meetings to review progress against target, gap analysis and agree actions.  Accountability for delivery against agreed actions.  These are some of the basics of effective sales management but are often completely missing from the toolkit of companies across the oil and gas sector.

Talking too much and not listening enough

Slightly more difficult to deal with this one from an organisational perspective.  This can partly be addressed by ensuring that sales people are adequately prepared for any sales call.  They should have a framework of effective questioning that is designed to uncover the prospects needs and challenges, both explicit and implicit.  They can be coached in effective listening, they can role play and they can go on joint calls with colleagues or managers that have developed this skill.

I’m not offering solutions to these issues here – this is not the place – I am merely pointing out that for (just about) every poor attribute that the sales person has there is something that the organisation can do about it.

So, back to the question.   Why is the quality of sales talent so poor in the oil and gas sector?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. The sector has often been in a situation where demand has outstripped supply and therefore businesses have not needed to be particularly effective sales organisations, they just needed good, fit for purpose products/services, and capability to deliver to the expected standard.
  2. Perhaps as a result of the above, businesses have not developed effective sales management systems. There is a general lack of structure and rigour – salespeople have become acclimatised to this and poor behaviours become the norm.
  3. There has been too much of a focus on technical knowledge in salespeople and not enough on their core sales competencies. It has been an environment that has bred technically knowledgeable salespeople with weak sales skills.
  4. There has been a fundamental lack of investment in professional sales training.
  5. Sales management has been too weak.
  6. Selection and assessment of sales candidates has lacked rigour, with the emphasis being on the size of their black book and their technical knowledge.
  7. Technical people have been put into sales roles without any training or support being provided and where there is no framework for success in terms of structure, strategy, process and tools.

Of course, none of this actually excuses the individual.  If you are a sales person then why not set out to excel at it.  Undertake your own research and learning, seek out mentors, attend seminars, study the profession.

In writing this I feared my article may be construed as somewhat negative.  Whilst it is borne out of my passion for the profession of sales, and my frustration with what I see happening, I do try to do my bit to improve things.

With this in mind if you are a sales person who wants to have a chat about what you can do to improve your sales skills then please get in touch and we can arrange to meet– all I ask is that you have a genuine desire for self-improvement.

Equally if your business is struggling with sales performance I would be happy to spend some time with you to explore your challenges and the factors that are inhibiting performance.

If you have read this far, thanks – it’s quite a long post.  I would be genuinely interested to hear others perspective on this.

Kingman Lennox are vanguards of sales talent acquisition and consulting.  Sales experts with real-world experience, shaping the sales teams of growth focused SME’s and corporates.  We help them achieve their ambitions by ensuring they have the very best sales talent, performing to full potential.

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