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National  + Finance  | 
Harvard Business School's Frank Cespedes says the bar is constantly being raised in sales

Walker Webcast: Harvard’s Frank Cespedes on How the Sales Game Keeps Changing 

“Sales is the most context-specific activity in the so-called value chain,” Frank Cespedes said on this week’s Walker Webcast. At the same, though, it’s the activity where people feel most comfortable about making generalizations, often to their detriment. 

Senior lecturer of business administration at Harvard Business School and author or co-author of seven books including the recently published Sales Management That Works: How to Sell in a World That Never Stops Changing, Cespedes delved into topics ranging from hiring to strategy. Along the way, he shed light on a number of misconceptions surrounding the sales process. 

In most companies, said Cespedes, marketing and sales are managed the way they should have been managed five years ago. CEOs often make decisions based on an obsolete view of the current market. 

Understanding current market conditions means understanding the buyer, and answering the question, “What do I know about their current buying journey?” That includes having a clear view of the factors that shape buying decisions.  

Among those factors is the power of digital media. Yet Cespedes cautioned against relying too heavily on its effect or misunderstanding it. As a case in point, the typical car buyer today will spend 12 hours online researching price, features and specs, compared to just a few hours in the showroom. Yet in the vast majority of car sales it’s in the showroom that the buyer makes the actual purchase, and that held true even at the height of the pandemic, Cespedes told Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker. 

In turn, the role of the salesperson in that showroom has changed. No longer the buyer’s sole source of information, he or she needs to rely on other techniques to close the sale. 

“Talent matters in sales,” and in terms of generating revenue, an organization’s top salespeople will be several orders of magnitude above the mediocre ones, Cespedes said. However, innate selling ability doesn’t mean the salesperson will succeed regardless of the setting. Although skills matter in sales success, so do internal relationships within the organization.  

Cespedes disagreed with the truism that an organization’s culture eats strategy for breakfast. Rather, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said. 

For both salespeople and the senior management that will hire them, “The bar is always rising,” said Cespedes. The basic attributes of an effective salesperson still matter, but now they’re just the baseline, and there may be many other skills that need to be layered onto those fundamentals. This bar-raising will only intensify over time as new demands are placed on the sales team. 

On-demand replays of the Jan. 26 webcast are available by clicking here and through Walker & Dunlop’s Driven by Insight podcast series.

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Walker & Dunlop’s WalkerHarvard Business School's Cespedes

About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

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