UK economic growth has outperformed all expectations this year. The country is on course to record a fourth successive quarter of expansion, unemployment is falling faster than forecast and the manufacturing and services sectors are growing strongly. Meanwhile, more sales leads and opportunities to close deals are appearing.
It’s all welcome news. But question marks about sales targets and performances are emerging, new research has revealed.
The latest quarterly survey of sales teams across the UK – the BMS Sales Index by BMS Sales Specialists – shows nine-out-of-ten sales leaders are now reconsidering what a “good” performance means.
The development is inevitable. During the downturn, sales teams could be forgiven for lukewarm leads, longer cycles and fewer closed deals as customers stopped buying and businesses chose to bank money rather than reinvest.
But with the economic optimism – and the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) forecasting a rise in business investment – sales have again become the priority for businesses.
Around 85% of survey respondents felt renewed confidence would result in more leads. And more than two-thirds expected these to translate into business within the next three months.
Good not good enough
So what was once considered a “good” sales performance is no longer good enough. Teams are now expected to drive growth. The research found 41% of companies expect much of this growth to come from new customers. Around 55% of sales leaders now plan to restructure their teams. This means staff being shifted from account-management functions to business development – targeting new customers and sectors, new products and services.
Different skill sets are therefore required. Accordingly, the survey found 64% of firms are increasing sales training. And 33% are implementing more lucrative bonus schemes.
But with sales leaders demanding the conversion of new business leads within the next quarter, proven experience is needed. That means taking on new talent. The survey revealed 25% of employers will increase recruitment during the next three months. And the survey showed vacancy growth up almost 1% on the same period in 2012.
However, recruiting in the current climate is not proving easy for two thirds of companies surveyed. And 48% don’t expect better quality talent to return to the market. When the very best candidates – those able to develop relationships and close deals – do become available, it’s not for long.
Finding the right candidate is not the only challenge for recruiters. Two thirds said losing talent after the interview process had been a major challenge since the beginning of 2013. To blame are counter offers from employers, long recruitment processes, or the primary reason, pay expectations that outpace those being offered by employers.
Power to the people
As the economy grows, the pendulum of power in the job market is swinging back towards candidates. Staff retention has become an issue. Indeed, over two third of recruiters acknowledged the risk of top performers moving on. But there are further staffing issues emerging.
Anecdotally, we hear the lack of investment in junior sales talent during the downturn, particularly in graduates, is biting. There’s now a dearth of candidates with 3-5 years experience. Companies are addressing this by training raw talent, even from outside core sectors. Achieving the balance between attracting experienced candidates on higher salaries with those that require training is the key.
Overall, the research demonstrates that with an improving recovery comes reassessments and difficult decisions for sales leaders: What are acceptable levels or sales performance? How to ensure teams meet them? But if these challenges are the price of a full economic recovery, all of us in the sector will be happy to take them on.