I was on a call with a senior executive from a leading financial services firm recently, walking him through the findings of our latest research on the 'Top-Performing Sales Organisation'.
We were about halfway through the call, when he interrupted me, and said, "Ago. Just tell me: what's the silver bullet? What's the ONE thing we should be doing right now to improve sales performance?"
His question stopped me in my tracks.
Let me explain: normally, I'm all about focus. About finding one thing, one aspect, one dimensions we can tweak that will have a substantial impact on everything else.
Unfortunately, that approach does not always work.
Improving sales performance is never about one thing - it's about building and maintaining a finely tuned machine. It's never finished. And it's not down to finding a single, silver bullet.
In our research, we've found there are 8 areas where top performing sales organisations (we call them 'Elite') outperform their peers. That's not to say they outperform them in all areas; but collectively, they do a better job across all areas than their peers.
Unfortunately, roughly 9 out of 10 organisations are not in that 'Elite' category. Meaning they could do with some improvements across one or more of the following areas.
In our experience at RAIN Group, when sales performance isn't where you want it to be, it's typically down to failing across one or more of these 8 areas.
Your strategy is undefined, unclear, or unfocused
Any commercial organisation should have a clearly defined strategy, that is to say a clear idea of how they go to market, how they deliver value to customers, which things take priority over others and which pricing strategy they pursue.
Unfortunately, in many organisations, this strategy is either undefined (meaning it's all over the place), unclear (meaning it's not made explicit, and/or exists only in the minds of a few individuals) or unfocused (meaning it's open for interpretation and shifts with the prevailing winds).
You don't have enough structure in your sales organisation
Most organisations have organised themselves according to some elements of structure, but rarely do they have all their ducks in a row.
Elite organisations structure their sales force to capture maximum revenue and margin. Whether it's inside sales, outside sales, hybrid models or working through channel partners, they make strategic choices around how to structure their sales force.
They also design territories to capture maximum revenue from a given market. And put clear rules in place around the assignment of territory, accounts and leads. Finally, they're completely clear on sales compensation, aligning pay with performance every step of the way. No exceptions.
Your operations don't support maximum performance
Does your organisation set clear quotas? What about forecasting? Reporting? Accountability from sellers?
What about all of the above, integrated in a seamless and transparent process that runs smoothly, day in day out?
Elite performers have sales operations down to a T. Do you?
Sales enablement is lagging behind
Where lack of operations maturity makes sales organisations inefficient, a lack of sales enablement ensures they are much less effective than they could be.
In other words, where sales operations is all about efficiency (doing things right), sales enablement is about effectiveness (doing the right things).
This means coaching and managing sellers effectively. Having a mature, well-organised and smooth-running sales process and method. And having the tools, technology and resources to drive sales performance.
You don’t have enough real sales talent
Sales is all about people. And the individual seller has a disproportionate impact on the likelihood of every single sale happening - or not.
Beyond the individuals in the sales force, sales management and leadership have massive impact on the performance of the sales organisation.
When it comes to talent management, ask yourself: do we have quality people in the sales organisation? In the right roles? With the right competencies? How good are we at recruiting them ? Selection and role assignment? Onboarding?
You're not developing the talent that you do have
The lowest score for The Rest across 75 factors that we studied in our Top-Performing Sales Organisation Benchmark Report was for sales training effectiveness. Only 14% of most companies believe they have very or extremely effective sales training.
This is clearly an area where most organisations fall short.
Once you've recruited, selected, hired and onboarded sales talent, you'll need to invest in building their skills, knowledge and attributes.
Which brings me to my next point.
Your salesforce does not have the required skillset
Sales isn't magic. And salespeople aren't wizards.
Show me a great sales professional, and I'll show you a sales pro who has invested the required time, energy and resources to become great.
Individual sellers need to possess the skills to fill the pipeline, drive opportunities forward, close deals and grow accounts. Sales managers need to be able to manage (don't laugh - less than 50% of even Top-Performing Organisations have sales managers with the skills they need to manage their teams), motivate sellers, coach and help them round out their skillset.
Building seller knowledge and expertise isn't optional - it's required. If you want to build a top-performing sales organisation, you'll need to invest in formal sales education, training, coaching and development to help both sellers and sales managers build their skillset, knowledge and expertise.
You don't motivate your sales force (well) enough
The conventional wisdom is that sellers are motivated by money. While this is often the case, there’s a lot more to the story. Sellers can be motivated by many factors: recognition, advancement, winning (not necessarily related to money), personal development, and a host of other factors.
To optimise your sales force, you need to have a highly motivated team bringing their 'A game' day in and day out.
This motivation comes from your culture, company, management, intrinsic motivators and execution - getting things done.
Building a high-performance sales organisation is tough - really tough. You can excel in all but one of these areas, and still not see the outcomes you should (and could) be seeing.
But here's the good news: if you can improve even a little bit across each of these, you'll create a virtuous circle of growth that will propel you forward towards ever-increasing revenues, margins and market share.
By Ago Cluytens is Practice Director EMEA at RAIN Group, and a recognised global B2B sales thought leader on understanding the buyer's perspective in sales, Insight Selling and selling to the C-suite. You can learn more about Ago, read his blog, and watch him in action or connect on Twitter, Linkedin and Google+