Five 2020 New Year’s Resolutions for Chief Sales Officers
Dec 17 2019
The 2019 calendar year (and for many, the fiscal year) is coming to an end. Looking to 2020, we are conscious of the fact that sales executives may be facing a more uncertain selling environment. Impending elections and policy decisions around the world have some countries and sectors slowing down, and there is a bit of a question as to how it will all work out. That being said, sales has never been – and will never be – easy. So what should a sales leader do to get ready for next year?
Culling through the year’s findings, insights and 125+ published research assets, we found several initiatives that should top the list for sales executives’ attention and commitment in 2020:
1. Pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses in your sales system.
One of the more interesting findings, detailed in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study, was an inconsistency among the operational metrics we track annually. On the upside, both revenue attainment and quota attainment (after bottoming out in 2016) increased from 2016 to 2019; however, the upstream metrics of win rates and conversion rates remained flat. And yet other leading KPIs — client retention, seller retention, customer relationship depth and seller behaviors — declined.
What we uncovered in our studies was that over the past two years, many sales organizations have added sellers, tools and investments to increase coverage and take advantage of a positive market (10% GDP growth globally during the same period). Of course, this is not a sustainable approach, and any market slowdown will make it immediately unfeasible. Leaders will need to look at the inner workings of their sales systems to diagnose what is dampening performance and what can be done to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
2. Rethink what you mean by “sales.”
Another trend we saw across our studies was the impact of aligning to the way your target customer segments prefer to do business, work to solve their problems, and build and maintain relationships. Sales organizations that formally anchored their selling and servicing processes to this customer path were vastly more successful than those that had a disconnected approach, resulting in an additional 11.8% in quota attainment.
But sales process is just one piece of the puzzle. In a given business situation, a buyer will interact with sales development representatives, direct sellers, channel partners, service providers, customer success and more. All of those processes need to align to the customer path. And all of those functions need to operate from a common data set, value messaging and language. Less than 35% of organizations agree that their sales, marketing and customer service teams are aligned around the customer. In 2020, sales executives will need to be more conscious of how sales fits into the larger customer picture.
3. Fuse your disparate sales tech stack.
Our (soon to be published) 2nd Annual Sales Operations and Technology Study highlighted a continued move toward sales technology tools, more experimentation with AI and a greater focus on data. In 2020, sales executives need to invest in integrating all of these often-disparate components. It’s apparent that there are lots of sales tech platforms in use (10 tools per organization, on average, with four more on the way); however, most sales organizations (78%) lack confidence that their sales tech stack adequately addresses their selling challenges. Most of them (70%) lack the unified data strategy required to optimize those tools and take advantage of AI algorithms.
It’s the CSO who needs to own such a strategy and connect data sources across the enterprise. Modern sales operations functions own fleshing out the details of the strategy, maintaining the tech stack and managing the data – acting as an analytics hub for the organization. There is a lot of buzz around AI, and its potential is dramatic, but to truly mine the potential in 2020, leaders need to focus on infrastructure and data strategy, not just on shiny new applications.
4. Scrutinize sales talent while market conditions are right.
Lots of things become more challenging when there is disruption in the market, but one thing that often improves is voluntary attrition. In 2019, sales organizations targeted an average of 9% growth in sellers, aggressively competing for talent and driving up costs. In more challenging markets, open positions are fewer, and competition for open roles is higher among candidates. Sales organizations can be pickier with their hires, gain talent more cost effectively and worry less about voluntary attrition – but only if they have done the work to put an integrated talent strategy in place.
Such a strategy paints a clear picture of what success looks like, where to invest to improve current capability and how to predict new-hire success. Few organizations (32%) have such a strategy, and even fewer (24%) regularly leverage formalized assessments to make such decisions based on data science. 2020 is a good time to revisit the talent approach.
5. Aim high when it comes to Sales Enablement.
We’ve talked a lot in this blog about processes, strategies and technologies, but all of those things don’t matter without the people to execute and utilize them. That’s where enablement comes in. Our studies found sales enablement to be at a “plateau;” while penetration is broad, it has not grown over the past year. At the same time, a concerningly large proportion of organizations (72.5%) revealed that their sales enablement functions were not meeting the majority of their expectations. This is not unexpected in a maturing discipline; however, stagnating at this plateau is not an option.
To live up to its potential, enablement needs to occupy a unique space. It needs to be able to impact performance in a way that sales training alone or content marketing alone could not. Sales leaders should consider whether they are establishing specific enough business plans for sales enablement, with realistic and trackable metrics of leading indicators.
Along with your typical resolutions of eating healthy and getting more exercise, consider which of these business resolutions you may want to add to your list. If 2020 does turn out to be a turbulent year (or at least more challenging than 2019), we should keep in mind that those are the kinds of years that grow the gaps between World-Class sales organizations and their peers.
Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2020. Happy Holidays and Happy Selling!
–Your friends at CSO Insights