Five Ways to Improve Your Selling Processes

In our year-end post of 2018, we provided seven options for how sales leaders could advance transformation by evolving the elements of their sales system: operations, technology, enablement and more. We follow up in this post with a more granular look at the output those systems produce…the relationships that your sellers create with your buyers. Findings from our recently published 2019 Sales Performance Report, indicate major changes in how those relationships are acquired, grown and retained.

As we dove into this year’s data on operational metrics, we uncovered something very interesting. Although sales leaders are finding a way to make their overall numbers, their sales teams aren’t getting any better at the three leading indicators of long-term success: conversion rates, win rates and quota attainment.

Download the CSO Insights 2019 Sales Performance Report: Selling in the Age of Ceaseless Change

Are You Riding the Wave?

This seems to suggest that many sales leaders are riding the wave of a relatively good economy. While that can be fun, it’s important to keep in mind that good economies and waves have one thing in common: Eventually, they both come crashing down.

Sometimes, the decline is gradual, causing nothing more than a ripple on the shore. At other times, even solidly performing companies can quickly find themselves underwater. To stay afloat in times like these, sales leaders must find a way to improve the leading indicators of sales performance.

With the help of our study results, we’ve identified five ways that sales leaders can drive different kinds of customer relationships, rendering a more stable and sustainable model for confidently riding the highs and lows of an unpredictable market.

#1 Prioritize prospects to close more new business. Some prospects are going to be more likely to buy from you and more likely to entertain a mutually-beneficial relationship with you. But which ones? Organizations are increasingly using technology which combines real-time win-loss information with market intelligence and intent data to serve up a more laser-focused view on where to invest your above-the-funnel activities. A majority (65.4%) of those exceeding expectations at prioritizing their prospects were also confident in their ability to close new business. On the flipside, very few (9.5%) of those who assessed their prioritization efforts as needing major redesign said that closing new accounts was a strength.

#2 Work out your lead management processes. Once you identify who to go after, you need a coordinated effort to do so. It’s rare for us to run across an organization that feels they “have enough leads.” Our study identified several trouble spots when it came to lead generation. For example, our research showed that alignment between sales and marketing on what constitutes a “lead” is also getting worse. In our 2014 study, 19.3% of respondents said they had no agreed-upon definition of a lead. In 2015 and 2016, that jumped to 25.4% and 23.9% respectively. In 2017, however, it spiked at 43%. To make matters worse, only 33.9% of respondents had an agreed-upon process for lead nurturing.

#3 Get better at opportunity planning. Again technology can help, but be careful. Opportunity planning tools only help with productivity if based on a sound methodology. The strategy, reflection, revisions and actions are the key. Filling in fields on a sheet is just the documentation – not to be skipped, but not a replacement for the former. Despite decades of opportunity planning talk in sales, few organizations do it formally and consistently. Most (66.1%) agree this part of their business needs improvement or major redesign. But those who do claim this as a strength are more likely to get new logos in the door.

#4 Don’t stop with opportunity planning, you need account planning too. Once you close a deal you have to keep adding value and exceeding expectations if you want customers to become loyal and long-term. While there is much talk of the challenges in balancing new account acquisition and post-sales account management, our study found no correlation between spending more time with accounts post-sale and improved expansion or retention. It’s not the time spent. It’s how you spend that time. Formal account management (which yes, includes a plan) was associated with stronger abilities to expand accounts for the longer-term.

#5 Align your processes to your customers’ path. What we’ve mapped out in the first four is a seller’s roadmap. But it can’t be exclusively a seller framework or point of view. With easy access to information and more complex buying habits, buyers are more informed, more experienced and less open to guidance than ever before. The highest performing organizations in our study had the tightest alignment between the customer’s path and their selling processes, with the customer’s path being the defining element. That is to say that whatever you do for prospecting, market outreach, opportunity management and account management, it needs to be from the point of view of the customer experience and their path to making decisions and gaining business results.

Questions to ask

  • What do our conversion rates tell us about the quality of leads we are pursuing? Are we spending our time with prospects who are likely to buy?
  • How defined is the process (metrics, milestones, handoffs) between sales, marketing, sales development reps (SDRs)? How aligned is our definition of a lead? A qualified lead?
  • How formal is our approach to opportunity and account management?
  • How do we measure success of such disciplines?


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