Focus On World-Class, Part 2: Why Are Some Of Your Salespeople So Successful?

In this 12-part series, each post examines one of the 12 best practices identified in the 2017 CSO Insights World-Class Sales Practices Report. Today’s best practice: “We continually assess why our top performers are successful.”

Every sales organization knows who the top salespeople are, and it makes perfect sense to identify why they’re successful. But how often does this really happen? More than 90% of World-Class performers follow this practice. However, as the graphic shows, a great many of the respondents in our survey are missing this opportunity to improve.

Best Practices—or Best Opinions?

There are at least a couple wrinkles to embracing this practice. First, to quote W.Edwards Deming, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” When looking at, or for, best practices to share across your sales team, having data rather than opinions is hugely important. Where does the data come from? It comes from keeping track of salesperson activities against a documented sales process.

You could just ask each stellar seller the secret of their success… but they often don’t know themselves. They may attribute it to activities that, when measured, do not prove to be central or essential. The only way to really know is to keep track, and your CRM system can help you do so.

Let’s suppose that part of your sales process is to confirm appointments two days in advance. If the reps doing this >90% of the time have sales cycles two weeks shorter than reps doing this <25% of the time, you would have a correlation. (Correlation is not causation, but it does represent a data point.)

Real-World Example

We worked with a North American company that manufactured power generating equipment. In conducting a workshop to identify best practices, we’d ask what the practice was, then rate how frequently it was done and the level of effort to do it, to determine its value (1= low to 10 = awesome).

Some practices are easy and, therefore, frequently done, but aren’t that impactful (e.g., sending out blast emails to a territory = 1). A successful rep shared a best practice he used, which was an “unsolicited proposal.” He kept his own records and reported, “When I do this, I get unforecasted revenue 60% of the time.” Given that ancillary equipment sales could run into millions of dollars, this was hugely valuable.

Our question (to which management was keenly awaiting the answer) was, “So you do this all the time?” No, he replied, “about 5% of the time. It’s too hard,”

What made it hard was not knowing when a power plant was planning a shutdown; by the time he heard of this, he’d have to scramble to get a proposal together. We asked, “Does anyone know earlier when shutdowns are scheduled?” The services manager said, “Sure, we do.” So they agreed to notify the sales team a few months in advance when plants in their territory were going to be pulled offline.

Now the rep we’d been talking to said he would do it 10% of the time. Because it was still too hard.

Knowing when a plant was going to be shut down made it easier, but he still had to determine what was installed at the plant, how long it had been in service, what problems had been reported, etc. It took a lot of time and energy. We asked, “Does anyone know what equipment your customers have installed?” The warranty/maintenance folks said, “Sure, we do,” and it was agreed on the spot they could provide this information in advance as well.

A hugely valuable best practice then became baked into their sales process because others in the organization could help make the effort easier. But it started with a guy having his own data on hit rates, added revenue, and frequency.

Share My Secret Sauce?

Many firms don’t continually assess what their top performers are doing because they’re afraid these high performing reps won’t want to share. If you encounter this resistance, there’s another Top 12 practice concerning your culture we’ll be writing about Sept 21st.


Related links:

Focus on World-Class, Part 1: Solutions Aligned to Needs

Sales Process Introduction

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