Sales people need to be multi talented. This is confirmed in our recent survey which shows top and below budget sales performers place only slight differences in the priority of different attributes. The key difference is seen in their ability to execute as reported by their Sales Mangers.
The Key Performance Sales survey was conducted from June to August 2012. We invited business to business sales people and managers to complete a short on line survey. Respondents were categorised according to if they had achieved or not achieved their budget in the last quarter. We looked at what factors they reported as contributing to their success or failure. These factors were compared to manager’s views on top sales achievers compared to underachievers. Little difference was reported by sales people on what helps them to succeed. We have considered the results as reported and compared them to our observations working with Sales leaders and people across a wide range of different industries.
Top performers do not rely solely on product uniqueness or price to exceed budgets. These high achievers see unique product or service offering along with customer relationships as components that help them win deals. They also rated technical knowledge, understanding of their customers business, and confidence in their own selling skills and negotiate deals as equally important. They had a wide range of skills to draw on. They placed more emphasis on their ability to negotiate flexible deals than their underperforming colleagues.
Top performers were viewed by their managers as being better at building relationships with customers. They were also far more likely to include other people as part of the deal, to work as a team.
As one top performer said “I tend to involve other colleagues from other departments to offer a complete service offering in order to stand out from competitors and to leverage key strengths of our organisation”
Poor performers were far less likely to prospect for new customers, being more reliant on existing customers. They placed more importance on their relationship with customers to help them to win deals than did top performers. 20% of those not achieving budgets reported being personal friends with their customers compared to 10% of those who achieved or exceeded their budgets. This finding supports our observations working with many NZ sales teams and global research that indicates relying on good relationships is limiting. Sales people who rely on relationships are less able to be impartial, more likely to be swayed by the customer and to negotiate away margin. These friendly contacts are often not just our friend, but are friendly with our competitors too. So we may not have the inside running we expect and perhaps are relying on. Less confident sales people often ignore the tougher individuals within their customer base. Those who challenge sales people and the status quo in their organisations can end up being our best advocates. Their challenges help us to refine our offer and approach. Once past these hurdles the path to getting the deal signed may be quicker and easier. To grow sales people we need to equip them to have the tough conversations with the tough customers, and then see the difference in results.
Contrary to what we may read in the media, sales people and their managers do not blame the economy as a key reason for losing deals.
Failure to meet customers’ needs and other factors within customers business were cited as the key reasons deals were lost (34%). These factors impacted more than price (22%) or competitor’s activity (27%). There was a strong consensus that customer’s timeframes are the primary determinant of how long deals sit in the sales pipeline. We observe clients who implement a selection criteria to vet and prioritise opportunities able to focus more on winnable deals that and increase their sales success rate and pace.
Of concern is the extent to which other factors impact on the speed of sale. While unanticipated events can occur we speculate that this may indicate a lack of awareness about the customers’ business. As one person said, failed deals are typically because “Our offer and value solution not aligned to client objectives. “ We question why a deal would be submitted that is not aligned to the customer’s objectives. This may be due to lack of awareness until after the deal is lost. We frequently observe sales people relying on one or two supportive or coach style contacts and failing to connect with senior people in other parts of the business. Often conversation is limited to product specifications. Lack of awareness of broader customer issues and drivers gives to a distorted view of the opportunity. The high impact of competitor activity causing deals to be lost, suggests that they have knowledge that your sales person does not have, so are able to secure the deal. The competitor is often the incumbent. There needs to be a clear business reason to make an organisation change supplier, uncover find the reasons and you have a increased chance of avoiding the sales pipeline drag and drop trap.
This survey supports our view that effective sales people are those who have a wide range of skills and resources to call on. They are able to be flexible and adaptable, using not only their own resources but connecting with others inside their own business and across their customers business to help win deals. Less successful sales people seem to rely more heavily on one or two attributes that give them their success. It is important therefore to expose your sales people to a wide range of selling and negotiation skills. It is encouraging to see that all sales manager regard development of their team as important. They will be investing their time to coach and using in house and external training to grow the ability of their sales people. The ROI for sales development is clear. Improve the breadth of selling and negotiation skills your sales people use to execute deals and the result will be winning more of the deals you want.