Most sales managers have a pretty clear sense of who their top sales performers are. But according to the latest Miller-Heiman study, few companies make a systematic attempt to learn from their success or to transfer their winning habits across the rest of their sales organisation.
The conclusions of the 2011 Miller-Heiman Sales Best Practices Study make for some pretty shocking reading. Only 38% of all respondents claimed to know why their top performers were successful – and only 25% claimed to leverage the best practices of their top performers to improve everyone else.
The Gap Between World Class and the Rest
Contrast these figures with those achieved by “world class” sales organisations (the subset of companies who consistently performed at least 20% above average across a variety of key sales performance metrics). Their figures in the above two areas were 94% and 95% respectively.
It’s clear that world class sales organisations do a much better job of systematically learning from their top sales performers than their also-ran competitors, and that the processes they have implemented – spanning recruitment, induction and sales enablement – provide a sustainable platform for lasting competitive advantage.
What Can You Learn From Their Experience?
Careful observation of the behaviours of your top sales performers can help you to build a “winning habits” model that can be shared across your whole sales organisation. Here are some of the things you might want to explore:
- How do your top performers spend their time, and how does this compare to the rest of the sales organisation?
- What criteria do your top performers use to qualify their sales opportunities – and how does this differ from your average performers?
- What approach do your top performers use in their introductory and subsequent sales calls?
- What questions do your top performers find most effective in their conversations with prospects?
- What stories, anecdotes and case studies do they use to help put their point across?
- How do they use company resources in support of their sales activities?
- How do they structure their account plans and sales campaigns?
- What criteria do they use when forecasting sales opportunities?
You’ll probably be able to identify other behavioural differences. But you would be an unusual company if you couldn’t identify a few consistent factors that separate your top performers from the rest of the team.
Some of these might appear to be explainable only as innate, untrainable gifts. But almost all of the winning behaviours will turn out to be developable through the appropriate training, coaching and mentoring, and sales enablement programmes.
Observe Industry Best Practice
In addition to the winning behaviours that you observe in your own top sales performers, you can learn a great deal by looking at industry best practice. There are a number of organisations who can help – one that springs most strongly to mind is the highly respected CSO Insights, who have a multi-year track record of surveying and sharing key sale behaviours and metrics.
Other research has shown – for example – that top sales performers typically tend to spend more time in the early stages of the sales cycle than their less effective colleagues, recognising that good qualification and a comprehensive discovery process can pay dividends further down the funnel in terms of higher win rates, shorter decision cycles and more accurate deal forecasting.
Create a Winning Habits Programme
Just like sales training, implementing a winning habits programme across your sales organisation is not a one-time event. It requires that you establish mechanisms for the continuous discovery and sharing of the latest best practices. But – as Miller-Heiman prove with their data, the effort will undoubtedly be worthwhile.
Something as simple as capturing and sharing the anecdotes and stories that are so often a key part of the winning behaviours of top performers can make a key difference to the quality and effectiveness of all sales conversations. Sharing key qualification criteria and “ideal prospect profiles” is another simple but effective technique.
Finally, if you develop a clearer understanding of the common characteristics of your top sales performers, you will undoubtedly be able to recruit better – and to quickly identify candidates whose past behaviour suggest that they may lack the raw material to be a future sales superstar.
A Systematic Approach
By the way, if like the idea of taking a systematic approach to improving your sales performance, I’d like to suggest that you download our latest guide to the D3ARE framework – an evidence based approach which encapsulates all we’ve learned over the years from top sales organisations.