The annual Miller Heiman 2011 Sales Best Practices Study identifies the common characteristics of “world class” sales organisations - qualities that enable them to achieve a 20% higher year-on-year growth in key revenue-related metrics than other respondents in the study. So what does it take to become “world class”?
Miller Heiman identified 12 key initiatives that serve to increase the number of qualified leads generated, new accounts acquired, customer retention rates, sales person productivity, sales forecast accuracy and average quota achievement.
What Makes Your Top Performers Successful?
One factor in particular caught my eye: organisations that were able to increase sales person productivity did so by understanding why their top performers were successful.
This is feels intuitively obvious, but is harder than it might first appear. It’s easy to work out who has sold the most or has the best quota achievement. But - as Miller Heiman point out - understanding the reasons behind their success isn’t as simple as asking top performers why they are successful. Chances are they may not have an easy answer or if they do it will be incomplete.
Observing Winning Behaviour
Observing your top performer’s patterns of behaviour can help to isolate and identify “winning habits”. I’ve found it very helpful to compare the progress of their sales opportunities from stage to stage through the sales pipeline, and to identify how long deals take to move through each stage, and what proportion of them fall out.
The Importance of Qualification
Your results may vary, but in many of the situations I observe, top performers take their time over deal qualification. They are more selective about which deals they choose to focus on. They qualify out more aggressively, and their remaining opportunities typically flow faster through the pipeline as a consequence. They also tend to lose far fewer deals late on in the sales process (whether to a competitor or to “no decision”) than their colleagues.
In contrast, their average colleagues often seemed to rush through the sales qualification stage, anxious to get stuck into the “real selling”. As a result, many of their deals were poorly qualified. Their opportunities tended to get stuck in the middle of the sales pipeline, lacking any real momentum to drive them forwards. So it should be no surprise that an uncomfortably large number of their deals drop out late in the day, after a lot of wasted effort had been expended.
So, my first recommendation is to carefully observe the qualification criteria your top performers apply to their sales opportunities. Be aware that many of the factors often turn out to be quite subtle, but have a high predictive value. Scratch below the surface. Find out what questions they ask of their prospects. Get your top performers to try and articulate what gives them the “gut feeling” about the probability of an opportunity turning into a sale.
Effective Sales Tools
I’d also recommend that you seek to understand which sales tools your top performers choose to use at each stage of the sales process. Don’t be too surprised if they turn out to have developed many of them for themselves, or have heavily adapted the ones created by the marketing department.
And don’t be surprised if it turns out that many - maybe a majority - of your corporate sales tools and collateral turn out to have no valuable role to play in supporting your top performer’s sales process. Take that learning, and share it with the rest of the sales team - and insist that, the next time marketing decides to come up with another new piece, they co-design it with some of your more effective sales people.
Last, but by no means least, apply what you’ve learned about your top sales performers to your sales recruitment process. Be clear about the qualities, attitudes and attributes you are looking for. Don’t rely on CVs or references. Find ways of testing prospective sales people in realistic sales scenarios before you make the decision to hire.
Top Performers are Born and Made
My conclusion? Top sales performers are both born with the right raw talent and developed through effective sales training and support systems. If you recruit intelligently, and develop diligently, you’ll have the basis for a world class sales organisation.
The Right Business Model
Top talent thrives within an effective business model. You might like to download a copy of our latest guide to building scalable, effective business models here. Please let me know what you think - are there other ways you have found effective in maximising the potential of your sales organisation?