Today's post is by Alyson Brandt, president of Fusion Learning USA.
Brilliance is often the result of unexpected elements. Breathtaking works of art can be defined more by negative space than imagery. Genius musical composers are recognizable as much for the notes they skip as for the ones they play.
We recently set out to identify what the best sales organizations do. Like great artists, sculptors, or musicians, the best sales organizations surprised us with the unexpected.
To qualify as “Best,” sales organizations must have attained 110+ percent of revenue plan with 70+ percent of salespeople at or above plan. Eight percent of the 191 responses qualified as Best. And, though we expected them to have superior sales forces, the Best sales teams’ capabilities (e.g., prospecting or negotiation) were exactly the same as the average sales team. Both the average and Best sales teams’ capabilities scored 5.8 out of 10 – not exactly scores to write home about.
The unexpected elements did not end there. The Best and Average sales organizations took similar approaches to compensation, onboarding, and the use of effective business processes.
So, how do the Best companies get more from their people? Where do they focus?
Sales leaders at the Best organizations do three things differently:
They have a clear sales strategy. 87.5 percent of the Best sales organizations have a clear plan and strategy, while only 77 percent of the Average ones do. The strategy is both formalized and published, and does not change a lot. Each team member can articulate it. They can link their personal objectives to strategic goals. Salespeople get the “What’s in it for me or my customers?” They use the strategy to make smart trade-off decisions and to drive toward individual and collective goals.
Their sales culture is strong. The Best sales organizations’ cultures scored at least 7.6, while the score for Average organizations was 5.9. High performing sales cultures are those in which people are engaged and happy. They understand the current state and are clear on expectations and standards. Importantly, these are learning organizations. They invest in talent development and ongoing coaching.
They drive accountability through activities and results. The Best sales organizations rate their leaders at 8.2 out of 10 (vs. 6.7 for Average organizations) on driving accountability through activities and results. The combination of the two – activities and results – is key. Many sales managers in Average performing organizations have a laser-beam focus on revenue. But the Best leaders look at leading indicators as well as results. Indicators such as prospecting activities, number of customer meetings, and number of relationships formed in target organizations are key to sustainable and predictable results.
One way to build a strong culture and drive strategic accountability is to focus on participation rate – the percentage of salespeople at or above plan. Teams with a 70+ percent participation rate have a 60 percent chance of hitting their goal. But teams with a 60 percent participation rate have a 10 percent probability of hitting plan.
Several traps conspire against a strong participation rate. Some sales leaders lean on star performers. But what happens when a high performer leaves? Others are reluctant to manage out moderate performers. Doing so leaves a coverage gap and hinders the ability to hit revenue targets. But to unlock high performance, sales leaders cannot accept mediocrity in individual performance. Nor can they remain in their comfortable role as “deal maker.” They must manage their entire team’s performance. Helping everyone meet their goals enables sustainable and predictable performance.
Clearly, our data support our saying, “If you only had one dollar to invest, spend it on sales leaders.” And, although our research did not reveal a difference between the Best and Average teams’ capabilities, imagine the possibility of having capable sales leaders and improved sales team capabilities. This double-pronged, systemic approach would result in a nearly unbeatable sales organization.