78% of All Sales Statistics Are Made Up

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“Ninety percent of all sales people never bother to ask for the business.”

Fact?

It’s actually a wry quote from Lee Iacocca! But you’d never know, because the promotional copy for a book, Taking No for an Answer: All You Need to Know About Sales and Life, proclaims it without attribution. Control C/ Control V/ Fact! Statistics are just one of many online commodities with unclear provenance.

I searched for the origin of “Ninety percent of marketing deliverables are not used by sales”, and found three: The American Marketing Association, an e-book by Jeff Ernst, titled The New Rules of Sales Enablement, and a video from the Earnest Agency.

It’s easier to accept statistical assertions when the statements corroborate our experience. No need to dig deeper. Do some salespeople routinely squander golden opportunities to ask for an order? Who would argue? Are some marketing materials a waste of time and money? No doubt. But attaching percentages pushes the credibility envelope when they’re accompanied by vagueness, such as “studies show . . .” and “experts say . . .”

But wait, there’s more:

“65% of a sales rep’s time is spent NOT selling.”

“The top 26% (of salespeople) have the ability to engage their prospects earlier, redirect their prospects backward in the sales process, position themselves as trusted advisers, and differentiate themselves from their competitors.”

“Over thirty percent of all sales people quit or are released within 18 months.”

“Eighty percent of all sales people still do about 20 percent of the business.”

“It’s estimated that 15 percent of all sales people capture a staggering 70 percent of the business!”

“The reason 78% of all sales people fail, or fail to reach their sales objective is due to
a lack of planning.”

“Forty-eight percent of all sales people give up after the first contact and 90 percent quit after the fourth attempt, just a step or two away from the sale.”

“Approximately 35 percent of all sales people across every industry struggle with social self-consciousness.”

It’s hard to know what to believe. Even when an originator is cited, the specific study he or she conducted usually isn’t. And isolating “all salespeople . . . ” isn’t really isolating. In 2006, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that out of 132,600,000 US workers, 10,464,000 were in “Sales and related” jobs—about 8% of the workforce. So when you read “approximately 35 percent of all sales people across every industry struggle with social self-consciousness,” that’s 3,662,400–give or take. With that many timid salespeople, no wonder that “44% of sales reps fail to make quota and nearly a third of sales organizations fail to achieve their sales plan.” But let’s not jump to conclusions!

Confusion extends beyond unclear credibility. Fuzzwords are rampant. There are dozens of ways to interpret “Ninety percent of marketing deliverables are not used by sales,” depending on the meanings assigned to marketing deliverables, used, and sales. Cause for alarm? I don’t know. And before anyone gets all hot and bothered over that factoid, Hello! Isn’t it way more useful to know what customers and prospects find valuable? Based on this alleged data, we’d likely slash the marketing budget. But we wouldn’t buy lunch at the corner deli if the words on the menu were comparably blurry. How ironic.

If you look closely, there’s enlightenment in statistics promulgated online, but then I wonder . . . compared to what? If “over thirty percent of all sales people quit or are released within 18 months,” how does that compare to professional software developers? Or Fortune 500 CEO’s? Is the figure emblematic of mobility in the sales profession? Or failure? It’s hard to say, but the percentage, by itself, provides little insight.

Call me skeptical. Anytime I read or hear a statistic, I think about who shared it, and why.

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