Reversing the Decline: How are we going to boost sales performance in 2010?


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CSO Insights recently released their annual Sales Performance Optimisation study – and the results make for sobering reading. Their global survey of more than 2,800 companies revealed dramatic declines in average sale performance.

According to CSO Insights, the percentage of reps making quota fell from 58.8% to 51.8%, and overall revenue attainment vs. plan dropped from 85.9% to 77.9%.  At the same time, lead generation budgets were being frozen or reduced in more than two-thirds of the companies surveyed, training budgets fell, and investments in sales enablement technologies were curtailed. 

You can’t cut your way to success…

As CSO Insights point out, most firms increased sales quotas from 2008-2009 – and then tried to “cut their way to success” by reducing budgets – a strategy that has manifestly failed.  85% of the firms surveyed have now raised sales quotas again for 2010, without significantly changing their behaviour.  You’ve got to wonder whether they are about to have a Groundhog Day experience.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  Now, I’m not arguing that organisations thoughtlessly throw money at the problem – but I believe the only way that companies are going to dig themselves out of this hole is to get smart and have a ground-up rethink of the sales and marketing process from the buyer’s perspective and eliminate anything that isn’t creating customer value.

Eliminating wasted effort…

It’s not as if there isn’t a lot of well-meaning but wasted effort that could be redirected.  The American Marketing Association, in a series of studies, concluded that between 80-90% of all sales collateral played no useful role in the buying process.  Frequent failures to get marketing and sales organisations to agree what constitutes a “sales ready lead” cause similarly dramatic wastes of money and effort.  Investing huge amounts of effort on deals that at the end of the day decide to do nothing is a third example. You can probably think of many others.

I’m going to suggest that it’s time to take an evidence-based approach that clearly defines the characteristics of your most valuable prospects, identifies their most pressing challenges and aligns them with your most powerful capabilities.  But perhaps most important, it’s time to align the sales and marketing process around a deep and profound understanding of how and why your potential customers choose to buy.

Step into your prospects’ shoes…

How would they describe their problems or challenges?  What triggers their search for a solution?  Who do they trust when they are looking for advice?  What are the key steps they follow in their buying journey, how can you determine what stage they have reached, and what can you do to persuade them to move forward with you?  Equally important, what might be holding them back, and what can you do to remove any barriers that might lie in their way?

Armed with these insights, you can focus your efforts on connecting with the right sort of prospects, and on doing the things that are most valuable to them in their buying process.  You can concentrate on the issues that really matter to them, and be in a better position to qualify out prospects that are not right for you (or you for them) far earlier in the cycle, and redirect your efforts towards more profitable activity.

Have intelligent conversations…

You can also equip your sales people to have intelligent conversations with informed prospects, to ask diagnostic questions that reveal the true cause of the prospect’s pain rather than simply treating the symptoms, and to help the prospect solve problems, simplify complexity and manage change.

Technology can help – there are a growing number of promising collaboration, social media, networking and new generation CRM solutions that can help facilitate your prospects buying processes. Training can help to equip your sales people to have intelligent, provocative conversations that stimulate prospects to take a fresh perspective. An integrated approach to campaigns, media and sales can also contribute.

Change your perspective…

But first, you have to get the mindset right. It’s not about selling harder, or trying to do more with less without changing what you do. It’s about making it easier for your best prospects to buy from you. If you can get that right, you can break free from the depressing decline in sales productivity.  Because you can be sure that your less-smart, less-agile competitors won’t have grasped the seismic change that is happening around them.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


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