Three Reasons Why World-Class Sales Organizations Outperform the Rest


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In this flat economy, sales organizations can neither ride an expansion wave nor hide behind recessionary data. They have to perform.

Since the Recession of 2008, the economy has seen 14 consecutive quarters of no- to low-economic growth. In other words, we’re not experiencing the tailwind that has fueled most economic rebounds in the past. It’s on this level economic playing field we see the elite sales organizations separating themselves from the rest they compete with everyday in their markets.

Each year, the Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study captures and measures the behaviors, attributes and performance of “world-class sales organizations” – companies that outperform the rest in key sales performance metrics such as lead growth, quota achievement and average account billing. The 2013 study results were released in early April and reflect data collected from more than 1,100 sales professionals, ranging from account managers to high-level executives from around the world during fall 2012.

According to this year’s study, the overall percentage of respondents designated as world class fell to a three-year low of 4.9 percent, while the average performance gap expanded to a five-year high of 25 percent among key sales metrics, including growth in account acquisition, average account billing, and quota achievement. This means that the majority of sales organizations are falling further behind as the gap between “good” and “great” grows.

The research demonstrated that there is no single tactic or magic silver-bullet that will fix performance issues or instantly make an organization world class. Instead, business-to-business sales organizations require a deep understanding of the customer, their environment and individual issues before a solution can be configured, customized and presented. It values relationships and recognizes that every customer makes every decision differently – every time.

So, what are the world-class sales organizations doing that separate them from the rest? The Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study identified three common attributes that define and separate world-class sales organizations from the pack:

  • Customer Core: Customers are at the core of everything they do.
  • Collaborative Culture: The entire organization works together toward a shared goal.
  • Calibrated Success: They know what makes them successful.

Customer Core

Champions succeed because winning is at the core of their motivation. The Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study revealed that the very best sales organizations put the customer at the core of everything they do and focus their businesses on truly understanding their customers’ needs. Getting closer to customers, becoming connected to their strategic issues and needs, and recognizing that each customer is unique are defining behaviors.

While most companies pay lip service to putting the customer first, world-class sales organizations devote their entire business to making that concept a reality. They’ve developed customer management processes that allow the entire sales force to identify and manage opportunities and the relationships behind them. They are aligned with their marketing teams in terms of what customers want, which prospects to target, and the messages and values that resonate most.

As revealed in the study, great sales organizations understand customer issues before they present a solution and know that every customer makes every decision differently every time. Companies operating at a world-class level clearly understand their customers, and continuously invest time and resources in developing lasting relationships.

Collaborative Culture

In addition to having the customer at the heart of everything they do, top-tier sales organizations also distinguish themselves through collaboration. This doesn’t just mean that employees “play nice” and work together. This is obviously important, but what matters more is that all of the organization’s resources can pull together quickly to focus on the customer.

World-class sales organizations utilize common structures, frameworks, language and terminology when they strategize about the customer. They are able to leverage common messaging and value statements to aligned capabilities with the customer’s concept when they engage and they rely on a shared knowledge base to bring insight to the customer’s needs.

Salespeople must be able to depend on their managers, subject matter experts, marketing and research teams to augment the knowledge they have to better serve their customers. Great sales teams know how to apply the right resources to the right deals in a seamless, integrated way, and “swarm” a sales opportunity to provide the customer with what they need when they need it.

Calibrated Success

According to the study, the third attribute of highly successful sales organizations is they are calibrated for success. This means that they have the ability to identify, measure and calibrate the behaviors and activities from their salespeople that drive the results they need.

They have aligned their compensation plans with corporate objectives. They have established specific account classification criteria to better allocate sales resources. They know how much time is spent with clients and seek to remove the obstacles preventing more client interaction. Moreover, they can trust the data they see in their systems because they know sales behaviors and activities are consistent with their prescribed methodology.

So, while the companies deemed “world-class” are performing at a high level today, they also know that to stay on top they have to continue raising the bar on their own performance. They must work better, smarter and at a higher level than the competition.

What is your organization doing to gain ground or stay on top? And, are you doing enough to be considered “world-class?”

Joe Galvin
Joe Galvin is chief research officer and executive vice president at Miller Heiman and leads the Miller Heiman Research Institute, a research organization dedicated to improving the performance and productivity of complex, b-to-b sales organizations. Galvin can be reached at [email protected]. For more information about the 2013 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study, visit


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