Whither “Sales?”


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Before CRM it was called SFA—sales force automation. And back in those days, before CRM magazine, it was Sales & Field Force Automation magazine. Larry Tuck invited me to be a contributing editor and, as such, allowed me to write a regular column: Can We Talk? When Bob Thompson invited me as one of the CRMguru panel members to blog we agreed to revive that earlier column’s name. This is the first of what, hopefully, will be not just a series of op-ed pieces by me, but an ongoing dialogue of postings by/with you.

My focus is sales, principally B2B and primarily field-based. But this is rapidly changing as the landscape for sales morphs and evolves. We’ve just released our 13th annual sales performance optimization (SPO) report—a survey with over 1300 companies responding. Two years ago we conducted our first Inside/Telesales survey. This year’s SPO survey rolled up a number of questions (and branching based on roles) to include Inside/Telesales. And this week we’ve just released our first white paper on call centers highlighting their transition from Service Only to Service + Sales.

All this to say, the notion of sales and selling is a moving target. And to stay current, competent, and competitive will require your attention and energy. This year’s report shows that many sales metrics are pointing in the wrong direction.

Number of calls to close are up, average quota attainment is down, sales rep ramp up time to full productivity is longer (see graphic) as is overall sales cycle length. The list goes on. Competitive activity is up along with product complexity, breadth of product lines, and entry into new markets. Meanwhile, product life cycles are being compressed and periods of unique product differentiation are shrinking. I could go on but you get the idea. How you sell is becoming more important than what you sell in creating a sustainable, competitive differentiation.

So, to get things rolling, let’s get a couple topics on the table and see if either raises any interest.

1) Forecasting is crap. For the past three years, the outcome of FORECAST deals has been 50/50. That is, half of deals forecast to be won are either lost to the competition or to no decision. This year it’s worse. Only 48% of deals forecast to be won actually closed. What in your experience is making this such an intractable problem? Or, in your experience has helped you and your company break the code and attain significantly better forecast accuracy?

2) As seen above, sales rep ramp up time to full productivity has greatly lengthened. I touched on some of the contributing factors above. What is working in your company or what practices have you seen that help shorten rep ramp up periods?

If neither of these topics are of interest, let me know another that would be. Looking forward to hearing from you. Until then, Sell Well.

Barry Trailer
Barry has been involved in complex B2B sales for over 30 years and is intrigued with how it's changed/changing and what this means to Sales as a Profession (SaaP). Salesware, the analytics company he co-founded, was acquired by Goldmine Software in 2000 and his next company, CSO Insights with Jim Dickie, was acquired by Miller Heiman Group in 2015. He has twice been published by, and been a keynote for, Harvard Business Review, and is author of Sales Mastery, a novel.


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