Why Most Companies are Struggling to Grow Revenue


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sales training dave kurlan picChris Scirpoli, of Invoke Selling, managed to engage me for nearly 15 minutes in a power-packed, fast-paced, video interview that covered a tremendous amount of ground in a very short period of time. He did the mandatory, “tell me about your background”, but he left nearly 13 minutes for me to elaborate on the greatest challenges to sales managers and salespeople and the various approaches that can be implemented to solve these challenges. Because of the questions he asked, it was one of the better interviews with regard to content. You can watch the interview here. If you liked that, you’ll really like the Sales Leadership Symposium in Boston next month.

Dan Perry, writing at Sales Benchmark Index’s Sales Force Effectiveness Blog, wrote that “The single biggest problem with sales today is sales reps are mismatched to the buyer. They think like a sales rep and not like a buyer.”

Well Dan, I don’t agree and I have the statistics to back me up. If you interview buyers (we don’t call them that in 2012, we call them procurement specialists today) I’m sure they would agree because they don’t want to be sold anything by anybody! They want total control, they want to squeeze every last dime from you, and they don’t want to share any information that might help a salesperson gain an edge.

The biggest problem with salespeople today (I can back it up with the data from Objective Management Group, which has assessed more than 550,000 salespeople) is that 63% are not reaching decision makers and 58% begin the sales process with procurement. In general, the sales population doesn’t possess the skills to sell consultatively (on average, salespeople have only 21% of the attributes of the consultative skill set), to uncover compelling reasons to buy, and use those compelling reasons as leverage and to differentiate themselves. That leverage causes decision makers to tell their very own procurement people to do business with your company (the company that stood out). If your salespeople can differentiate themselves to such a degree that a decision maker wants to buy from you, it’s the internal decision makers that must sell the procurement folks, not your salespeople! When the opportunity finally arrives at procurement, only the terms need to be negotiated.

Don’t believe everything you read. Just because it’s printed doesn’t mean it’s good.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Dave,

    I wonder if we are comparing apples to oranges. Our data is largely from the enterprise segment, a billion plus. Your data seems as if it is from the mid market and small company segment, 0- 1 billion.

    Is this true?

    If not, we should expose both our readerships to our databases and let them decide. Your statistics are in direct conflict with our database. I am concerned we are confusing people.

    If yes, then this makes sense. Smaller companies tend to enagage sellers the way you suggests. However, bigger companies do not.


  2. Hi Greg,

    It’s different data Greg. Our data comes from assessing salespeople in companies of all sizes and in more than 200 different industries. We don’t generate surveys and gather opinions, but we identify the specific selling strengths and skills, as well as weaknesses and gaps that present a picture of a sales force’s overall activities, capabilities, and potential.

    Since we are measuring different data, I would expect there to be conflicts. If it was up to buyers, they would never even have to deal with salespeople so of course, what they want and what we want salespeople to do will also be in conflict.

    Our readers will decide what and who they want to pay attention to without us making our data consistent with each other. As a matter of fact, the more the better! Data from a different persepctive is a great thing to have. Our 22 years of data on WHY salespeople perform the way they do is one data point; Your data on best practices is another data point. They must coexist. If the republicans and democrats can do it, then we surely can. I just want to be on the side that supports making money and minimizing waste.


  3. While I don’t deny that statistical rigor probably exists behind Dave’s findings, the numerical granularity of the percentages adjacent to vague terms confuses me.

    e.g. “salespeople have only 21% of the attributes of the consultative skill set.”

    But when I looked up “consultative skill set,” I couldn’t find standards. Even if standards existed, how could the measurement of whatever these attributes might be result in this level of precision? And who was included in the sample set? Outside B2B salespeople, inside sales, sales support? And in which market verticals? It would be logical to expect–and accept–a range of competencies, depending on the exact responsibilities under the title of “salesperson.”

    Similarly, “63% are not reaching decision makers,” immediately begs the questions for research methodology purposes exactly how “reaching” is defined and measured, and the same for “decision makers.” These are broad-brush statements attached to very specific numbers that the reader is asked to accept.

    It’s possible the reason for omitting this detail was for brevity, but the precision of these percentages in juxtaposition to vague terms is confusing, at least for me.

    I think the value that sales executives can glean from these findings are general: salespeople have opportunities to improve skills, and doing so will enable them to become more effective in holding conversations with those who are likely to be influential in a procurement.

  4. Thanks Andy. Your challenge for me to respond provides a justified opportunity to be self promotional!

    The data I refer to is indeed broad – it covers 600,000 salespeople, from more than 200 industries, in all roles. Yet, when we break it down and look at it by vertical, role, or even requirement, the numbers don’t vary much at all.

    By whose standards? Exactly! Since standards didn’t exist we identified attributes of a consultative seller that could be measured and on average, regardless of role, salespeople have 21% of them.

    In my opinion, your last statement is both true and false. True in that sales executives get the general sense that salespeople can improve from reading the self-promotional theories and case histories that experts in our space write every day.

    False in that sales executives that ask us to evaluate their sales forces, and provide them with answers to their most difficult business questions, get extremely targeted answers, backed by data, and get very specific, actionable intelligence about their sales force, their ability to execute the company’s strategies, and what must change relative to people, systems, and processes.


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