Five Success Secrets of the World’s Top Sales Organizations

By Kim Wright Wiley

Many sales leaders drive their organizations by looking in the rearview mirror, using past data to determine future direction. But steering your sales team that way is about as effective as driving a car in that manner. That’s why the Sales Benchmark Index, in its study of practices used by the world’s best sales organizations, focuses on leading, not lagging indicators, identifying elements that indicate future success. John Holland, cofounder and principal at CustomerCentric Selling, says there are five areas in which World Class Sales Organizations (WCSOs) stand head and shoulders above the pack and are key indicators of future success. By focusing on these five areas in your own organization, he says, you’ll see a boost in your sales results.

  1. Buyer enablement. WCSOs focus on buyer enablement rather than sales process improvement. Most sales organizations create milestones like “qualify the prospect” and “submit a proposal” that are all about the seller and inconsistent with the way people want to buy. To better align with your buyers, start by redefining selling. Get rid of words like “convincing,” “persuading,” and “overcoming objections,” and instead think of the process as asking questions to empower buyers to achieve their business goals. Replace your “sales cycle” with a “buying cycle” that represents your customer’s buying process. And make sure your CRM milestones reflect the way your customers buy rather than the way you want to sell to them.

  • Outbound lead ratios. What percentage of the leads coming into your pipeline do territory salespeople generate? This may come as a surprise, but WCSOs have a 47 percent lower outbound lead ratio. That’s right: fewer leads from the reps and more from marketing efforts and other formal lead generation processes. Holland admits he used to think it was up to reps to find their own leads, but “research is research,” he says, and this finding has forced him to rethink his views. It turns out that reps without lead generation support are less effective; those with it are able to focus more on opportunities and less on filling their pipeline.
  • Pipeline ratios. This number refers to the ratio of pipeline dollars to sales quota. WCSOs have a 1.75 times higher pipeline ratio than average sales organizations. Your goal, says Holland, should be 2.0 or higher. This ratio is one of the best indicators of future performance and is one on which sales leaders should place a high value.
  • CRM/SFA utilization. Almost every sales leader has struggled with the issue of CRM/SFA adoption. Leaders of WCSOs have cracked the code and boast a 70 percent higher utilization of these systems than average organizations. That’s because at most organizations, reps view these systems as an added administrative burden that allows management to oversee their every move while contributing little to the sales effort. The result: they use the system as little as possible and/or they manipulate the data to match management’s expectations. “Most companies do a terrible job of showing reps how they can sell more and benefit from technology,” explains Holland. “If you can do better in this area, you’ll get improved usage.” And with improved usage will come improved results.
  • Sales rep training. WCSOs spend 160 percent more time training than their average counterparts. Unlike at most organizations where training is often the first line item to be cut in a downturn, managers at WCSOs view training as an investment that will pay dividends. They also allocate training budgets proportionally to their vertical markets, matching the percentage of total available training dollars to the percentage of revenues each product/section brings in.
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