Relationship, process are main ingredients of successful sales, report finds 

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The percentage of salespeople making quota has stagnated, CSO Insights says. (Weekend Images Inc./iStockPhoto)

As companies rush to meet consumers’ frenzied demand with ever-evolving supply, salespeople are often left scrambling to keep up, a new report shows. 

“Quota attainment averaged across all geographies, industries and size companies has dropped from 63% of salespeople in 2012 to 53% in 2016,” according to the 2017 CSO Insights World-Class Sales Practices Report (PDF). 

More informed and demanding buyers, economic and political uncertainty, and new disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence are a few reasons for the drop-off, the report found. As the percentage of salespeople making quota largely stagnated at 51% to 63% between 2009 and 2016, the percentage of revenue-plan attainment ranged from about 78% to 89%. 

To help organizations recoup some losses, the report recommends using the Sales Relationship Process (SRP) Matrix, which charts the intersection of the customer relationship and sales process levels. From highest to lowest, the relationship levels are: approved vendor, preferred supplier, solutions consultant, strategic contributor and trusted partner or adviser. The four levels of sales process implementation range from random at the low end to dynamic at the top, which involves a formal sales process and metrics.   

After identifying themselves on the matrix, organizations should pursue a “roadmap that begins with assessing a sales organization’s current state, proceeds through establishing both best practices and a conceptual framework for understanding and applying them, and ultimately achieves measurable results,” the report stated. 

Besides the matrix, the report also named 12 best practices, in order of significance. They are: 

  • Consistently and effectively articulating a solution that aligns with customers’ needs. 

  • Delivering a consistent customer experience that aligns with brand promise. 

  • Continually assessing why top-performing salespeople succeed. 

  • Understanding why salespeople opt to leave the company. 

  • Collecting and sharing best practices across the sales force. 

  • Holding sales managers accountable for their staffs’ effective use of tools and resources. 

  • Communicating value messages that meet customers’ and prospective customers’ needs to form a connection. 

  • Supporting continuous development of everyone on the sales team through training and coaching. 

  • Using performance improvement plans, even for the top salespeople. 

  • Ensuring consistently positive interactions with customers, whether they reach out through salespeople, a help-desk specialist or contact centers. 

  • Evaluating why a customer moves on to another provider. 

  • Selling value to avoid discounting or gaining comparative value in return for price concessions. 

World-class performers—those that say they meet at least 10 of the 12 best practices—made up 6.9% of the CSO Insights study population, and 69.8% of this group achieved quota, 17 points higher than the average. 

But being a world-class performer doesn’t mean that the company aligns on the matrix as a trusted partner using a dynamic process, the report added. For example, a company that sells bolts has no need to be more than a solutions consultant.  

“When seeking to improve sales productivity and performance, always aim to improve process maturity before focusing on the activities and practices that lead to higher-level relationships,” the report stated. “Recognizing that companies can achieve world-class performance at lower than maximum levels of relationship and process implementation eases the burden of reaching for the clouds, but increases the responsibility to ‘be all that you can be.’ Being clear-eyed, setting a strategic target that is realistically within reach, maintaining a consistency of effort and continually measuring/ improving are all things sales leadership and management must deliver—and be held accountable for.”