Sales performance is not (only) the sales representatives’ performance

It is not uncommon to hear that sales performance relies on the quality of recruitment and training. It is true that some sales representatives have “it” in their blood and that, regardless of the context, they sell more than others. But a company cannot pin all its hopes on recruiting “talents” and on the excellence of its training: talents are rare and obstacles to development are numerous!

Also, increasing the company’s sales performance requires an advanced thinking process that goes beyond the perimeter of the sales function. Let’s first take a look at all exogenous factors to the sales teams.

A market analysis and a relevant targeting of customer segments

Too often, the company prospects all over the place, without an advanced thinking process about its distinctive competences and the sectors in which it is most likely to succeed in its development. The success rate of the proposals made is then very low, often less than 20%. However, in B2B, carrying out a commercial proposal requires significant energy. Also, and it is the marketing team’s role, it is important to develop a good understanding of the market and the different customer segments that structure it. Given the specific skills of the company, there are segments where its offer is relevant and others where it is not. Thus, targeting the segments where its know-how is going to hit the target already allows improving the odds of success.

Offer segmentation

When a prospect visits the website of a supplier, he must promptly realise that the latter has perfectly understood who he is and what his major challenges are. Beyond the online storefront, successful companies segment their offer depending on the customer segments specifics that they have chosen to target. A similar technical reality (after all, the business of the company remains the same) is expressed in a different way depending on the customers sectorial environments.

The case for key accounts

A key account is a customer segment of its own and deserves that the supplier invests specifically for it. This results in the appointment of a key account manager who will be in charge of establishing the ambition of this account (market share, new services to be developed, …) and its implementation. His role is also important concerning the customer (he is identified as the main point of contact) as well as internally, since he is responsible for the deployment of this ambition with the operational teams. The mistake often made is managing too many “key accounts”, thus diluting an energy that should be focused on a few companies with the most important challenges.

Sectorial specialisation of sales representatives

In B2B, customers issues become extremely specialised. Limiting the number of first-tier suppliers, they expect from them a support that is more akin to consulting than traditional sales! Also, when a business sector represents a significant share of the company’s turnover, it is always beneficial to assign it a few dedicated sales representatives. Thereby, they will know perfectly the issues and challenges in the sector and will speak the same language as their customers.

Effective support from sales representatives

The use of sales representatives’ time is a key element of their performance. The goal is making sure this time is dedicated as much as possible to tasks where they have a substantial added value: customer visits, response strategy, correspondence with partners. However, it often appears that they spend a significant amount of time performing tasks that are not directly productive: proposal formatting, reporting, time spent to manage technical or administrative aspects with customers, … Also, sales efficiency requires an organisation that encourages as much as possible the time spent “in the field” by sales representatives.

A strong rise of content marketing (or inbound marketing)

It is a recent development of the marketing function. Indeed, customers tend to be informed about solutions that meet their needs prior to contacting any supplier. In this research, they are very sensitive to contents that can bring them value: objective analysis of their issue, advices, … These customers take the initiative of contacting the suppliers that seem most relevant to them. The production management of this type of content is the responsibility of the marketing team. The result of this action is appreciable as it allows to gather “motivated” prospects that sales representatives can then approach directly.

Fortunately, there are areas in which sales teams can directly act upon to increase the efficiency of their practices.

Segmentation of their portfolio

Some sales representatives find themselves with very important portfolios to manage. However, customers and prospects in this portfolio do not have the same marketability. Also, it is up to the sales representative and its management to segment his portfolio according to very operational criteria: potential, maturity of the purchasing function, opening to a purchase of value, … The goal of this approach for the sales representative is to spend 80% of his time on prospects who are offering the greatest perspectives.

Prospecting by recommendation

In markets where competition is tough, customers are often overwhelmed by requests from suppliers and tend to protect themselves. Thus, it becomes extremely difficult to make an appointment with a prospect. That is why the recommendation from existing customers, or through the sales network, becomes a valuable asset. It will greatly facilitate the first contact. The prospect will listen more willingly if the sales representative calls him on behalf of a trustworthy person.

Support in the field of sales representatives

The initial training of a sales representative is important of course. But, more than another function, the capacity of the closest manager to improve his skills is key. The field manager is too often monopolised by his own portfolio and spends little time with his team. The organisation must focus on teams of 7-9 sales representatives, because it is the ideal number so that a manager can truly dedicate time to his teams.

Anticipation of requests for proposals

Dregs of the 30 years of post-war boom, too many teams merely respond to requests for proposals they receive. However, in recent years, success rates have steadily deteriorated. Indeed, the difference is less and less on the product or the price positioning (one must be “in his market”), but more on the ability to understand the true challenges of the customer, often expressed very succinctly in the specifications, and provide a suitable solution to these. For this, the supplier must be present way before request for proposals are made to understand its prospect, mesh the relationship and provide relevant information. It has become increasingly pointless to answer to a request for proposals if the relationship has not been established beforehand.

To conclude, a company that wishes to speed up its development must proceed to a state of play of the strengths and hindrances to its development. Without this objective analysis, there is a good chance that implemented actions will only have a very limited effect on its sales performance.