In the summer of 2008 many companies experienced a sudden and unexpected cataclysm. Their order taking stopped and the order book started to dry up. Try as they might, their experienced sales teams that had been successfully selling for years now seemed to be struggling to close deals. In reality, the economy had been through a 12 year boom up until the end of 2008 so the real need to sell had not been there for many organisations. The orders kept coming and there was no real pain. There was no need to invest in their sales teams with expensive timeconsuming courses that would teach them how to sell. There seemed to be good sales people everywhere – verified by their sales figures. However as we can see now in November 2009, good sales figures in boom times are not necessarily an indicator of a good salesperson. Companies are now facing a new and urgent problem.
There are about 1 million sales people in the UK and anyone under the age of about 38 has not sold in a recession before. Still worse, there are a lot of sales managers in that category who are leading sales teams but do not have the experience or the skills to take their companies out of recession. In 2002 Silent Edge created a series of objective competency frameworks that are used to measure the real sales capability of account managers, new business and telesales people. We collected data for years about the performance of sales teams. In November 2008 we published our data for the first time and, as you will read, the capability of the sales force in UK blue chip companies can be really quite poor. For years there has been chronic under-investment in sales, which after all is the engine room of an organisation. This report identifies successful sales behaviours and demonstrates how prevalent – or not – those behaviours are amongst the sales forces of UK companies. It shows t why corporations in the UK need to start to invest in the development and continuous measurement of their sales teams in order to drive sales performance and revenues.
Foreword by Bill Thomson, TNT client of Silent Edge
I am the Corporate Development Manager for TNT Express UK Limited. With a team of 30 I am responsible for the acquisition, retention and development of key accounts that are segmented into vertical markets, annual revenues exceed £115million. I began working with Silent Edge at the start of 2007. I chose Silent Edge after a rigorous tender process with 4 external sales training companies. What differentiated Silent Edge, and the reason I went with them, was their Sales Force Evaluation system. The objective nature of the assessment and the independence of their approach are unique and I had not seen anything to match it in my 24 years in sales. The TNT Corporate Development team is very experienced in both their number of years in sales and number of years in TNT. Engaging Silent Edge sent a message to the team that TNT is prepared to make a serious investment in them by doing something totally different from anything used before. It moved them out of their comfort zone and motivated them to want to change, which is essential if you want to improve skills in such a team. I thought I knew the capability of my team, what they were good at and not so good at.
The assessment confirmed some of my thinking, gave me fresh information and proved some of my thinking to be incorrect. In this respect the assessment exceeded all my expectations. The assessment combined with subsequent training, coaching and management helped us to achieve very tough, marketplace exceeding budgets in 2007 in an economic climate that was tremendously difficult. I believe we will do the same in again 2008 with the economy even more challenging. I am not convinced we would have exceeded our budgets as effectively without the work that Silent Edge completed with my team. The fact that Cranfield have produced this report using Silent Edge data gives great credibility to the decision we made.
The 8 sets identified in this report and the Y shape determining whether you have product focused or consultative sales people is an insightful way of segmenting a sales force and arranging them into groups with different training needs. This is entirely new to me and if the resulting training of sales staff and sales managers can move people to the level they need to be at, then they will be fully skilled to deliver what I want. Understanding the skills a sales force require is one thing, understanding where they are now and how to get them where they need to be is another, this research may help to deliver this difficult aim. Bill Thomson Corporate Development Manager
Before I started Silent Edge with my business partner Lorna Dakers I was a Sales Director for 11 years managing pan-European sales forces of up to 165 people across 13 countries. Lorna ran global sales teams for Reed Business Information. During that time, we became increasingly frustrated with the sales world. The two biggest issues for us as sales directors were the delay between recruiting sales people and finding out whether they could really sell; and the frequency with which people whose CVs and references suggested they were brilliant but, when we recruited them, it seemed their skills just vanished! To succeed in their roles, sales directors need to develop sales teams with the latest thinking and approaches. However, this is much easier to say than to do. We found that sales training companies frequently made big promises about the impact their training would have on growth in our revenues. The problem was that they all offered us “sheep dip” training and no measurement was put in place to prove any return on our investment.
The questions that kept going through our heads were “how can one single course be right for all my 165 sales people” and “why am I being offered a solution when the training company has done nothing to understand the problem?” What we really needed was for our sales forces to change their behaviour and use their newly-learned skills. Mostly, however, our sales staff were not interested in training at all as they thought it was not relevant to them. So we were left wondering how to motivate sales people to change their behaviour. Then it occurred to us that no-one was measuring true sales ability. If you ask a Sales Director who their best sales person is, they will think of the biggest revenue figure. But did that sales person get those sales because they were excellent in their sales skills, or because they had the best territory, best leads, best clients etc?
I believe there has been a chronic lack of investment in developing sales forces skills over the years. This is now becoming an urgent problem. Most sales teams have not had to sell in a recession as times have been good for 12 or more years. Many of the sales managers I meet seem to me to lack the experience or management skills to teach their teams how to sell in hard times. Now, more than ever, there is a need to understand the real skills capability of sales and sales management teams and of potential recruits. Cranfield has been working with Silent Edge’s data for over two years now and this latest finding we believe is ground breaking. For the first time you will be able to identify what type of sales person you have in your company from a skill perspective, at what level and in what role (product or consultative sales person). From there you will be able to develop them. Enjoy the report: it makes fascinating reading! Russell Ward Managing Director Silent Edge Ltd
Selling is an important job. It is responsible for stimulating demand for a company’s products and services. Research shows that sales people in businessto-business markets are increasingly taking on the strategic role of relationship management, becoming involved in forecasting, analysis, consultative selling including product/service customisation etc. It is noticeable that major customers are becoming more demanding of their suppliers, and in many cases it is the sales team that has to respond to these greater demands. The importance of sales is reflected in the number of people who do it (around a million in the UK alone) and in the high levels of remuneration they receive (a basic salary ranging between £35,000 and £75,000 in this study, before commission payments). Yet, despite this, many sales people perform less well than they should. Previous research has shown that customers look for three key factors in sales people: credibility, knowledge, and professionalism.
However, until now, little has been known about what it is that good sales people do in sales meetings. So, we were delighted to be invited to work with Silent Edge, which has used a detailed scorecard to collect observations of no fewer than 802 live sales meetings over the past 6 years. We subjected these observations to a rigorous statistical analysis. The results tell us a great deal about success in selling. Same People, Different Roles Our analysis examined 539 business development managers, 199 account managers and 64 telesales people. The differences between the behaviours – and the success levels – of people within these roles was surprisingly slight. Telesales people are just as talented as account managers or new business developers. This has important implications for the way in which companies use their telesales operation. Eight Types of Sales People Our results also show that there are eight types of sales people. From least to most successful, these are: Socialisers; Deal Makers; Narrators; Product / Service Focused; Storytellers; Consultants; Product Closers, and Experts. Each of these types is examined in detail in this report.
Each type (with the possible exception of Experts) have their strengths and weaknesses, which should influence the training and development they receive. What Determines Sales Success The most exciting part of our results is how the behaviours of these sales people are linked to their success. We show that pre-meeting behaviours and what we call ‘rising to the challenge’ are highly important but, surprisingly, making a pitch and storytelling can be negatively associated with success. At the end of the report, we propose a ‘Formula for Sales Success’. This report sets out our findings in detail. This is an important document for companies wanting to improve their sales performance. Professor Lynette Ryals Professor of Strategic Sales and Account Management Cranfield School of Management, UK
What is Wrong with Sales?
The aim of this section of the report is to identify the roles and strategic importance of sales people’s activities. The traditional role of sales has been defined as “to stimulate, rather than satisfy, demand for products. To persuade customers that they need a supplier’s product, sales people in this role focus on achieving short-term results for their companies by using aggressive selling techniques to persuade customers to buy products”.* However, this shortterm view is changing. The sales role increasingly involves a longer-term set of strategic activities such as customer partner, sales team coordinator, customer service provider, buyer behaviour expert, information gatherer, market analyst and planner, sales forecaster, market cost analyser and technologist. Increasingly, an effective sales person will understand the interactional nature of personal selling and how it relates to organisational objectives and behaviour. There are at least a million people directly employed as Sales Representatives in the UK, although recently this number has been falling, driven by the increasing cost of maintaining the sales force and changes in the retail landscape.
Although sales forces are smaller than they were, they are still one of the most expensive parts of marketing communications. In the US, over a trillion dollars are spent annually on sales and sales materials, more than any other part of the promotional mix. Companies need to maximise the performance of their expensive sales people if they are to compete successfully. Yet, too many companies (especially industrial firms and those selling consumer durables) continue to focus on sales volume. This is short-sighted: sales people also provide other services to customers. They can manage the relationship, act as the coordinator of the marketing effort to the customer, and can personalise the marketing message. Personal selling is of particular advantage in the business-to-business environment as sales people already have an established relationship with their customers and so can combine products and services more naturally.
The Role of Personal Selling Personal selling allows direct interaction between the buyer and the seller. Two-way communication allows for identification of the buyer’s specific needs and problems, so that the presentation and demonstration of the product/service’s features and benefits can be tailored to the customer’s needs. Establishing two-way communication is essential when selling products, as the sales representative becomes the expert who interprets the benefits of the product for the customer. The sales person uses their in-depth product knowledge to match the buyers needs as well as negotiate price, delivery & special requirements. Given that customers are demanding superior relationships with suppliers, and the importance of these strategic relationships, strategic customer management should be based around three key issues: Intelligence, Interfaces, and Integration.
Researchers have found that the most important attributes of a sales person are their credibility, their knowledge and their professionalism. The sales force represents the company to its customers, finds new customers, and can answer questions about products, services and the company: “Certainly selling and influencing will be large parts of organisational marketing; but, properly seen, selling follows rather than precedes the organisation’s drive to create products to satisfy its consumers.”* Today’s sales people need to be organised, skilled communicators who understand how the sales role fits into the greater marketing and strategic effort if they are to be effective. Recent research shows, however, that sales capability and performance is a serious concern to senior managers.
A study of interviews with 111 senior sales executives from 96 worldwide organisations found that “in general, the executives were underwhelmed by their sales forces’ performance”.** So, what is going wrong? What Makes a Good Sales Person? Previous studies have provided insights into what sales people themselves believe makes them successful, although these have been based on opinion rather than on observation. These studies indicate the activities that sales people should perform fall into five basic areas: Pre-meeting, presentation, behaviour, listening, and selling.
Pre-meeting denotes preparing before entering a sales situation. This may include: examining records at the prospecting stage of the selling process, ‘smartening up’ including personal presentation, gaining a good knowledge of both the customer and products before the meeting, and objective and agenda setting. Presenting refers to the ego drive, the personal desire and need to make the sale. This drive is part of how the salesperson comes across during the presentation stage; the best sales people are optimistic, direct and credible and able to present themselves and their company. This also involves using customerfriendly language during the sales presentation, being knowledgeable about the products, and being able to clarify the products’ benefits.
Therefore, knowledge and experience in presenting should have a significant impact on sales performance. Skills in presenting relate to behaviour in that honesty, integrity and market accountability are core traits in good salespeople. Recent research has expanded on this, arguing that: “Contrary to popular belief, true sales professionals are honest to a fault. We never tell lies, twist facts or embellish details to win a sale. Why? Because we realise that doing so not only is unethical, it also is incredibly short-sighted”***. Listening is an integral part of the sales process, but even more important is empathy, a customer focus, and problem solving. Being a problem solver for the client is particularly important. However, all of these factors share one thing in common – if you don’t listen to the client, you don’t know how to help them.
The final part of the process is actually closing the sales or selling. The selling element of the sales meeting also encompasses being a problem solver. Offering a creative or a tailored solution on the spot is an important facet of the process for customers. Sales Performance There may be a need to differentiate between what a sales person actually does (behavioural performance) and their performance. Behavioural performance refers to the strategies and activities carried out in the sales process, whilst performance refers to the results of the sales person’s efforts. Some behavioural strategies, such as customer orientation and adaptive selling, have been associated with higher levels of performance. Early sales research* identified four types of knowledge that affect the performance of the sales person: Product – Not only knowledge of the product, but also its features and benefits, strengths and weaknesses. Customer – A detailed knowledge of the customer’s business and how the product or service fits. Knowledge of Company Policy and Procedures – A good in-depth understanding of the company’s organisation and the location of specialist knowledge. Interpersonal and Communication Skills – These skills are key not only to developing good customer relations, but also to facilitating the internal flow of market information.
However, this still leaves the crucial question unanswered until now. Although these earlier studies offer considerable insight into the role of the sales person, they do not provide a clear link to sales success. After all, less effective sales people also prepare for meetings, make presentations, ask for the order etc.; it is just that their performance is weaker than stronger sales people. Although existing research is very helpful in establishing a theoretical framework, this leaves a ‘relevance gap’ for managers. Exactly what should they tell their sales people to do differently, next time, to improve their performance in sales meetings? This research aims to fill this gap and provide guidance on which behaviours are linked to sales success.
A leader in the field of sales performance Silent Edge is a leader in the field of sales performance improvement. Our pioneering “Sales Force Evaluation”™ tool benchmarks sales teams against best practice and it is this evidence-based approach to sales training that puts us into a category of one. A look at the returns we have delivered for our world class client list and the partnerships we enjoy with the best in academia shows just how well our approach works.
About Silent Edge
Silent Edge approaches sales consultancy and training from an unusual perspective. Rather than providing an off-the-shelf training package, it observes live sales meetings, compares the performance of the sales force, and provides both feedback and bespoke training to the sales team and, most importantly, the sales manager which result in a change of behaviour and increased skills. The scorecards used to observe the selling behaviours were researched, developed and tested by a team of sales professionals and skills development specialists who wanted to create a new approach for measuring sales force performance in live selling situations. From this previous research, Silent Edge developed the Sales Force Evaluation™ tool to measure sales people’s skills, knowledge and behaviour. The data used in the report are drawn from these observations. In the last few years a range of learning and skills development workshops and coaching services have complemented the Evaluation to ensure new behaviours are embedded in everyday activities.
The Observation An independent Silent Edge observer, or an accredited sales manager, accompanies each salesperson to two real meetings, maintaining a discreet profile and never intervening in the discussion. The observations reported here were conducted by seven trained specialists using direct observation of the sales meeting and interviews about the sales person’s knowledge of selling after the event. During the meeting, over 170 objective, moment-bymoment observations* are noted on an electronic scorecard. These observations document the salesperson’s behaviour, business practice and selling competency.
The observation methodology has been proven consistent across different salespeople. Since its inception 6 years ago, Silent Edge has worked with over 70 leading companies including 3663, Barclays, Cable & Wireless, Bauer, AXA, Reed, and TNT, who have all benefited from measurable improved sales performance. Its approach is also used by the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management to judge the British Excellence in Sales and Marketing Awards. In this report we analyse and discuss the results from 802 observed sales people. They are a mix of New Business Sales, Account Managers and Telesales. The sample is 75% male. The only slight difference between males and females is that females tend to outperform males on negotiation and males tend to outperform on company knowledge.
The overall results suggest that New Business, Account Managers and Telesales are surprisingly similar in how they performed in their sales situations. All show distinct weaknesses in relation to setting agendas, using sales value propositions, case studies, anecdotes, positioning the company and objection handling. But all three groups demonstrate clear strengths in personal presentation, rapport building, putting forward the company offerings, imparting product/service knowledge and overall conduct in sales meetings. Thus, the average sales person is a pleasant individual who knows a lot about their products, but fails to position themselves in such a way as to distinguish either their company or product from the competition, or to solve the customer’s problems. If this is the average sales person in your company, do you have a problem? In the modern competitive arena it is unlikely that a pleasant product specialist would be seen by customers to add much value, or worth spending the resources to employ a purchaser to see them. So how can they improve?
In-Depth: New Business Sales
New Business sales people follow much of the pattern of the average individual as outlined on the previous page. They are well presented, build good rapport, understand their products and company offerings very well and have high meeting management skills. They do however differ* from the other two sales groups on a number of issues: Although they have the highest rapport building scores they actually have the lowest score for sales person conduct. They have the highest product/service knowledge, company offerings and company background and are best at understanding customers pains, but fail compared to Telesales at matching the customers pains to the product/service or company offerings. New Business sales people are the biggest users of storytelling (anecdotes and case studies); they are also the biggest users of sales value propositions. However, in the case of all of these the overall scores were still very low indicating a need for more training in this area. One point of failure for the New Business sales people was a surprisingly low score on negotiation and objection handling, suggesting a failure to capitalise on some easy sales
New Business people appear to need to learn a lot more about listening to customers and then turning the knowledge gained into a sales tool to match the offering to customer pains, select case studies of success, and provide appropriate value propositions.
In-Depth: Account Managers
Account Managers were surprisingly similar to New Business sales scoring statistically* similarly on all but 8 of the dimensions observed. In contrast to the New Business people, the Account Managers score higher on conduct but lower on rapport. They are also the group best at negotiation and meeting preparation. They are lower-scoring on knowledge issues such as company background, positioning the company, product/service knowledge and anecdotes. This may be due to these issues being less prominent in long term account management where many of the introductory problems in relationships may have been worked through during earlier meetings. However, the worrying part is that Account Managers score relatively badly at understanding customer pains. Given that the purpose of account management is about building a relationship long term, it appears counterintuitive for Account Managers to have less understanding of customer problems than a New Business salesperson. Still worse, this group has the worst performance at matching the offering to the customer pain, indicating an overall failure of Account Managers to capitalise on their relationship role.
Account Managers also need to learn a lot more about listening to customers and use this to match the offering to customer pains, provide
Telesales data were collected on a slightly different scorecard to the other two groups. Thus, we only compare here where the scores recorded were on the same scales as the other two groups. The most surprising finding was actually how similar Telesales were to the other groups, indicating that Telesales people could probably perform a sales role to at least the same adequacy as many field sales people. The Telesales not only had the best conduct of all the groups but also positioned the company better and matched the company’s offerings to the customer pains statistically better then the others. However, that said, they were worse at identifying customer pains than the New Business group. Their abilities may be tempered by the Telesales group’s lower inability to articulate differentiation from the competition, failure to qualify if they were speaking to an appropriate person or provide a detailed introduction for the customer to the company offerings.
The results indicate that Telesales people can have strong potential. Thus, it could be worth training Telesales people in developing value propositions. Although all groups were weak at this, telesales were particularly poor.
Eight Types of Sales Person Style
Utilising powerful analytical techniques* we have identified 8 distinct types of sales person style throughout the different industries studied, by looking only at what they did in the live sales meeting. These groups are: Socialisers Deal Makers Narrators Product/Service Focused Storytellers Consultants Product Closers, and Experts The graph below shows how each of these groups performed in relation to three measures of sales success recorded in the Silent Edge scorecards (closing to the next stage, next steps and timescales, and closing the deal). The groups are ordered in terms of their performance on these measures of sales success. Despite expected differences between service and product sales, one of the more striking findings is that people from all forms of sales fall into all eight categories. In fact, only the top performing Product Closers and Experts showing a particular tendency to one type of sale. This clearly demonstrates that sales people in both product and service sales meetings act similarly – and that they fall into the same bad habits! Interestingly, the best-performing group (Experts) perform slightly less well than the second-best group (Product Closers) on closing the deal. This probably reflects the more complex and consultative nature of their sales process, which does not normally end in decisions during the meeting.
Presentation and Overall Style Socialisers present themselves very well and are able to build a reasonable rapport with customers. However, they are well below average at every single measure in the study and significantly (using post hoc tests) lower scoring on virtually every measure than any other group. Even more noticeably they are not statistically better than anyone at anything. The Good They tend to be prepared for meetings but not in a way distinctly better than the other seven groups. The Bad They are poor at ‘thinking on the fly’ and seem to discuss little or nothing about their company, products or competitors, doing little to match their offerings to the customers’ needs. They are also below average at rising to any customer challenges, handling objections or negotiating. And The Ugly They lack many of the basic sales skills, failing to discuss everything from sales value propositions, to cases studies. In particular they do not position the company or discuss the company’s heritage.
Presentation and Overall Style Deal-Makers are the hard price negotiators. They appear to enter a sales meeting expecting a price negotiation, and get one. The Good Deal-Makers are better at many of the selling roles than others, particularly at setting agendas, positioning the company, negotiation and using sales value propositions: in each case, only the highly-skilled Experts are better. The Bad Deal-Makers, along with Socialisers and Storytellers, are the worst objection handlers and only Socialisers and Narrators are as bad at creating solutions on the fly. These individuals may need to work on their interaction with customers, listen more and utilise their knowledge, to move away from their hard negotiation and aggressive style to a more persuasive collaborative sales approach. And The Ugly Deal-Makers are worse than everyone but Socialisers at utilising information about the marketplace, product/ service and company offerings in their sales pitch. They are also the only group to have statistically lower personal presentation and rapport scores than the other seven groupings.
Presentation and Overall Style As you would expect, a Narrator is both well presented, a good orator, and builds a good rapport. However, the Narrator could also be seen as a script reader, or “talking brochure”, discussing the company’s products/ services, background, or its positioning, without contextualisation into the customer’s sphere of experience. The Good Narrators are fairly well versed in the company offerings, the marketplace, and have a reasonable product/service knowledge. The Bad What lets them down, however, is disorganisation, inability to extrapolate their knowledge into solutions for customers, and poor capability at thinking on their feet. Thus, Narrators would be poorly suited to dealing with complex clients and sales processes. And The Ugly Of all the groups this is the most disorganised in terms of setting agendas, specifying the client’s needs and setting out value propositions. This is compounded by their inability to show understanding of customer pains or convert their existing knowledge into solutions.
4. Product/Service Focused
Presentation and Overall Style Product/Service Focused people are similar to Narrators in that they present themselves and their companies offerings well. The Good What defines them is that, statistically, they are amongst the best at using product/service knowledge. To an extent they could be seen as technical specialists as their focus on product / service performance is very high. The Bad They are, however, statistically worse than nearly everybody else at positioning the company, discussing the company’s background, and differentiating it from the competition. Moreover, they have the worst conduct of all but socialisers. They are also amongst the groups least likely to use case studies and anecdotes when trying to sell, and rarely attempt to match their product to the customer pains. And the Ugly In terms of actual selling, Product/Service Focused salespeople are very poor especially with negotiation and sales value proposition development, in which tasks they are statistically weaker than all other groups.
Presentation and Overall Style Group 5 are Storytellers. They have a good level of marketplace knowledge and put this to great use by selling through story telling. The Good Statistically they make significantly more use of both case studies and anecdotes than anyone else. This also has a knock-on impact on their ability to create solutions on the fly as they pull in further examples to counter customer questions; only Experts do this better The Bad Storytellers will often discuss company offerings but may fail to position these against the competition or utilise value propositions. They are also less likely than other groups to discuss their own company’s background. If there is one further failing in these people it is a reticence to set objectives for the meeting, set agendas or defend their proposition when challenged. And the Ugly Compared to the average sales person in this study the Storyteller really is a good all-rounder. However, their propensity to story telling may mean they talk through the sale, missing opportunities to utilise other capabilities to close the deal.
Presentation and Overall Style Consultants are high-quality sales people. Only Experts are a better all-rounder. Consultants are well presented, have a skill for getting the most out of introductions, and build fantastic rapport with customers. The Good They have high levels of marketplace, company and product/service knowledge and use this in meetings to position their own company, promote the value proposition and demonstrate market differentiation better than anybody else except Experts. Consultants are good at objection handling and negotiation and similarly adept at creating solutions on the fly. Making them great at selling complex products and services. What is surprising is how many of these individuals come from product sales. The style shown in this group indicates cross-sellers and complex systems sales, something more commonly seen in service sales. The Bad If consultants have any failings however it is a lack of preparation before meetings and failure to set specific agendas. They are also poor storytellers, which may make their sales pitch a little one-dimensional.
7. Product Closer
Presentation and Overall Style These are fantastic product sellers and are the only group with a clear tendency to product rather than service sales. The Good No one is a better objection-handler than a product closer. They know the product they have got and they champion its value propositions to meet customer needs. This surety of knowledge also makes them good negotiators, good at creating solutions on the fly, and their more than adequate marketplace and product knowledge serves them well. They are also listeners. More adept at specifying the clients needs than most other people, they are able to understand the customer’s pains and then use this to position their product to meet the customer’s needs. However, Neil Rackham* suggested these could also be ‘objection creators’; by focusing so heavily on their own product’s capability that it encourages objection. The Bad If there is one fault it is a heavy focus on the product and little on their own company. This may make crossselling more difficult. In particular they often do not position their company versus the competition, nor do they discuss the company’s background, or use case studies or anecdotes much.
Presentation and Overall Style Experts score a statistically higher score than six or more of the other seven groups in 17 out of the 24 measures investigated here. We see a higher proportion of these individuals in service sales but the fact that 5% of the product sellers are here is quite a surprise. The greater worry however is the lack of Account Managers in this grouping. The Good The radar diagram tells the story; these sales people are very good. Key sales skills which lack in the other groups are abundant here, with Experts better than everybody at discussing the company’s heritage, specifying the customer’s needs and then positioning the company and articulating the sales value proposition to fulfil those needs better than the competition. Add to this that Experts are the best at creating solutions on the fly and at negotiation and you have a strong sales person. The Bad They have nothing that could discernibly be called a weakness. They appear to be perhaps a little lacking in objection handling, although it could be that no-one felt like challenging these truly expert sales people in the meetings observed. Other than that, they appear to be the very epitome of what this study was looking for in a sales person.
The Gap in Sales Performance
The sample set of 802 studied for this report were all sales people from blue chip organisations and were paid between £35,000 and £75,000 in basic salary. This chart shows how few of these highly-paid sales staff are in the Expert category. The largest percentage fall into the Product/Service Focused group, who are at best only moderately skilled. If this large blue-chip sample is representative of the general state of selling in the UK, it is likely that many sales opportunities are being missed. There is a considerable learning and development need in such sales teams to improve their performance. Alarmingly, the organisations who were studied were largely unaware of the poor calibre of their sales teams.
Developing High Performing Sales People
Mapping each sales type to its relative success reveals a pattern from low to high performance. The four lower-performing groups move from Socialisers to Product Focused with each group adding additional competencies. They show no differences between selling products and solution selling. At the more skilled level, however, the behaviours diverge along three branches. On the short middle spur we find Storytellers. Storytellers are relatively high-performing salespeople who sell in a dynamically different way to everyone else, although it makes no difference whether they are selling products or solutions. Above the level of Storytellers, it does make a difference whether the sales person is selling products or solutions. To the left are Product Closers, highly successful specialist sales people who place a lot of emphasis on the product they are selling. Not surprisingly, this type is uncommon in solution selling. The third branch to the right consists of Consultants and Experts, highly successful sales people who are more likely to be solution selling. This illustrates how a sales team can have sales people with incrementally better capabilities at the same type of things, but a few people dynamically different in sales style.
A Formula for Sales Success
Searching for Success One of the key reasons for undertaking this research was to develop a clearer idea of what led to sales success. We can clearly see from the different groupings in the previous section that certain characteristics led to a higher propensity for success, measured in terms of: closing the deal; moving onto next steps/time scales; or closing to the next stage. Using these three measures of sales success we have used a specialist technique called Structural Equation Modelling to build a formula for sales success. What this process does is firstly look at how we group the 24 measures into six dimensions which are key parts of the sales process: Pre-Meeting Company Presentation Sales Pitch Customer Interaction Rising to the Challenge, And Story Telling (You may have noticed we also used these dimensions to help describe the different skill types on previous pages). The next step is to run the equations to work out the appropriate weighting each of these measures and dimensions require to best explain the success results for all the individuals scored. The diagram below reports the results of the dimensional impacts in this very robust* model.
Robustness and model fit scores: Cmin/df = 2.134, NFI = 0.98, CFI = 0.98, RFI = 0.96 29
This is the first time sufficient quality data have been available to attempt to model sales success and it has thrown up some very interesting results. The first is how little impact presentation and rapport have on success (this is represented by no line between these measures and success). One reason for this could be that everyone was of at least sufficient standard not to jeopardise the sale. The second interesting finding is that the Sales Pitch itself can have a negative impact on sales success. By Sales Pitch we are referring to the meeting management and probably the more formal pitch such as product/service knowledge, marketplace understanding and the formal putting forward of the companies offerings. The fact this has a negative impact on success does not mean that this section is unimportant; it is more likely that too much time is spent on this part of the sale. What you therefore end up with is an inverted “U” type of result where after a certain level the sales person is ‘talking through the sale’ (see below). We see the same results with Story Telling. The negative association between case studies, anecdotes and Sales Success indicates that after a certain level
Story Telling becomes counterproductive. If you look at the groups themselves it is noticeable that the best overall closers (the Product Closers) barely use Story Telling at all, focusing their attention on other parts of the sale – which obviously makes them successful. In the reverse however Experts use Story Telling to a large extent and are the best at closing to the next stage and next steps and time scales – so perhaps Story Telling is a longer term sales strategy. What really appears to lead to sales success may come as quite a surprise. Firstly, being well prepared in advance and setting an appropriate agenda have a significant impact on success.
This may indicate that customers like to be certain of what is going to happen and like a well organised sales person. However, above all else, it is rising to a customer challenge that leads to the highest performance in sales. By rising to the challenge we mean not only how a sales person conducts themselves but also how they deal with objections and demonstrate value creation. This raises questions as to whether existing sales training is actually focussing on the right areas, with very little actually targeting negotiation and objection handling and too much focus on the sales pitch, demonstrating differentiation and techniques like story telling.
The analysis reported here reveals some startling and rather disturbing facts about the behaviours of sales people in live sales incidents (client meetings, or telephone calls). The broad conclusions we can draw from the research presented here are as follows: 1. There are fewer differences between telesales people, new business, and account managers than might be expected. Companies should learn from this not to underplay the potential of telesales. Smart companies, reading this report, should note that there are almost certainly expert salespeople in their telesales operation, who should be nurtured and encouraged just as other sales people are. The other general conclusion is that expert sales people are a rare breed. Smart sales directors will seek out these experts, develop their skills, and motivate and reward them to stay with the company. There are eight broad types of sales person, differentiated by the behaviours they use and the extent to which they use them.
These eight behavioural types are discussed in detail earlier in the report, but a clear conclusion is that most of the types are not particularly effective in sales meetings! It is probable that sales people could improve their sales performance by altering their behaviours in a sales meeting. Sales directors –who have usually been successful sales people in their time– sometimes argue that ‘good sales people are born, not made’. Our research suggests that average sales people can increase their performance. 4. The way to do this is by modifying their behaviour. Of course, some people are just more comfortable with selling than others are, but this report flags up a series of behaviours that are associated with sales success, and many of these can be trained into people.
The behaviours that are most strongly associated with sales success are preparation and planning, and adaptive selling during the sales meeting. Premeeting preparation can clearly be taught, and should be regarded as an essential part of the sales person’s role. Adaptive selling (discussing value, handling objections, negotiating) are all skills that can be developed through training and coaching The notion of the inverted ‘U’-shaped function is important as well. The research shows that too little, and too much, story telling and sales pitching, reduce sales success. Some of the less successful types identified in this report could have increased their sales success by doing less, not more. This is an issue relating to improved observing and listening, both of which can be learned.
Cranfield and Silent Edge share a commitment to improving the practice of sales. Both organisations believe that business-to-business selling is a vital skill for our economic success. We believe that there is often a tendency for organisations to engage in inappropriate sales training, focusing on the wrong issues, such as the persistent belief that slick PowerPoint presentations are what close deals. Our research provides evidence to the contrary.