The sales organization within any business almost always has a target on its back and with good reason as it is this organization at most businesses that has the clearest and most direct relationship with top-line revenue production.
This target appears to be getting bigger. According to data collected by Aberdeen Group in December 2010 in which 53 per cent of more than 1,500 business executives cited organic revenue growth (growth from new and existing customers) as a top business goal for 2011.
This pressure is further validated by Aberdeen Group's recent research on sales performance management. That research, which was based on survey responses from more than 530 sales executives from organizations around the world revealed insufficient growth in top-line revenue as the primary pressure facing Sales executives — see Figure 1.
Figure 1: Pressures Forcing Focus on Sales Performance Management
Source: Aberdeen Group, August 2010
To address these pressures, the top-performing sales organizations (defined as the top 20 per cent of aggregate responses from that research, based on current overall team attainment of sales quota, as well as year-over-year changes in average deal size-by-contract value and average sales cycle-by-time-to-close — referred to as Best-in-Class) are focused creating repeatable, desirable selling behavior within their team.
These top-performers understand the value of training their sales team in the consistent deployment of successful messaging and tactics.
They are nearly twice as likely as bottom-performing sales organizations to provide post-training reinforcement of the content. The strategy of driving repeatable behaviors among strong performers can be further captured and standardized by using assessment or measurement tools to understand pre and post-training sales rep performance metrics.
Duplicating the skill sets and characteristics of these individuals is supported by strategic sales performance management actions around getting new sales hires up and running quickly, and then ensuring they are efficient once trained — see Figure 2.
Figure 2: Strategies by Best-in-Class Sales Organizations to Address Pressures
Source: Aberdeen Group, August 2010
Where does the CIO come in?
Within any enterprise, subject matter expertise abounds, yet is often invisible to those who require it — especially among organizations with remote or geographically-dispersed employees.
While sales teams can benefit greatly through formal sales training, it is important to enable informal information sharing between and among sales managers and sales reps in order to allow them to learn about and share best practices or tips around essential skills such as prospecting, positioning, nurturing, and closing.
This is supported by nearly two-thirds of Best-in-Class sales organizations as compared to only 42 per cent of bottom-performing sales organizations.
In addition to helping sales organizations tap into internal (or tribal) sales knowledge, CIOs can also enable greater sales productivity through access to updated and relevant sales collateral.
More than three-quarters (76 per cent) of Best-in-Class sales organizations have in place a centralized repository for content that sales, marketing, and even service teams can access to more efficiently find and use the most effective messaging tools in support of hitting their quota numbers.
Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of Best-in-Class sales organizations indicate they have defined metrics to analyze the impact of sales performance on overall company health — as compared to only 46 per cent of bottom-performing sales organizations.
Effective sales organizations realize that it is the measurement of leading indicators such as number of calls made and length of time a prospect remains at a certain stage in the sales cycle, which ultimately lead to increased revenue.
As such, the ability for sales management and sales representatives to have visibility into performance against those leading indicators is essential.
The Best-in-Class are nearly twice as likely as their bottom-performing counterparts to have in place performance dashboards or scorecards that both sales managers and reps can access (69 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively).
To enable your sales organization to be more productive and help ensure the company meet its revenue growth objectives, CIOs must work with sales leadership to ensure knowledge sharing and collaboration not only among sales managers and the sales representatives, but also among those within the organization who can aid in their ability get the right information to the right customer or prospect at the right time.
One technology that should be considered for this is synchronous web-conferencing technology, currently utilized by eight in 10 of the Best-in-Class.
In addition, CIOs need to enable their quota-carrying counterparts to measure and report on activities that lead to (or impede) sales success.
Often, this data is captured in a customer relationship management (CRM) or sales force automation (SFA) software tool.
It may appear that only large organizations can afford to support big sales forces with these enablers, but it should be noted that 53 per cent of the Best-in-Class from the research reported annual revenues of under £80 million; best practices are size-agnostic.
For more research that applies to the CIO, please see Aberdeen's CIO Tookit.
See also: How to work with the finance department
Peter Ostrow is research director, sales effectiveness at Aberdeen Group