A few weeks ago, I spent Saturday afternoon playing Super Mario Kart on Nintendo Wii U with a friend of mine and our two six-year-old boys. After hastily picking my character, vehicle, and tires, I noticed that my friend was carefully cycling through different vehicle options. Somehow, he had enabled a dialog box with ratings for each vehicle attribute including: Speed, Acceleration, Handling, Drift, etc. The competitor in me quickly hit the “Back” button so I too could optimize my vehicle based on the attributes. It reminded me of the game NBA Jam, where I used to flip through various teams and players to find the right combination of attributes that would give me the best chance of beating my opponent (or the nearly impossible-to-beat computer).
Evaluating and hiring a winning Sales Team is not unlike the process of evaluating character attributes in a video game. Each candidate and team member has strengths and weaknesses that must be weighed and balanced. No sales rep is perfect in every category. It’s a game of give and take. In seeking strengths in certain areas, you accept weaknesses in others. But, what is the winning formula? What characteristics should be over-weighted? And, what attributes should be considered in the first place?
Sales Team Attributes
In our 2017 Growth Drivers Report we asked 200 Sales and Marketing professionals to rate their teams on a scale of 1-5 across 15 different attributes. The sales team attributes we assessed were:
- Adapting to change
- Delivering product demos
- Entering and maintaining account and contact data with quality and completeness
- Handling objections
- Knowledge of buyers
- Knowledge of products
- Knowledge of the market
- Prospecting Skill
- Sales Skill
- Supporting and Partnering with Marketing
- Tech Savvy
While we would have liked to ask about many other attributes, we limited response options to prevent survey fatigue.
To determine if a sales team’s strengths or weaknesses had any correlation with growth we compared the median growth rate at companies that scored poorly (ones or twos) against the median growth rate at companies that rated strongly (fours and fives). The overall median annual growth rate was 10%.
The Profile of the Un-Salesman
To our surprise, not one sales team attribute correlated with a growth rate higher than the overall median. In other words, strengths did not set sales teams apart in their ability to achieve higher growth. However, sales team weaknesses did correlate with lower growth rates. Sales teams that were rated as “Weak” or “Very Weak” in prospecting skills, storytelling, tech savvy, and knowledge of products & buyers experienced lower than the median revenue growth.
Let’s explore each of these independently.
1. Weak Prospecting Skills
While not every sales role requires prospecting skills (i.e. Sales Engineers, Account Managers, Farmers, etc.), it should come as no surprise that as a collective sales team prospecting skill is critical to growth. Along with a healthy flow of qualified leads from marketing, sales prospecting is the lifeblood of sales. Without new appointments and opportunities feeding the sales engine, the growth machine quickly grinds to a halt. Prospecting is critical – both in terms of acquiring new business and generating upsells and/or cross-sells from existing business.
In addition to the finding that prospecting weakness suppressed growth, our growth survey found that high growth organizations were twice as likely to believe cold calling was alive and see great results from it. They were also 4X as likely to have an SDR team that was generating a healthy mix (34-66%) of SDR appointments from outbound prospecting.
2. Weak Storytelling
Sales is an art and a science. According to a study by Gartner, 70% of executive buyers think customer stories and case studies are the best way providers can communicate differentiation they can trust, but only 34% of executive buyers felt sales reps do a good job of communicating business value.
When I think of the impact stories have in the selling process it reminds me of this quote by Maya Angelou:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Stories bring to life the reality and raw emotion of buyer pain, the cost of that pain, and how life can improve with the right solution or service. Stories can strike a chord or leave an emotional impression that becomes an anchor point and a catalyst for seeking understanding of the business value, communicating it to drive consensus, and justifying a purchase.
3. Weak Knowledge of Products and Buyers
When it comes to educating sales teams about products and buyers there are two key factors at play:
First, is each individual sales rep’s capacity and drive to seek, acquire, and retain the knowledge needed to engage meaningfully with buyers and represent their offering. Reps that are hungry to learn thrive more than those who wait to be fed. Many organizations, administer cognitive aptitude tests to gauge incoming sales reps’ ability to quickly consume and process information as a barometer for their learning ability.
Second, is the investment the organization makes in training and coaching their sales team, gathering and distilling important information, and developing and disbursing content. This may include, but is not limited to the following:
- Weekly training sessions
- Onboarding programs with live and online interactive training
- Immediate feedback and coaching on sales calls, practice sessions, and recordings
- Peer feedback or discussion
- Role playing
- Development of sales playbooks, competitive battle cards, quick reference guides, data sheets and other collateral articulating pain points addressed, cost of the status quo, features, benefits, differentiators, and ROI of your solution
- Buyer personas, profiles, and other buyer intelligence that sheds light on the buyer’s broader responsibilities and where the challenge you can solve fits within their world.
- Systems and processes that deliver content, training, and tips in the workflow and context of a sales rep’s day
- In addition to finding that poor product and buyer knowledge suppresses growth, our survey found that high growth companies train and coach employees three-or-more hours per week. Within the high growth group, organizations that conducted five-or-more hours of training and coaching had the highest growth rates of all.
4. Weak Tech Savvy
Technology continues to rapidly change how buyers and sellers interact. Our growth survey revealed that high growth sales teams use 2X as many sales technologies as low growth companies, with high growth companies using 13 sales technologies and low growth companies using only 6. But, merely implementing technologies doesn’t guarantee success. Our survey also found that poor adoption of technology and processes is a leading inhibitor of growth at low growth companies affecting 49% of respondent organizations.
With the implementation of technology comes the need for tech savvy sales reps who can adapt to change and adopt new solutions into their workflow. Organizations that are nimble in their adoption of technology are poised to grow more rapidly than those that are slow to change or have teams that resist change. The right tools can deliver intelligence, streamline workflows, introduce opportunities, and engage buyers more efficiently and in ways that might otherwise be impossible. High growth sales teams rated about 10% higher than low growth teams for the attribute “Adapting to Change.”
Technology should be thought of as a strategic advantage. Sales leaders would be wise to assign someone the responsibility of evaluating, managing, growing, and measuring the impact of the sales tech stack. Without this key role and attention, it is unlikely to be a strategic advantage.
There’s No Easy Button for Unlocking All-Star Sales Talent
Unlike NBA Jam, which allows you to unlock secret characters with ratings of 100% across multiple attributes, there’s no easy button for unlocking a legendary sales team. However, you can be purposeful in the attributes you seek in new hires and you can help existing team members strengthen critical attributes. While the formula for a sales team that outperforms the median is unclear, the recipe for underperformance is crystal. Sales leaders should strive to hire for tech savvy and focus training, coaching, and development on prospecting skill, storytelling, and knowledge of products and buyers.
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