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World-class sales: What separates the merely good...

World-class sprinters know that tail winds greater than two meters per second disqualify their times because of the unnatural boost it gives their performance. The economy acts in a similar fashion on sales organizations – boosting sales performance as it moves through natural business cycles.

Since the recession of 2008, the economy has seen 14 consecutive quarters of no- to low-economic growth. The flat economy provides a level playing field where great sales organizations must stand on their own to distance themselves from the rest of the pack.

The annual Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study captures and measures the behaviors, attributes and performance of “world-class sales organizations” – companies that outperform the rest in key sales performance metrics such as lead growth, quota achievement and average account billing. The 2013 study results released in early April reflect data collected from more than 1,100 sales professionals during fall 2012.

For the past two years, the study revealed that about six percent were outperforming the rest by an average of 20 percent. This group was deemed as “world class.” According to this year’s study, the overall percentage of respondents designated as world class fell to 4.9 percent, while widening the gap to a 24 percent difference in key metrics. This means that the majority of sales organizations are falling further behind as the gap between “good” and “great” grows.

So, what are the great sales organizations doing that separate them from the rest? The study identified three common and defining attributes that separate world-class sales organizations from the pack:
• Customer Core:  Customers are at the core of everything they do.
• Collaborative Culture:  The entire organization works together toward a shared goal.
• Calibrated Success:  They know what makes them successful.

Customer Core
The very best sales organizations put the customer at the core of everything they do and focus their businesses on truly understanding their customers’ needs. Getting closer to customers, becoming connected to their strategic issues and needs, and recognizing that each customer is unique are defining behaviors.

While most companies pay the obligatory lip service to putting the customer first, world-class sales organizations walk the walk. They’ve developed customer management processes that allow the entire sales force to identify and manage opportunities and the relationships behind them. They are aligned with their marketing teams in terms of what customers want, which prospects to target, and the messages and values that resonate most. 

As revealed in the study, great sales organizations understand customer issues before they present a solution and that every customer makes every decision differently every time. To the companies doing it right, sales are much more than transactions. They are about back-and-forth, long-lasting customer relationships.

Collaborative Culture
Just as world champion sports teams require teamwork and a shared goal to win, top-tier sales organizations distinguish themselves through collaboration. This doesn’t just mean that employees “play nice” and work together. Obviously, this is important. But, what matters more is that all of the organization’s resources can pull together quickly to focus on the customer.

Salespeople must be able to depend on their managers, subject matter experts, marketing and research teams to augment the knowledge they need to serve their customers. Great sales teams know how to apply the right resources to the right deals in a seamless, integrated way, and they are backed by organizations that support their goal to put the customer above all.

Calibrated Success
Highly successful sales organizations are calibrated and built for success. This means that they have the ability to measure and regulate the behaviors and activities from salespeople that drive desired results.

They have aligned their compensation plans with corporate objectives. They have the metrics, technology and resources in place to measure performance, identify and remove obstacles, and adjust resources as needed.

Simply put, world-class sales organizations never rely on guesswork to measure success. Instead, they establish benchmark data as a foundation for comparison and decision-making, and use the power of technology to understand why they are successful and where they need to make improvements.

Carl Lewis, a world-class sprinter widely accepted as one of the greatest track and field athletes of our time, may not have qualified for the 2012 London Olympics because the bar for being world class is always being raised. Someone who was considered great yesterday, may not make the grade tomorrow.

So, while world-class sales organizations are performing at a high level today, they also know that to stay on top they have to continue raising the bar on their own performance and that they must work better, smarter and at a higher level than the competition.

What is your organization doing to get better, gain customers and outperform the competition? Are you doing enough to be world-class?

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Sam Reese

Sam Reese, chief executive officer of sales performance leader Miller Heiman (www.millerheiman.com), which includes the Miller Heiman Research Institute, a research organization dedicated to improving the performance and productivity of complex, b-to-b sales organizations. He can be reached at sam.reese@millerheiman.com or 303-991-2367.

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