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Five priorities for sales

At a time when more than half of all reps are missing their quotas, managers have a clear set of goals for their sales departments.

More than half of all sales reps are not meeting quotas, the highest percentage in 10 years, according to a recent survey from sales consulting firm CSO Insights.

Whether a result of poor performance or high expectations, the shortfall will require a change in the way businesses approach sales, according to Barry Trailer, a partner with CSO Insights, which is based in Boulder, Colo., and Mill Valley, Calif. Trailer worked with to identify five challenges affecting sales organizations today.

  1. Increase revenue: "You would think [increasing revenue] would always be the case, but a few years ago [revenue growth] was considered a given," Trailer said. CSO Insights' survey, which gathered data from 1,300 sales executives, drove home just how big a challenge revenue growth is; nearly 70% of respondents identified it as their top priority, over items such as increasing sales effectiveness and increasing market share.
  2. Add new, brighter reps: More than 65% of those surveyed said they intend to expand the size of their sales force during the next 12 months and focus on intensive training. Last year, Pictage Inc., a Torrance, Calif.-based firm that offers an online service for photographers, doubled its client base to more than 2,000, while only marginally increasing head count, said Scott Brogi, the company's vice president of business development. Pictage plans to add one more member to its sales team this quarter.
  3. Improve lead management and forecasting: "It's important for us not only to get the lead to the right people, but to track the process," Brogi said. Pictage began using hosted CRM software from Boston-based Salesnet last March to help manage its leads. It also began having reps contact people promptly, using a couple of Web-based applications to track marketing campaigns. As the CSO Insights report concluded, "To put it mildly, forecasting sucks." More than 90% of sales deals did not close as forecasted in the past year, Trailer said. He predicted a big push toward improving forecasting methods.
  4. Populate sales force automation software with accurate data: Keeping information current and persuading staff to use the current CRM system are perennial challenges, Trailer said.
  5. Working harder for the same or diminishing results: Sales executives say they increasingly expend more effort for every deal that eventually closes.

The CSO Insights survey also threw some cold water on the idea that massive consolidation in the CRM industry would affect the buying cycle from a sales perspective. The 937 firms that said they seriously evaluated a CRM system said they considered a combined 102 different products. Additionally, one in four wound up not implementing a system, and one in five wound up developing its own system.

Other challenges facing sales include coping with changing sales procedures, complying with formal sales methodologies, and effectively sharing knowledge and best practices, Trailer said.

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