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Getting sales processes right

A new study from Miller Heiman identifies what sales organizations think they should be doing right -- and what they are actually doing right.

In a world where it is increasingly difficult for buyers to differentiate products, the salesperson becomes a major factor in the purchasing decision, a new study from Miller Heiman Inc. says.

The Reno, Nev.-based sales consultancy surveyed nearly 2,300 sales organizations from around the world for insight into what drives sales effectiveness. The "winners" -- those who had year-over-year sales increases from 2002 to 2003 -- identified talent, process and skills as the priorities for continued success, said David Pearson, vice president of sales operations.

"The people making buying decisions when looking at multiple proposals invariably say they can hardly tell the difference from one proposal to the next," Pearson said. "Yet when we ask the salespeople what makes them unique, they'll give us 10 reasons. The buyers are not seeing that."

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More than half, 55%, of respondents believed they have the right people in the right place, but only 29% believe they're being fully utilized, according to the study.

"The top organizations are asking, 'What are my best salespeople doing?' and, 'How do I leverage that through my mid-level performers who could be top performers?'" Pearson said.

Organizations that improved their sales revenues also focused on process, particularly "funnel management," Pearson said. A consistent process across the sales funnel, or pipeline, allows organizations to see where the best salespeople are moving quickly through the process, which helps the organization to focus its energy, Pearson said.

Additionally, to get quality out of the sales funnel means putting quality into it. "They're looking at how they can have a consistent process in identifying opportunities, the characteristics of their best customers," Pearson said.

Miller Heiman encourages organizations to make a list of the top five characteristics of its best customers and its worst, and then follow those types of customers through the funnel with technology.

Finally, "winning" sales organizations have the skills to reach the key decision makers at the executive level, as buying decisions have steadily moved up the organizational ladder in recent years, Pearson said.

The study revealed a significant gap between what sales organizations feel they need to do and what they feel they are doing.

Significant findings from the study include:

  • 38% of sales organizations say they capture data in a consistent, dependable manner, yet 82% believe that having accurate, comprehensive customer and prospect data is critical to make strategic sales-related decisions.
  • 55% of sales organizations believe they have a well-defined methodology for identifying opportunities to pursue, yet 60% report they do not qualify leads as well as they should, and 48% struggle to manage opportunities through the funnel.
  • 69% of sales organizations agree that from 2003, customers are deferring their purchasing decisions, thereby slowing sales cycles, yet 50% say their reps are not reaching the right decision makers.
  • 53% of sales organizations believe they will achieve growth by increasing share in new markets, yet over half say that selling new products and services is a significant challenge.

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