How a new sales methodology accelerated indirect sales
The national accounts team at a global insurer asked Korn Ferry for help recapturing market share, resulting in a 52% rise in win rate.
Your top sales talent is responsible for over half of the team’s revenue. Do you want more of them? Of course you do. But the problem is, you may not know what’s driving your top sellers.
In the Korn Ferry Research 2020 Sales Talent Study, one alarming statistic was the vulnerability that sales organizations have when it comes to top performers.
For years, our data has shown that the top 20% of a sales team contributes over half (62% in the 2020-2021 Sales Performance Study) of revenue. Yet, even with such a high reliance on such a small group of people, only 26% of sales organizations assess their sellers to learn what makes their best so successful.
Because there are so few top sellers in the market, many organizations live in fear of losing their best performers to the competition. How many times have you heard a sales leader say, “You don’t coach or manage a top performer. You just get out of their way”?
The result of this mindset is little change in performance across the sales team and only half of sellers making their goals. They don’t spend time learning from these top sellers or trying to replicate their success.
If sales organizations “assess” anything, they gather information from interviewing their sales leaders. They ask these leaders why they think top sellers are successful, then try to build a competency model and train their sales talent to be more like the top performers or at least begin to hire to what they believe is the profile of a top performer.
But this subjective approach to sales talent suffers from significant drawbacks.
How can you ensure you are assessing the broad range of your sales talent, not just your top talent? Consider the 5 scenarios below.
Most sales organizations measure success using lagging indicators. Top sellers are usually identified by revenue plan attainment. However, hitting a quota may not necessarily mean that a seller is the “best.” They may be very good at farming an existing territory that a previous seller acquired, or they may have a preferential account list due to tenure, background or just pure luck.
Instead, sales managers should evaluate sales talent using a range of indicators, including consistent performance, strong conversion, high win rates, positive customer feedback and positive internal feedback. This is an effective way to find and utilize strengths for all members of the sales team.
Good sales leaders will certainly have a good gut feel on best practices — what your best sellers are doing that others aren’t. It’s critical to share those best practices across the company.
But your sales leaders aren’t organizational psychologists. They won’t be able to tell you the underlying attributes that separate top sales team performers from others. Many times, what ends up in a competency model (such as product knowledge) isn’t what differentiates the high and low performers. And what one leader might describe as “competitiveness” may actually be “ambition” and have different motivators.
Sales leaders’ perspectives are informative, but they aren’t a replacement for a data science-oriented approach.
Buyers, industries and products are all changing rapidly. Sellers who may have broad success selling products may struggle with a SaaS model. Those who excelled when a product was first to market may struggle when lower-cost options emerge. Market factors may drive your organization to adopt a vertical versus a geographic, territory-based model.
When considering the best sales talent, think about the future, not just what leads to being the best today.
A data-derived model includes a range of skills, knowledge and attributes. Some of those competencies you can train. Others you can develop. So, for example, if a salesperson is wired to be good at negotiations, you can enhance that talent by providing them with training and a negotiations process.
Still other issues primarily stem from hiring. For example, if a salesperson is not inherently inclined to be curious, you may be able to teach them how to be aware of possible blind spots, but you won’t change their approach to selling.
Consider what goes into your onboarding program, what you include in your ongoing development program and what is a hiring must-have.
You may find that while your top sales team performers are important to your organization, you can’t accommodate a greater proportion of them. They may be prone to working outside of the system, creating legal risk, innovating hard-to-fulfill solutions or requiring large amounts of support resources.
This may be an acceptable tradeoff for the return on select accounts. But you should strongly consider how replicable that model is.
Instead of a subjective evaluation of sellers from your sales managers, consider what you could learn from a data-driven assessment of their skills and capabilities. With data, you can identify specifically what drives a seller’s success and what to replicate in your training program and future hires.