Historically, there was one way to evaluate a salesperson’s performance: whether they achieved their sales goal number. Unfortunately, that measure tells you whether they were successful last period, not whether they’re likely to be in the next. So, it isn’t a sound indicator of sales performance.
Getting specific about sales performance is increasingly important. The market is full of talk about whether the sales profession will evaporate in favor of AI-fueled bots. While that won’t happen in the next few quarters, change is coming, and it’s coming fast. Many transactional sales models will evolve to be machine to machine. However, we believe there will always be a need for the human connection in perspective sales-based models, where sellers use their expertise to provide value to customers through a deep understanding of business, crafting creative and personalized solutions to complex needs.
That being said, only the best sellers are going to succeed when it comes to thinking out of the box in the near future. With quota attainment at a six-year low, it’s critical to ensure that every seller you have is maximizing their selling performance. Today, only 53% of salespeople are making or exceeding their goals, according to Korn Ferry Research.
Performance management deserves a second look. It works in conjunction with hiring, workforce planning and other disciplines as part of a broader talent management system. Yet, in many sales organizations, it’s been reduced to checking boxes on an annual HR form.
Truly measuring and managing sales performance helps assess how people are doing against their goals and why, so you can drive coaching and development. Importantly, we don’t just mean onboarding of new hires or exception training for poor performers. We mean the ongoing coaching, enabling and development of both salespeople and sales managers (as well as all customer-facing roles).
In Korn Ferry’s research, we found that only 38% of organizations agreed or strongly agreed that “our culture supports continuous development of salespeople and sales leaders.” However, a whopping 90% of world-class organizations reported success at this practice. For this development to have any true meaning, you have to start looking at sales performance as more than just making a number.
Start by being very specific, at the capability and behavioral level, about what success will look like. What will people need to say and do? What kind of expertise will they need to execute on your chosen sales methodology and sales process?
Assess your incumbent salesforce’s capabilities. What are they doing well? Where are the opportunities to improve? Do this on at least a 180-degree basis (collecting feedback from both managers and the sellers themselves). And be sure to communicate this well.
As an example, a company once ran a 180-degree assessment with the managers and salespeople of a failing sales organization. When the results came back, there were few to no gaps. This just didn’t pass muster. How could a salesforce be perfect and unsuccessful? Turns out that managers had been told that there was a hiring freeze. They were afraid that they would have to fire poor performers and would not be able to replace them. They felt a poor performer was better than them personally having to manage all the accounts.
Make the assessment process very transparent. Make it clear how it will be used and the benefits of candid feedback.
Use the assessment as a way to drive and align formal coaching. Most (59%) of sales organizations feel like the effectiveness of the coaching provided to salespeople needs improvement or major redesign, according to Korn Ferry research. But those who report a more dynamic approach to coaching that is formalized, reinforced and tied to a broader enablement approach are outperforming those who leave coaching up to managers, with a +31.4% improvement in win rates!
However, be sure to give coaches the skills and tools they need to act on the assessment results. Managers need a formal approach. But today over a third (35.9%) still leave coaching approaches up to managers with no direction or framework.
Ultimately, your goal is for each individual to have a personalized improvement plan to guide their individual development. Seventy-eight percent of world-class organizations support such plans compared to 32%% of sales organizations overall. And note that all of your sellers deserve coaching. Coaching an A player may look very different from coaching a new hire. But it doesn’t look like ignoring them so they can “do their own thing.” Recognition is a great form of coaching.
Look at the individual strengths and weaknesses of your employees in aggregate. Overall, what does your sales team need to be successful? Likely, you will need to invest in comprehensive training curricula, coaching training, tools, aligned content and more. Use a formal approach to sales enablement to orchestrate the creation and integration of sales performance support.
Most organizations are trying to boost their likelihood of success in a rapidly changing customer environment through sales transformation efforts. Your people can be one of your biggest drivers of these changes — or they can be one of your biggest inhibitors. So, it’s worth a renewed, or even different, look at sales performance.
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