The top 20% of sales performers in your organization produce, on average, 62% of revenue. But are your top sellers really performing at their best? Some may be hitting revenue targets because it’s relatively easy to farm their existing territory. Others may be getting the deal done at a lower price—risking margin.

It’s only when selling gets harder—as we’re seeing in today’s market—that these gaps become exposed.

“Selling is absolutely harder right now,” says Senior Client Partner, Sales Effectiveness and Sales Transformation Advisory, Adam Thorp.

“In buoyant times, companies tend to tolerate underperformance from their B- or C-grade performers, because the A-graders are bringing in the numbers. However, once the economic screws are tightened and headwinds start to build, the A-graders might not get them through.”

So what makes up the DNA of a true high performer? It’s one thing to hire sales reps in a talent shortage, and another to find those who will succeed in the current environment.

Building high performers in sales

When you map sales success DNA across competency behaviors, traits and technical sales skills, you can identify any gaps in your team. Do you already have the right people in the right roles? Do you need to find new hires who are the right fit? Is the key to find high-performers and translate their behaviors into teachable skills so the whole team can grow?

“And if you can’t train people in these success factors, it may be time to move them on,” says Thorp.

Our recent global survey of the sales landscape found 75% of sales leaders do not believe they have the sales talent they need to succeed in a more virtual selling environment. Buyer trust has been eroded, new opportunity win rates are down 38%, and on average reps are almost 45% under quota.

Conversely, salespeople who have the skills, behaviors and traits to build buyer trust are securing bigger deals—by switching from ‘selling’ to ‘knowledge sharing’.

If you want to drive sales growth and increase seller productivity, you need to know how to replicate that successful seller DNA across your organization. Here are three questions to get you started.

3 questions to ask to build successful sellers

1Do you understand what a high performer really looks like?

The numbers—win rate, deal size—only tell part of the story in a successful seller’s DNA. A thorough sales assessment will also analyze the competency behaviors and traits of those individuals.

Missed targets are not the only red flag indicating the need for assessment.

“One of our current clients, a major tech firm, is still generating solid revenue numbers,” explains Thorp. “But there is visible concern that the sales team is not having the right conversations, or they’re not seeing the right behaviors that deliver strong outcomes. This is where we’d focus our diagnostics—because that sales team might not be reaching its full potential.”

Korn Ferry uses a combination of capability, behavioral competency and trait assessment against proven Success Profiles from its global database generated from over 74 million assessments, as well as specific performance data like relationship intelligence, win rate, deal size and retention.

“Productivity is the nirvana of sales performance,” says Thorp. “We can get a complete picture of the DNA of a high performer by role, function or even at a product level by combining the assessment data with real-time sales activity data.”

It’s also worth considering a broader set of sales performance data, including:

  • Conversion rate—number of deals closed / number of leads
  • Customer acquisition cost—sales and marketing costs / number of new customers acquired
  • Customer lifetime value—average annual revenue per customer x average customer lifespan
  • Sales productivity index—total revenue generated / sales costs

Measuring successful sales traits

There are of course many different types of sellers. Some are product or industry specialists; some are deal hunters. Once you have the assessment outputs, you may realize some people are in the wrong roles to achieve your go-to-market strategy.

As an example, Cyrus Cavina, an Associate Client Partner, says, “According to our research, within the top traits differentiating sales specialists there is a gap between ideal and typical traits including confidence, persistence, need for achievement and composure.”

2Do you have an objective view of current and future performance?

Data is the key to effective sales performance assessments—and can also unlock stronger performance in the team. You can use predictive analytics and AI to measure, coach and nudge sellers to continually improve their performance.

“Behavioral competencies and traits are leading indicators for effective sales technical skills, which translates to success in the field,” says Thorp. “This is where AI can help us analyze patterns in client feedback, relationships and sales conversations and recommend next best steps to improve effectiveness.”

Using this data also removes the risk of potential biases.

“You're making decisions based on something that's real: an objective view of what real performance looks like compared with high performance, and what we need to do to replicate success,” says Thorp.

Replicating client account manager sales performance

The Korn Ferry Sales Effectiveness team recently worked with a major global consulting firm to develop opportunities to accelerate revenue growth by replicating the most successful client account managers’ DNA.

“The top 300 global accounts are responsible for around one-third of this firm’s revenue. So how could we further grow that? We assessed and benchmarked the profiles of their best-performing client account managers, and then developed individual capability development and learning journeys for all those who had gaps,” explains Thorp.

“We also made sure the people with the strongest success DNA were running the right type of accounts, so they could increase contribution. The data and analytics help us predict the best possible outcomes.”

He says it’s also important to measure what matters, whether it’s revenue, margin or another metric.

“What you really want is someone who can win the work at a high margin. And that's where you combine superior sales, relationship and negotiation skills, as well as commercial acumen. These sellers can work with the client, align to what their objectives are, show the ROI and then get that premium price.”

Research indicates sellers who engage clients much earlier in the sales process tend to get a higher margin, because they have worked with the client to understand the underlying issue, which then triggered the opportunity.

“Even if they then go to a competitive pitch later in the buying cycle, they’re in the driving seat because they started the process and built trust from the start,” says Thorp.

Sales Effectiveness

Breakthrough to immediate, predictable and sustainable sales effectiveness

3 Are you product pushers or problem solvers?

Our sales landscape survey found the most important traits in future APAC sales leaders are affinity, agility and empathy. An overwhelming 69% of APAC respondents said selling should be seen as relationship management rather than sales.

“The most effective salespeople I've ever seen do not sell anything. They never push a product. Instead, the client buys a solution that has been co-designed,” says Thorp.

He says the two most important attributes in a successful seller are client focus and curiosity. “People with these traits always bring value to every conversation that they have.”

Korn Ferry assessments always look for curiosity as a trait, especially in prospecting roles. Curious sellers are better at understanding client needs, exploring options and developing solutions.

Ultimately, this is what empowers sales teams to shift from selling to knowledge sharing. It takes time, but it is the key to building buyer trust.

If you’re not sure you have the sales talent you need to succeed, start by understanding what makes a high performer successful. Once you unlock this code, you can start building a sales team that can thrive in the current market and beyond.

Learn more by exploring our ebook on the new sales landscape.

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