Accenture Calls for Attention to the 'Frozen Middle'

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A recent Accenture and CSO Insights study has found that minor improvements in average-performing salespeople can increase a business' revenue by as much as 3.2 percent.

All too often, when trying to improve quotas, sales executives focus on their best and worst performers rather than on those in the middle, who make up the bulk of their sales teams. "Companies spend a disproportionate amount of their time on the smallest population of their sellers—the top 8 percent and the bottom 10 percent—and really neglect the 'frozen middle,'" says Jason Angelos, managing director and global leader of Accenture's Sales and Marketing Spend Optimization program.

Adding to the problem, only slightly more than half (51 percent) of companies have formal selling guidelines in place, according to the research.

And because of the increasing use of technology, traditional sales playbooks no longer apply. Traditional "sales methodology," Angelos says, "isn't as universally applicable to companies as it has been historically."

Forced to act more independently and spontaneously, salespeople have been spending less of their working time selling, focusing instead on other aspects of the sales process.

Another problem is the confusion surrounding the adoption of the new devices to juggle their many tasks. Though the report points out that the use of mobile devices by sales reps has increased by 400 percent in the past year, not enough reps are using them effectively and to their full potential. "Salespeople are using tablets and smartphones today [primarily for] checking email and calendars, accessing CRM records, and accessing presentations," Jim Dickie, a partner at CSO Insights, stated in an email to CRM. "None of those things are game changers in sales."

Dickie holds that investing in technologies is of little value if no one understands how to use them. "Today too many firms are buying solutions and then going in search of a problem," he wrote. "I know of a technology firm that bought 1,000-plus tablets without a clue [to] what sales teams were going to do with them. We need to flip that around."

Dickie says firms should start by analyzing the challenges reps encounter today. "If we do that level of diagnosis, then we will be able to look at all the technology solutions available and determine which combination of things will solve the problems we have surfaced," he wrote.

The key, analysts say, is for sales executives to search for a unique combination that works, and then to be more specific when determining which aspects of their operations they want to fix. One small change can lead to huge results.

The report proposes four imperatives for sales executives to pursue: analyzing investments, redefining pricing, redesigning sales operations, and uniting front-office functions.

Angelos states that companies that have had the most success with this "were very conscious in picking their spots...and purposefully and disproportionately driving their investments."

He recommends that sales executives take a closer look at their elite employees to see which behaviors are leading to success and can be duplicated in others. "What many organizations fail to understand is really beyond the profile of their high-performance sellers," he states.

Among the questions to ask, he adds, are the following: What are they really doing that's driving their success? And how are they spending their time?

"Getting real legitimate insight into the activities and behaviors that they're demonstrating in performance is a powerful tool to unlock and inform the different levels that sales leaders have at their disposal," Angelos explains.

It also offers a strong way to inform whether individuals are in the right roles, whether leads are being routed to the right types of sellers, and whether companies are taking the right approach to sales coaching and compensation, according to Angelos.

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