Sales Success Needs More of a CRM Focus

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The percentage of salespeople making quota has dropped from 63 percent to 53 percent between 2012 to 2016, largely because companies have not taken the proper steps to address customer complexity, according to a report from CSO Insights. 

Customer complexity, the report points out, is not a new trend, but organizations’ recent initiatives to try to overcome it clearly are just not working. 

“Buying organizations are changing faster than selling organizations,” says Seleste Lunsford, senior director at CSO Insights. “If you think about a typical buyer or customer, they’re so influenced by their life as a consumer, and those expectations bleed over into the B2B side of what they purchase as well.”

Sales organizations haven’t kept up because leadership at many companies is often afraid to mess with the sales organization because it’s customer-facing and the perceived risk is so high, the report concludes. 

That’s not to say that change isn’t happening on the sales side—“it’s just not as fast as it’s happening on the customer side,” Lunsford says.

The report indicates that customer relationships and sales processes are interrelated when it comes to sales success. The different levels of customer relationships include, in ascending order, “approved vendor,” “preferred supplier,” “solutions consultant,” “strategic contributor,” and “trusted partner.” For sales processes, the hierarchy goes, in ascending order, from “random process,” to “informal process,” to “formal process,” and ultimately to “dynamic process.” 

In CSO’s rankings, most companies (48.4 percent) fell in the middle of these hierarchies, somewhere between being approved vendors with random processes and trusted partners with dynamic processes. 

The report identifies 12 practices—six for customer relationships and six for sales processes—that correlate with sales success. For customer relationships, they are the following:

• consistently and effectively articulate a solution aligned to customers’ needs;

• deliver a consistent customer experience that aligns with brand promise;

• consistently and effectively communicate appropriate value messages aligned to customers’ and prospects’ needs;

• ensure that customers have consistently positive interactions across all channels;

• be effective at surfacing specific reasons why customers stop doing business; and

• be effective at selling value to avoid discounting or gaining comparative value in return for price concessions.

For sales process, they are the following:

• continually assess why top performers are successful;

• when a salesperson is lost, consistently determine the reasons why;

• effectively collect and share best practices across sales and service organizations;

• hold sales managers accountable for their teams’ effective use of tools and resources;

• foster a culture that supports the continuous development of salespeople and sales leaders; and

• consistently develop and ensure implementation of personalized performance improvement plans.

“[Customer relationships and sales processes] are mutually reinforcing,” Lunsford says. “They are inextricably linked. If I don’t have a consistent sales process, and that sales process isn’t really deeply aligned with the customer and how the customer wants to interact with me, then it’s still not going to help me have better relationships with people,” she says.

Where they intersect, she adds, “is interesting,” pointing out that while salespeople can have direct control over the processes they use, they can only minimally influence their relationships with customers through those methodologies. 

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