• April 3, 2024
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

Sales’ Big Challenge: Winning the Game

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I sat in on a forum recently with a dozen chief revenue officers during which we explored all the things that were changing in the B2B sales world. We looked at changes in the buying process, the difficulty of maintaining a strategic product edge in the era of rapid product development/innovation, the impact of worldwide competition. Leaving the session, one of the executives observed that next quarter it might be interesting to explore what has not changed in sales, but fundamentally has to.

That thought stuck in my mind on the way home. So having conducted dozens of primary research studies on the world of B2B sales over the past couple decades, I decided to proactively review the data trends. I focused on CSO Insights' analysis from 2004 and 2014 and compared that to the data from Sales Mastery's most recent Sales Performance Scorecard study.

Conducting this type of longitudinal analysis of the performance of sales organizations surfaced a variety of interesting trends. But then I went back through the data, considering the findings through the lens of the criteria of things that have not changed but need to. That exercise surfaced one set of data points that should interest not only senior sales management but also the board of directors.

The ultimate purpose of a sales organization is to generate profitable revenue in a predictable manner. To do so sales reps need to continuously close deals. Below is a table showing the outcome of forecast deals from 2004, 2014, and now.

Let this sink in. In 2004, I was already regularly pointing out that the odds of winning on a pass bet at the craps tables in Las Vegas are 49.3 percent. So the fact that the win rate of deals from a forecast that sales organizations self-created was below that was clearly a problem. Well, here we are, 20 years later, with all the advances in CRM and sales process, and on average we have essentially made no improvements in the ability to successfully forecast and close deals.

So what gives? Well, again, looking at the data over time, an insightful trend surfaced. During those same years, when sales organizations were asked to list the top priorities they had for that year, topping the list in each case was optimizing lead generation. Now I am all for investing resources in getting in the game and helping create more opportunities to pursue, and advances in sales intelligence, account-based marketing, and marketing automation are helping that happen. But the table shows that many sales organizations are clearly not making the right resource investments needed to win the game.

Advances in sales AI are proving to have a definite impact on sales organizations’ ability to close more deals by reducing competitive losses and no-decisions. For example, Accenture’s Value Insight Platform can calculate the impact that certain corporate initiatives have on shareholder value. Collective[i] can give sales teams insights into how other sales organizations have closed business with the prospects they’re working with, CloseStrong can create fully customized win-win value propositions to motivate buyers to move forward with purchase decisions now vs. waiting until the economic outlook is clearer.

Solutions to deal with this challenge exist already, with more innovations on the horizon. But sales organizations need to start to make closing opportunities as important (if not more so) as creating opportunities. Otherwise, in another 10 years companies will be looking at more suboptimal win rates (if they’re still in business by then). 

Jim Dickie is a research fellow for Sales Mastery, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking case study examples of how companies are leveraging technology to transform sales. He can be reached at jim@salesmastery.com or at @jimdickie.

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