Sales Processes and Technologies Are Out of Whack

Goals, practices, and technologies are still not aligned in many sales organizations, according to a survey of about 2,300 sales executives conducted by sales methodology firm Miller Heiman and CRM developer Pivotal. In general survey respondents answered positively to questions about the health and savvy of their businesses. A majority feels it has the right sales talent performing the right tasks, and more than 80 percent lauds the value of good data for intelligent selling. But not everything was rosy. "The greatest obstacle, once companies have the talent in the right place, is to accelerate their productivity," says Jeff Brunings, research director at Miller Heiman. This was reflected in the survey results, as 45 percent of respondents said they lacked a clear process for qualifying and ranking opportunities, and 60 percent said that leads were not being properly qualified as a result. "It's amazing how bloated salespeople's funnels are with opportunities that have a low probability of closing," says David Pearson, vice president of sales operations for Miller Heiman. Most of the survey participants felt that their business models are fundamentally under attack, with two thirds saying that they are under increasing pressure to discount, and 64 percent claiming that their industry is becoming commoditized. Pearson says that the quickest way to short-circuit those problems is to sell higher up a prospect's executive chain, eliminating intermediaries who are trying to protect smaller budgets. "In the 1990s--boom time--we were able to get away with not calling senior-level execs and could still be successful," Pearson says. Most respondents do not regularly sell to high-level executives. Perhaps most troubling is that fewer than 40 percent of respondents felt their organization collects customer data with predictable, reliable accuracy, and nearly 70 percent say their sales cycles are lengthening. Given the wide blanket of CRM technologies in the modern sales force, it seems counterintuitive that a majority of organizations would still struggle to obtain the basic benefits of sales automation. The problem, Miller Heiman concludes, is that businesses are not properly marrying their process with their software, creating gaps that are sapping the effectiveness of their CRM strategies. Better alignment between process and technology is not the only area that needs improvement, Pearson says: In a competitive environment, "it's the ability of the salesperson to understand complex issues and challenges that's becoming the number one differentiating factor."
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