Achieve the Benefits of Agile Selling

Enterprise growth today is about more than making a sales number. It depends on providing a differentiated and consistent customer experience across sales, marketing, and service, as traditional customer acquisition and retention strategies are inadequate to deal with customers who are constantly moving, always connected, and more informed than ever. An agile selling approach, which takes advantage of all enterprise assets and channels to the customer, will help differentiate the leaders from the laggards.

This is one of the key findings from Accenture's analysis of the Sales Performance Optimization Study, cosponsored with CSO Insights, a research and benchmarking resource for chief sales officers (CSOs). The research surveyed more than 1,200 companies worldwide to assess current sales performance. Our analysis focuses on the 177 participating companies with at least $1 billion in sales revenue.

Although 75 percent of CSOs are targeting greater than 5 percent revenue growth in 2013, a full 88 percent have some concerns about how they will achieve that growth. Another issue is that only 67 percent of CSOs expect their sales representatives to achieve their full year quota for 2013. Clearly, achieving the desired revenue growth will not be simple.

Based on these findings, Accenture asserts that there are five key areas that will require increased focus in the digital front office:

Integrating sales, marketing, and service. Although CSOs indicate they are making progress, the data shows the effort is failing to produce expected results. For example, up to 60 percent still lack a formal definition of qualified leads between sales and marketing. Alignment on lead qualification is required to improve marketing ROI. Another opportunity is the integration of sales and customer service. Eighty-two percent of companies are not using customer service to directly handle cross-selling or upselling.

Improving the customer experience at each touch point. Enterprises are more apt to thrive if they provide an optimal customer experience from promises made by marketing, through sales, to service and support. Although CSOs are more confident in their ability to create customer loyalty than they have been in the past, the data shows that nearly 30 percent need to improve when it comes to renewing business with existing customers. Enterprises need to focus on developing strong relationships and cultivating deeper customer loyalty to help reduce churn and support revenue goals.

Strengthening immature sales methodologies and processes. Poorly defined and adopted sales processes contribute to nearly 65 percent of a sales representative's time being spent on non-customer-facing activities. CSO Insights data shows that the sales cycle time is rising significantly. In 2013, 12 percent more deals will take three months or longer to close than in 2012. Together these contribute to one-third of sales representatives failing to achieve their full year quota. Increasing sales methodology maturity and putting sales representatives in front of their customers for more time can improve the performance curve.

Applying more science to sales talent acquisition and development. More than one-half of CSOs plan to increase their sales force in 2013. However, 34 percent believe their ability to hire successful representatives needs improvement, and more than 40 percent do not apply competency testing to hire the right talent for the job. Unscientific hiring practices can be a bottleneck to creating a robust team structure. To compensate, our analysis shows that CSOs are increasing investments in sales training, but the ROI is poor. For better yield, organizations also need to reinforce the training by incorporating it into daily sales activities.

Better leveraging of sales technology. The data shows that organizations continue to put money into technology, with tablets, mobile CRM, and sales intelligence systems on the rise. However, this shiny object syndrome fails to yield the appropriate ROI. Fewer than 20 percent of CSOs report a positive impact on win rates, revenues, sales cycle times, representative ramp-up time, or improved support of channels after deploying new CRM technologies. To be successful, technology investments need to be better aligned to the four areas discussed above, and should be implemented with speed and agility, to harness the benefits of social, cloud, and mobile offerings.

With sales models that have experienced, at best, incremental change in the past several decades (despite sweeping changes in technology and customer behaviors), it is not hard to see why companies can't keep up. The time has come to strategically adapt sales models to achieve growth. As companies move to agile selling, it will be imperative to solve the systemic issues described here to achieve optimal results.

Yusuf Tayob is a managing director in Accenture's Sales and Customer Services practice.

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