Dave Kurlan is founder and CEO of Objective Management Group, an assessment company and Kurlan Associates a salesforce development firm. Through OMG he gets to look at the good, the bad and the ugly of what is happening in sales organizations worldwide everyday.
When he works with CEOs – the usual decisions makers for his sales organization assessment work – if they so much as mention the words “getting consensus from their teams” he is quite direct in telling them they won’t get it. Why? Because the data he collects on the organization’s current capabilities and the analysis he provides is often perceived as threatening by sales leadership. As he described the situation, I was reminded of the song, Don’t You Bring Me No Bad News from the musical “The Wiz”. But hiding bad news doesn’t change it, and Dave illustrates that facing it can.
Unfortunately, the news is often “dark and gloomy” but the bright side emerges for companies that get a clear data driven picture of how their sales team is performing, and when they consider how much better they will perform once the skill gaps are filled and he right people are in place.
For twenty years OMG has been innovating, and its data is based on the evaluation of 600,000 salespeople. In their engagements OMG answers the top 10 to 20 business questions their customers have not been able to answer such as “What impact is sales management having on the performance of my salesforce?” “Can the sales organization execute its strategy?” “Can a particular group execute?” “Can they be saved?” “What will it take to save them?” OMG provide all the answers backed up with black and white data and it’s the answers to these questions that often disappoint the leaders!
One piece of data that might surprise you is the breakdown of how sales people are performing: only a scant 6% of salespeople are evaluated as excellent, 20% are good, and a staggering 74% are not making the grade.
When I asked Dave what insights we can glean from the data as to why so many salespeople are underperforming he didn’t hesitate in attributing underperformance to a lack of consultative skills. The data shows that on average the salespeople they evaluate have only 21% of the attributes of a consultative skills set. Dave emphasized that while there are huge gaps in closing and huge gaps in hunting it is the consultative skills side that is a difference maker.
A question customers often ask: “Is transformation of underperformers possible?” I expected more of a resounding “yes” from Dave, but he was justifiably more measured. His said “usually” and explained that it depends on the level of skill of the sales team and the factoring in of the length of the sales cycle. He pointed out the ability to turn underperformers around varies for every company and industry. He explained that if the sales cycle is relatively short and the skill gap of underperformers is not huge, the underperformers can usually be saved in 8 to 12 months with a performance plan and coaching. However, when the sales cycle is longer and the skill gap is deeper, it is more the challenging to develop (save) the underperformers.
While the profile has been evolving for the past 20 years Dave noted that it is the recent dramatic change in buyer behavior which has created four significant changes:
- The Work Ethic has changed. The eight hour workday for a salesperson is gone. He sees the need to work three times harder to achieve the same results and to “live, eat, and breath the business you are in.”
- REAL Consultative Skills are essential. Dave believes that just a few years ago a salesperson could come into a territory with relationship skills, industry knowledge, transactional skills, experience, be known in the territory and succeed. Not so today. Although consultative selling has been around for a long time Dave’s data shows that most salespeople are still engaged in transactional selling.
- Salespeople must come with Business Social Networking Skills. The days of salespeople being computer illiterate are gone. Developing up-to-date computer skills and taking advantage of cutting edge sales tools is not an option. While this is not an issue for younger generation of salespeople, many of the more experienced salespeople have not fully embraced technology but must do so or be left behind.
- Build Business Acumen. Dave acknowledge this is a difficult area to assess and it could be the next frontier for assessment. But without industry and business and deep customer knowledge salespeople will not be able to bring value at the level necessary to meet the new demands of their sophisticated customers.
It is impossible to talk about the performance of the sales team without considering the performance of the sales managers. The biggest change OMG is seeing in sales management is the huge move to coaching which has become the primary role of sales managers. The challenge of coaching is two fold: sales managers must have a skill set that enables them to develop the skills of their salespeople and the coaching skills to change behavior and reinforce the sales process.
I asked Dave what salespeople could do to be in the ranks of the excellent 6%. His advice: “Really think about how selling has changed and how your buyers have changed. Think about how consultative you are and don’t take for granted you are consultative. Understand that the profile of a successful salesperson continues to evolve and be open and ready to change how you sell.”