Golf ball close to the hole

Since a few years now, CSO Insights releases an annual report on sales performances. This year, around 900 sales executives were surveyed all around the globe. We wrote about the most interesting findings.

CSO Insights has identified three indicators of high performing companies and how they differ from their peers.

Success factors for sales performance

  1. Customer centricity – successful companies are more likely to acknowledge their own company culture as being „customer centric“. This also means that they are specifically using the term as one signifier of their culture.
  2. Alignment with the customer journey – successful companies are five times more likely to adapt and align their sales processes to the customer journey. They are therefore able to address customer’s needs. This also means that sales activities are placed along the customer life cycle.
  3. Sales expertise for customers – successful companies have sales employees that in 20% more cases use their expertise to help customers with their problems and take on the role as thought leaders. Sales employees therefore become trusted advisors that go above and beyond just recommending products but give new insights, concepts and ideas.

Lead management: challenges and chances

Even though the growing use marketing automation generates and nurtures more leads nowadays, most sales experts a feel that they have to do the main work in qualifying the leads. One of the main reasons that CSO Insights states is the fact that marketing automation is widely used but only superficially in many cases. Even though more leads are getting generated, the nurturing and qualification of these leads is not yet automated properly and therefore needs to be done manually which causes more work for sales. That, in turn, can cause sales operatives to view marketing automation as useless or even worse than no automation.

The solution is a clear definition of what a lead is and should look like for that particular company. Additionally, lead nurturing processes need to be defined by sales and marketing together. According to the study, only one third of all companies do this.

It’s important to know what a (useful) lead is and what it needs to be qualified. This has to be the basis for any automated processes. Artificial intelligence solutions can be used to support and optimize all automation efforts.

New customers vs. existing customers

An interesting but not necessarily new development is the prioritization of new and existing customers. Even though new customers only account for one third of all revenue, they are still #1 of all prioritized accounts.

The study furthermore shows that the sales cycle of existing customers is shorter on average. Nearly every third new customer takes 4-6 months for a sales closure. 18% even take more than 12 months. In contrast, 40% of all existing customers take 1-3 months.

When it comes to successful acquisition of new customers, CSO Insights has found a few best practices:

  1. Prioritizing accounts – efficient evaluations of different variables which accounts need more attention
  2. Alignment of the customer journey (see above)
  3. Planning(and implementation) of opportunities – the planning how to deal with opportunities is essential for successful customer acquisition. However, this only proves to be successful if the plans are actually implemented, something that CSO Insights found to be lacking in two thirds of all companies that do plan their opportunity processes.

Existing customers want a trusted partner

When it comes to successful account management of existing customers, the biggest priority for most companies is reaching new business units within existing customers. This need outranks topics like cross- and up-selling, expertise in different industries and regular communication by nearly 10%.

An interesting result that might prove important for further strategies is the fact that apparently, post-sales tasks had next to no influence on the churn rate of customers. Instead, the planning and nurturing of accounts plays a bigger role in establishing strong business connections. The aforementioned need for sales partners to be thought leaders for their customers plays a big part in this strategy. Sales experts need to focus on more than the next sale but have to have the customer’s needs and problems in mind to actively look for solutions and ideas. This encourages trust and creates a stronger bond. Basic requirements:

  • knowledge and research about the company/customer
  • prioritizing customers where the sales team can offer help and solutions
  • a clear understanding of the buying center
  • strategies on how to develop the customer relationship further

For an agile and customer centric future

In a little bit of a twist, CSO Insight asked the companies what they would wish for if they could start with a blank slate. For most of them, a completely new approach seems attractive: new and different sales talents, a new structure, better alignment, different technologies, etc.
These answers show a certain helplessness to see the existing processes, teams and technologies as a starting point for something new. Instead, the wish list contains things that are impossible to realize without giant disruptions, risks and budgets.

CSO Insights therefore advises to throw the net wider when it comes to planning and the future. Companies should start changes wherever the risk is low and the gains are high. Transformation – whether its technological or cultural (think customer centricity) – should not be understood as a project but as a change, as something without a proper starting and end point.

Companies need to use their own data to learn from them and use them for optimization and redesigning processes. The possibilities that AI technologies offer should not simply be used to optimize processes but to develop new business models.

„Human beings are context-oriented creatures. They need you use the data to paint a positive vision of how this will improve lives – not only the customer’s but also their own.“