Jason Angelos, Managing Director, Accenture Strategy, Sales Transformation global lead, recently answered some of our questions about new research from Accenture (NYSE: ACN) and CSO Insights. The research Powering Profitable Sales Growth – Five Imperatives, examined the sales competitiveness of a sample of companies with revenues of more than $1 billion from the CSO Insights’ 2014 Sales Performance Optimization Benchmark Study.
Can you define this “frozen middle” and explain their significance?
The “frozen middle” refers to the large number of sales reps and managers—typically 65 to 70 percent of the sales force—who consistently exhibit average performance. Our analysis shows that there’s tremendous potential in this group to improve the competitiveness of the company. By simply nudging the performance of this group up by 5 percent through things
like enhanced training, technology-enabled sales tools and better use of data and analytics, companies could generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue.
That would mean, for example, a $10 billion company with approximately 750 sales professionals could increase revenue by $320 million. We tend to see companies focus more on their high performers or alternatively the poor performers, but this analysis points toward a different focus companies should be taking – by tackling a culture of mediocrity.
Why do the majority (86%) of chief sales officers expect to miss their 2015 revenue targets?
Our report highlights the harsh sales environment facing companies today, which is a continuation of trends that we’ve seen over the last couple of years. For example, just 59 percent of sales representatives expected to achieve his/her quota in this year, down from 67 percent in 2013.
CSOs may expect to have trouble achieving their targets because our data suggests that CSOs have not been building the right processes, equipping talent properly, leveraging technology and monitoring customer preferences to drive the high performance they need. Instead, they’ve been investing in programs that do not deliver significant value. It’s clear today that the old processes are at a breaking point, and a new, more agile approach to sales needs to be adapted.
What are the other highlights from the report?
The report illustrates several challenges hindering sales performance including: limited differentiation among providers, a lack of common sales processes, lower adoption of sales processes and lengthy sales cycles. For example, only 51 percent of sales organizations surveyed use a formal, step-by-step selling process that guides sales professionals and only 8 percent have a formal sales methodology in place. What’s even more concerning is that sales representatives are spending just one-third of their total time actually selling (34 percent), down from 41 percent in 2011.
The study also indicates that sales forces are underutilizing digital and mobile technologies. Adoption of tablets by sales representatives has increased dramatically over the past year, but their use is too often limited to checking e-mail and other administrative tasks, rather than strategic business needs. We also found that only 30 percent of companies are using analytics and, of those, less than one-quarter is using data to identify opportunities to cross-sell (23 percent) or reduce customer churn (13 percent).
What’s in the future?
Sales performance needs to be enhanced by training, technology-enabled sales tools and better use of data and analytics. To start, companies need to be smarter about enhancing their returns on sales investments and they need to capitalize on emerging trends – including digital – to create a more dynamic sales organization that will grow revenue. Overall, companies need to transform their traditional sales approach to meet the needs of an always-connected customer who expects to be served and sold to in a completely different way. In short, they need to adopt an agile selling approach.
What else needs to be done?
Specifically, we’ve identified five key areas companies should focus on to transform their traditional sales organization into an agile selling organization. These include:
- Analyze return on investments. Companies need to make sure they are strategically allocating money toward the most profitable projects.
- Redefine pricing. Pricing is a key driver for customer decision-making. Agile sellers use analytics to develop a customer-centered pricing approach to increase profits and provide sales teams with the insights to know when and how to negotiate.
- Redesign sales operations. Focus on customer experience and insights and use technology as a catalyst for business transformation.
- Invest in talent. Provide more training and apply analytics to help current sales reps deliver better performance, as well as to make better hiring decisions.
- Build digital selling tools and channels. Set up a front-office engine for agile selling that is collaborative and customer-centric. Doing so will allow companies to better use technology and analytics to get the right opportunity to the right sellers at the right time.