Answering that question with anything other than, "It depends," is irresponsible because there are so many variables. Choosing a car depends on budget, family size, how much stuff you load into your car, the length of your drives, the logo/ego influence, fit and function, ergonomics, appearance, perceived value, reliability, cost to drive it (gas/electric/mileage), and so much more.
If that makes senses, why do companies struggle when I am unable to instantly tell them what their win-rate or closing percentage should be?
There are many variables that can influence your sales win-rate and I am sharing my top ten keys to identifying appropriate ideal win rates:
Which stage of the pipeline is the win-rate calculated from? Lead? Suspect? Prospect? Qualified, Closable? It should be obvious that a higher win-rate correlates to measuring win-rates from the latest stage of the sales pipeline.
How much competition is there?A higher win-rate will correlate with fewer competitors.
How effectively do your salespeople handle the existence of competitors?Only 27% of all salespeople have Sales DNA that supports the mindset necessary for eliminating the competition. This soars to 61% of the top salespeople and 1% of the least effective salespeople.Higher win-rates correlate with the ability to eliminate the competition.
How does your pricing compare? We can talk about selling value until the end of sales cycles, but if your salespeople haven't mastered selling value (consultative selling skills and a sales process that supports it are required), then the purchase will be based on price. A higher-win rate will correlate with a competitive price in a transactional sale but in a value-based sale, higher win-rates will correlate with the amount of perceived value.Only 31% of salespeople are value sellers. This increases to 95% of top salespeople and NONE of the least effective salespeople!
What is the length of your sales cycle? The answer to the sales cycle question is less definitive. On the one hand, long sales cycles are very much about the survival of the fittest and fewer competitors lead to a higher win-rate. On the other hand, long sales cycles are fraught with risk because many of these complex projects become de-prioritized, abandoned, or indefinitely delayed. Only 38% of all salespeople possess the capabilities to shorten long sales cycles, thereby gaining a competitive advantage. 73% of top salespeople have this ability but very few of the least effective salespeople.
Is there a sales scorecard? A properly built scorecard awards points to conditions that are predictive of a win. A higher win-rate correlates with higher scores.Only 20% of all salespeople use a sales scorecard. 40% of top salespeople use a scorecard only 5% of the least effective salespeople use a scorecard. An 800% gap!
How disciplined is the sales team? It requires discipline to follow the sales process, fully qualify opportunities, and not pursue opportunities that fail to meet the minimum required score. Discipline is also required to refrain from quoting opportunities that cannot be won. A higher win-rate correlates to discipline.
When are proposals and quotes provided? Ideally, you would only provide a proposal for an opportunity on which you have already received a verbal go-ahead for which your proposal is simply a formality. It should go without saying that a higher-win rate correlates to proposals as a formality.80% of all salespeople are compelled to quote and/or propose and this is a very difficult mindset to change.
What is the overall sales capability of your sales team?We see team scores range from the 30's to the 60's. It should go without saying that a higher win-rate correlates to a higher sales team capability score.
How strong are the relationships with your prospects and customers? While this is difficult for anyone to know, it should still be obvious that high win-rates correlate with strong relationships. 47% of salespeople have strong relationships but that goes to 61% for the best salespeople and just 31% for the least effective salespeople.
These ten factors help to determine what your win-rate is TODAY. High quality and ongoing sales training, sales coaching and daily role-playing maximize your ability to IMPROVE the win rate going forward, especially when the focus in on an optimized, milestone-centric and customer focused sales process, a consultative approach that develops listening and questioning skills, and the many nuances of selling value. A higher win-rate correlates with more training, coaching and role-playing.
The statistics and data shared in this article are from Objective Management Group's (OMG) evaluations and assessments on more than 2.3 million salespeople. OMG measures all 21 Sales Core Competencies and an average of 10 attributes in each competency. You can view all 21 sales competencies here, and see how the scores compare for salespeople by percentile, in various industries, and even at your company. It's free to look!
Most of us have strong passion in support of our own beliefs and opinions and the degree to which we are willing to embrace the opinions of others varies wildly. Allow me to provide two examples where people tend not to change sides:
Boston Red Sox fans "argue" with New York Yankees Fans and in rare cases, the arguments can get nasty. Personally, I am friendly with a boat load of Yankees fans and have never argued with any of them because I'll never say the words "Yankees suck." For the rivalry between the two teams to be at its best, both teams need to be good and when one team sucks, the rivalry ceases to exist.
Democrats disagree with Republicans and it goes without saying that liberals disagree with conservatives. Over the past five years, those differences have become filled with hate. I don't understand why we can't simply agree to disagree but for some reason, liberals think that all conservatives are racists and conservatives think that all liberals are socialists. While there is probably some truth to both arguments on both far extremes, most people are much closer to the center than everyone thinks.
I use those two examples as a context for the "argument" I am most likely to have on a daily basis. As regular readers know, I am the founder and CEO of Objective Management Group. OMG has assessed more than 2 million salespeople and measures their sales capabilities in 21 Sales Core Competencies. While some might not like their scores, most salespeople agree with our findings because they are extremely accurate. However, there is one competency of the 21 that causes salespeople to dig in, disagree, and push back. Today I will explain the competency and share yesterday's conversation with Bob. For new readers, and those who don't remember, Bob tends to get himself into trouble and is representative of all weak salespeople.
The 21 Sales Core Competencies fall into three major categories:
Will to Sell (Grit) - it's the difference between Can sell and Will sell.
Sales DNA - Six major strengths that support the execution of sales process, sales methodology, sales strategies and sales tactics.
Tactical Selling Competencies - these include the things you know and have heard of, like Hunting, Relationship Building, Consultative Selling, Value Selling, Reaching Decision Makers, Qualifying, Presenting, Closing, Sales Process, and Sales Technology.
The pushback comes from within Sales DNA in a competency called Supportive Buy-Cycle. Buy-Cycle represents how a salesperson goes about the process of making a major purchase. Like most of the 21 Sales Core Competencies, it has several attributes:
At what amount of money does something become a major purchase?
Do you comparison shop or just go to one store/vendor/salesperson?
Do you shop for the lowest price, buy value or is price not a consideration?
Do you conduct research?
When you find what you want do you make a decision or think about it?
Do you like or dislike being sold? (coming soon)
The science shows that there is a 100% correlation between how salespeople buy and what they are willing to accept from their prospects. And that's where the disagreement occurs. Everyone agrees that yes, what we report about how they buy is how they actually buy. But a small number of salespeople disagree over whether or not it affects the way they sell. They usually make their point by saying something along the lines of, "In our business, our buyers must shop around" or "must go with the lowest price" or "won't spend more than x" or "never make decisions before this happens."
And when they say these things they are saying, "This is how I buy so it should be obvious that everyone else buys this way too."
Bob messaged me on LinkedIn yesterday and to his credit, it was not an argument. This is the short conversation we had:
Hi Dave, I’m not sure nor clear on Non Supportive Buy-Cycle? I believe it is smart, normal, wise, fiscally prudent to shop carefully when making large purchases. I believe this for moderate purchases!!! I am not clear on how this would impact my ability to sell another human with the same characteristics? I do not know ONE person that would spend $580K without being prudent and it’s NEW technology. However, part of my role is to also transcend this.
Dave Kurlan sent the following message at 5:18 PM
Yup - you need to transcend and change your beliefs and your buying behavior. Your beliefs are totally non-supportive and you make the assumption that because you believe this then the people you are selling to must believe this. Sure, companies have processes, guidelines and rules for buying stuff. But those rules and guidelines are ignored all the time when a true decision maker has a compelling reason to buy from you, and some urgency that would allow for short cuts.
Bob sent the following message at 8:01 PM
Hummmm…..I can’t say I think like that or believe like that Dave, sincerely. My buying behavior is to use caution and be a great steward with the money I make. How else is there to be? We may part waters on this one respectfully and the entire Team is chatting about this topic
Dave Kurlan sent the following message at 8:26 PM
Let me put it another way. The single biggest differentiator between the top 5% of all salespeople and the bottom 5% is Buy Cycle. Period. End of story. The top 5% (67% have it as a strength) are 6700% more likely to have Buy-Cycle as a strength than the bottom 5% (only 1% are strong). And, those who have it as a weakness usually argue that "everyone buys this way." Don't know what else to tell you.
As I mentioned, I have this very conversation, albeit usually more heated, by phone, email, text, InMail, in the hallway, over Zoom, with at least one person EVERY SINGLE DAY!!
Bob revealed three self-limiting beliefs associated with Buy-Cycle.
You should have read:
"it is smart, normal, wise, fiscally prudent to shop carefully"
"I do not know ONE person that would spend $580K without being prudent" (Dave's note - prudent has nothing to do with Buy-Cycle. Bob thinks $580,000 is a lot of money. But that is NOT a lot of money for the company that is spending it. A company that spends $580,000 on capital equipment is generating at least tens and probably hundreds of millions or more in revenue and it's money they were going to spend with someone. It's not new money.)
"My buying behavior is to use caution and be a great steward with the money I make. How else is there to be?"
Let's compare Bob's beliefs with how great salespeople think. I don't usually do this but for this example I'll use myself.
I've never test-driven a car in my life. When I see a car on the road that I like I say to myself, "That's my next car." I call the dealer, order it, and ask when it can be delivered. I never shop dealers against each other, I never ask for additional discounts over what they offer me, I never think it over and get back to them, and I don't drag out the process. This is how I buy everything. Perhaps you can't imagine buying the way that I buy but it's worth noting that I've never had buyer's remorse, I've never felt like I paid too much, and I never felt like I wasn't being "prudent." For anything. Ever. I ordered my last two vehicles before they were even off the production lines! Not a single 2021 Genesis GV80 had been delivered to the USA when I ordered mine and not a single redesigned for 2019 Lincoln Navigator had been shipped to a dealer when I ordered that SUV. My process is order it, sign, and then wait for it to be delivered (months later) because shopping is a colossal waste of time unless you are doing it for entertainment, like, "Honey, would you like to go to the mall?"
I understand that MY opinion and behavior may very well be different from YOUR opinion and behavior but the science says that my opinion is shared by the best salespeople in the world. This buying behavior enables the best salespeople to push back, question, hang in, ask more questions and eventually influence or outright change buying criteria and processes so they can sell value, eliminate competitors, and reach decision makers who are typically protected from salespeople. Decision makers can change rules, take shortcuts, make decisions, and do it all very quickly.
Let's go back to the science. The top 5% of all salespeople are 6700% more likely to have Buy-Cycle as a strength than the bottom 10% of all salespeople and the top 5% score 279% higher than the bottom 10% of all salespeople on this component of Sales DNA. The science backs me up. Check it out here.
Bob and other weak salespeople understand the stated buying process with the keyword being "stated." When Bob follows the stated buying process without questioning it, only buyers have control! Great salespeople DON'T understand why the prospect is going to talk with five vendors, look for the lowest price, take a month to have six internal meetings, narrow the list, negotiate, send it to legal, and all the other stupidity that takes place. That enables great salespeople to push back, ask more questions, and get processes changed. Supportive Buy-Cycles win more business than Non Supportive Buy-Cycles.
Not 30 minutes after this article was first published, I received this email from Bill, who wanted to prove my points above. Bill wrote:
Your analogy between buying capital equipment and how you buy cars makes no sense Dave. What if you liked a Yugo you saw while driving down the road and bought one in preproduction. How would you feel if you bought one of the worst cars ever manufactured without one second of research? Heck, you bought one of the most inefficient gas guzzling monster cars that will only ruin the environment for my children and my grandchildren. How do you sleep with that? I guess you don’t care about the future. You only live for ‘now’.
Shopping is a pain in the ass. The Internet has made a lot of that much easier. Buying capital equipment isn’t an Internet purchase in the half million dollar plus category. Getting past the first purchase with a new sales person is a challenge. Are they competent? Are they knowledgeable? Are they fair? Do you have a rapport with them? Can They meet your expectations?
I just put a fence around my horse pen. One guy wanted $13,000. The other guy wanted $8500. I looked at both quotes, materials, workmanship, referrals and completion dates. They were virtually the same. which one would you go for? Is shopping worth $4500? Or is it only worth it with personal money and not corporate money? When I put the next fence up I’ll probably have my guy for all my fence work. But the first purchase, in my estimation, takes research. All the other purchases are based on trust and relationship.
I did respond, as I usually do, with this note:
Thanks for taking the time to write, make your point and include the personal attack. That’s the point of my article. People get nasty.
You already know my opinion and while it’s different from yours, you’re entitled to your opinion as I’m entitled to mine. The only difference is that when it comes to selling, the science doesn’t lie and while you might not like it, I happen to be the expert on sales science.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying the horse fence the way you did but it does impact the way you sell. It was right there in your first sentence.
No worries. Thanks again for your kind note.
Bill wasn't finished. He felt the need to get the last words in:
Just adding - They get nasty in politics. If you get nasty in sales, you’re in the wrong business. Actually Dave, it doesn’t impact the way I sell at all. You are incorrect. Have I made mistakes in the past selling, absolutely. Will I make them again in the future, absolutely. You may be the expert in sales science. I’m the expert in sales. I do it every day, every week, every month every year for over 20 years and I’ve been exceptionally happy and successful. I like what I do. I like my clients. And I believe Sales is more than boxes in complex sales that I do. Your car is a box.
And by the way, I’m not nasty. I just pointed out a car analogy just like you wrote about a car analogy. Next time I’ll come to you for the $3500 difference when I buy my next fence. I look forward to you writing a check.
Earlier this week I received this inquiry form from our "Ask a Sales Expert" page:
I am currently conducting a Research Project at school on the 5 step sales process. i am focusing on: (1) prospecting, (2) the initial appointment, (3) the presentation of the product, (4) the followup of objections or changes to offer (5) the close of sale. I am researching which one of the above steps is off greatest consequence/ importance to a company and why? I was wondering if you could please help me? Thank you.
Someone from my team always responds to these inquiries and it was my turn. I want to share the correspondence, but it's even more important to read the accompanying explanation, interpretation, warning and lesson. If I can help you to understand this and get your sales process correct, the data suggests that there is a corresponding 20% increase to sales!
I’m happy to help you.
Where did you find those 5 steps? They’re not the right steps and they are not in the right sequence. It sounds like the steps are around 40 years old!
You might find these articles helpful as you do your research – feel free to reach out again if you need any help.
I received this reply from him:
A salesperson that i work with gave me those 5 steps. But i do agree with you becasue (Sic) i have struggled to find these steps in that order or just those 5 steps by themselves. I was wondering whether you could give your opinion on those five steps becasue (Sic) unfortunately i have already started my research? Be glad to take your advice.
The most important step is missing!It can be called many things but the names that are tossed around most often are discovery and needs analysis.
He responded back to me with:
Thank you again for responding. I understand what you are saying now. Sorry to be annoying, but would you be able outline the steps that you believe i should be researching? Also explain what the discovery and needs analysis is!
I replied with:
Did you read those articles? You’re supposed to be doing research…
His final response was:
Thank you for your help!
There is an important reason that I shared this with you today. Not only is this a great example of laziness and incompetence, but like the salesperson who shared the 5 steps, nearly every salesperson and executive believes that they possess and follow a sales process. In the White Paper, The Modern Science Behind Sales Force Excellence, 70% of executives claim that their companies have a sales process. My issue with that information is that in both instances we are talking claims, not science. If we look at the actual science, we know for certain that despite all that has been written, as well as the opinions collected in surveys, 91% of the nearly 1 million salespeople evaluated and assessed by Objective Management Group (OMG) are not following a formal and/or effective process. There may actually be a process, but it's either not being enforced or it's not very effective as constituted. There is a huge difference between the existence of a process, whether or not the process is effective, and whether or not the process is being consistently followed by all!
I can also share this. Whenever Kurlan & Associates hosts its Sales Leadership Intensive, all of the participants claim at the outset that they have a sales process that they are happy with. After spending two days with us, they admit that what they thought was a sales process, was useless, ineffective, and ill-conceived. And they certainly have a process when they leave! The same phenomenon occurs with clients. They all have a sales process until we evaluate their sales force and report that few of their salespeople are following it or using it effectively. They are shocked! And when we work with them to redesign, customize, optimize and introduce a sales process that will work for their company they admit that what they had was nothing more than several of the wrong milestones.
There is a huge misunderstanding when it comes to sales process. It's a lot like electrical work. Everyone needs it, but they think that because they know how to change a light bulb they don't need to call an electrician. Getting your sales process right is a lot more like needing electricity in the middle of a stone wall with no nearby source to tap into. For you? Impossible. For an electrician? It's all in a day's work.
How do you make your sales process better?
I can share what I do with my clients...
First, I collect all of their steps, milestones and to-do's. These vary - a LOT - from client to client depending on how many they have identified on their own, how complex their sale and the markets they sell to.
Next we divide the sales process into 4-6 stages and place each of their existing steps, milestones and to-do's into the most appropriate stage. Stages can be as simple as Suspect, Prospect, Qualified Opportunity and Closable Opportunity.
Then, we identify all of the steps and milestones that are missing from their process. When we get to this point, most clients are missing anywhere from 6-15 important milestones!
Next we need to optimize by identifying the proper sequence. This is a VERY CRUCIAL step because the sales process must build upon itself!
Then we identify ideal time lines for each stage of the sales process.
We weight the most crucial milestones in order to calculate the likelihood of closing. The accuracy of your sales forecasts is in direct proportion to nailing the proper weighting!
Then we enter the sales process, time lines, weights and underlying rules into a spreadsheet that an integrator can use to customize a CRM application. We also map the 4 stages and steps onto a Baseball Diamond so that we can introduce it to a sales force visually and they can understand the flow.
Finally, we spend about a year training the salespeople to achieve sales velocity which occurs when we achieve consistency relative to:
The process flows naturally
Salespeople are having the right kinds of conversations relative to the step and stage of the process
Meetings and calls are conversational
Opportunities are constantly in forward motion
Each salesperson understands exactly where they are in the process
Salespeople are investing the appropriate amount of time on only the most relevant opportunities
Sales process is embedded in the sales culture
All coaching is in the context of where a salesperson is relative to the sales process
Pipeline reviews are in the context of the stage of an opportunity and the likelihood of closing.
Do you remember the 5 steps that the student researcher wanted to me to help with? They were essentially:
If were were to place those 5 steps into a 4 stage process, prospecting would not be a single step but would actually be 2 steps in the 1st stage including Conversation, Meeting Scheduled.
Initial appointment would be a step in the 2nd stage where there are at least 5 important steps missing. Presentation and Close are both milestones that occur in the last stage of the process. There are at least 8 missing steps for the 3rd stage of the process and many more throughout the rest of the process. Handling Objections is not and never should be a step. It's part of the ongoing conversation that makes up the entire sales process!
Do you still think you have a viable and effective sales process?
We have a free tool that you can use to check out and score your sales process Give the Sales Process Grader a try!
Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader, Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.