Why it is so Difficult to Compare Sales Effectiveness from One Salesperson to Another

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 14, 2020 @ 20:07 PM


Today we'll discuss how to measure sales effectiveness of different salespeople despite there being so many variables to confuse the matter.  You can scroll directly to that topic or, if you don't mind, please read my 3 paragraphs of context.

In 1990, I founded Objective Management Group (OMG), and now, thirty years later, we are on the verge of evaluating our two millionth salesperson.  When my leadership team planned for 2020, we predicted that we would reach the two million mark sometime in June. But then the pandemic hit, companies weren't assessing many sales candidates for most of March, April and May, so our celebration will likely be delayed until early August.

Whether we measure our success in units, currency, rows of data, experiences, visibility, or reams of paper used (pre pandemic), achieving two million sales assessments is quite an accomplishment.  On the other hand, if we compare it to where we had hoped to be at this point, (the BHAG we set in 2007 was 14 million) it was a failure of epic proportions.

But there is a more important part to this story than the number of salespeople assessed or whether that number is an achievement or a failure. How can we measure sales success on sales teams, across companies and, most importantly, in sales candidates?

To answer those questions, it's helpful to  know that we built the finest, sales-specific assessment on planet earth.  Our sales force evaluations are amazing and our sales, sales management and sales leadership candidate assessments are incredibly accurate and predictive.  I'm extremely proud of what we built and how we continue to improve it every single day.  That's more important to me than whether or not we hit our BHAG. And that brings us to the question of how to measure sales effectiveness.  It's like the 2 million versus 14 million comparison only different.  

Let's review a few examples:

Compensation varies wildly by industry.  A top industrial salesperson earns close to $100,000 but a mediocre technology salesperson earns $135,000.  Who is better?  Who is more valuable?

A mediocre regional territory salesperson might inherit a territory generating $15 million per year and watch it contract to $14 million per year while a salesperson building a new local territory might generate $750,000 his first year.  Who is better?  Who is more valuable?

A salesperson makes one huge sale for $1 million while in the same company, one of her colleagues closes 14 sales totaling $650,000.  Who is better?  Who is more valuable? 

An account manager manages 87 accounts that generate $4 million while in the same company, a sales development rep makes 56 dials a day, books 5 new appointments per week, builds a pipeline worth $2 million and closes 2 new accounts per month.   Who is better?  Who is more valuable?  

We see these contradictions all the time when we evaluate sales forces.  The company judges performance and effectiveness by the amount of revenue next to the salesperson's name but that's only a measure of who is responsible for the most revenue.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a measure of who is the better salesperson, who is contributing most to growing the company, or who is having the most impact.

Let's review some differences that become important when you are recruiting salespeople.  Suppose that all of your candidates claimed to have been the #1 salesperson in their prior companies.  Being #1 has different meanings depending on whether they sold:

  • Snacks - to convenience store managers, grocery chain buyers or Walmart
  • Nuts and bolts - to manufacturing engineers, auto repair shops technicians, or Granger
  • Janitorial supplies -  to small retailer owners, property managers, or Microsoft's facilities VP
  • Windows - to homeowners, builders, lumber dealers or Home Depot
  • Furniture - to consumers, furniture store owners or the Marriott
  • Generators - to power an RV, an entire house, a grocery store or Mass General Hospital
  • Engines - to lawn mower manufacturers, motorcycle manufacturers or GMC
  • Software - to a doctor's office, a clinic, a hospital or the Federal Government
  • Audit services - to the owner of a small professional firm, the president of a medium size company or the CFO of Apple

I could go on and on with examples like these where even the same product becomes a very different sale depending on who it's being sold to.  

Fortunately, OMG has a Sales Percentile score which is based on the combined weighted scores of 21 Sales Core Competencies before being compared to those two million other salespeople.  It's the single factor that neutralizes the differences between industries, competition, territories, pricing, complex and simple sales cycles, difficult (cold-calling) and easy (account management) roles, and targeted decision makers.  Sales Percentile allows you  to compare and/or rank sales capabilities!

This is useful when you're trying to rank sales candidates who come from varying backgrounds because let's face it - you're just guessing!  Sales Percentile is your answer.  In the sample sales candidate assessment below, this salesperson's sales percentile score of 100 means that this salesperson is better than 100% of the salespeople in the world!  And even with a 100, he still has a weakness!


Image Copyright 123RF

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales hiring, sales process, sales cycle, sales effectiveness, #1 salesperson, sales percentile

The Buyer Journey - Myth, Reality, Hybrid, or an Avoidable Part of Selling?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 @ 15:09 PM


The Buyer Journey is front and center again.  Dan McDade posted the second in his 3-part series on Lies and Myths and part 2 is about the Buyer Journey.  8 Sales Experts weighed in with their thoughts about the Buyer Journey and you can read those here.  Don't miss Mike Weinberg's comment - I love it!  It's pretty clear where the sales experts stand, so where is all of the Buyer Journey data coming from if not the sales experts?

Could it be the people with the most to gain from propagating the myth of the Buyer Journey?  Those people are the big proponents of inbound of course.  If they can get you to believe it's 57% over when a salesperson gets invited in, then there is more reason for you to purchase inbound programs and applications to generate even more inbound leads for which you can be late.

The reality is that when salespeople are late to the party, in most cases it is because they are passive rather than proactive about pursuing an opportunity - a trait of weak salespeople or the bottom 77%.  And then, when those same crappy, passive salespeople enter the opportunity late, they aren't able to suddenly become proactive because they are afraid they will lose the business.  Another trait of weak salespeople.  So they facilitate and offer up demos, quotes, proposals, referrals, tours, trials and discounts.  Nothing of value.  Nothing to create urgency.  Nothing that qualifies the opportunity.  Nothing that gathers information.  Nothing.  So that group - 77% of them - would actually perceive a buyer journey where prospects are at least 57% along the way to buying.  And that group will have a loooong sales cycle and a pit.i.ful win rate.

So what is it that enables salespeople to behave so passively on these sales calls?

In my experience, even with weak salespeople, you can blame sales process - either ineffective, inefficient, or a complete lack of a sales process. In some cases, it is a sales process that sales management is not holding salespeople accountable for executing.  With a proper sales process, this.does.not.happen.

This week I wrote an article for Gazelle's Growth Institute's Blog and it just so happens to be on the benefits of getting your sales process right.  You can read that article here.

So what do you believe relative to the buyer journey?


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales cycle, closing ratio, dan mcdade, win rates, gazelles, the buyer journey

Is the Concept of Sales Process Really Antiquated?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 16, 2013 @ 13:12 PM

antiquatedWe read about yet more school shootings, abductions, madmen dictators' plans to rule the world, and any of the other recurring events that must be the work of pure evil.   Do you get to the point where you say to yourself, "The world is going crazy!"?  I do.  I also think the sales world is going a bit crazy too.  

For me, it began two months ago when I posted, Now That You Have a Sales Process, Never Mind, in rebuttal to a stupid article about sales process being the cause of long sales cycles and low closing ratios.

Then, in response to those who are proponents of demo-based selling, I posted, We're Back to AIDA and You Should be Scared.  The controversy continues to escalate, especially in some private LinkedIn groups, where comments are on the rise to Why Win Rates are at an All-Time Low and What is the Most Difficult Part of the Sales Process?.

To make a long story short, there are QUITE A FEW people in sales, sales management, sales leadership, and even sales consulting who believe sales process is the problem.  I would like to put a stop to that nonsense once and for all.

When I read claims that sales process is responsible for lost sales, many of the claims are actually examples of bad scripting rather than bad sales process.  Sales Process is milestone-centric, while manipulative tactics, negative outcomes and strong pressure tend to be script-centric.

There are some people who still fail to comprehend what a modern, effective, relevant, optimized sales process looks like.  Most people equate sales process with a bunch of scripted steps, and in companies where there is a sales process, it tends to fit that antiquated definition.  Continued...


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A properly designed, staged, optimized process is all about the customer-centric conversation.  This sales process also includes a sequence of milestones that build upon themselves.  Sales processes that fail to provide consistent, desirable results in these modern times are typically built around qualifying questions rather than a consultative, customer-centric conversation. 

Many proponents of anti-sales process movement use their own, personal results as support for their position.  However, one of two scenarios are usually in play:

  1. They are successful without a process, but they have intangibles that can't be duplicated, taught or transferred.  What's working for them, won't work for anyone else.
  2. Their concept of successful is flawed.  They are more successful than their peers (who are also working without a process) in that when compared to the general sales population and, more specifically, the elite 6% or top 26%, they compare very unfavorably.

You'll know whether or not you have an effective, optimized sales process if it consistently yields predictable results, is duplicable, repeatable and transferable, works in multiple industries and verticals, and variations of it prove effective even among different sales roles. 

It's really not sales process itself that is antiquated; it's most people's perception of sales process that is antiquated.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales cycle, lost sales, top sales award winner, keynote speaker

Experiment - Which Sales Approach is Really More Effective?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Oct 28, 2013 @ 06:10 AM

I haven't been completely transparent in some of my recent articles.   I have continued to urge readers how important it is to sell using a consultative, buyer-focused methodology and a formal, structured sales process.  This helps to shorten the sales cycle, increase closing percentages and most importantly, differentiate, allowing you to sell value instead of price. Well, at least that's what I have been writing...

What have I really been doing?

A secret experiment.

What if I was wrong about what I've been writing?  What if buyers should dictate the process?  What if we should sell the way buyers want to buy?  What if inbound leads should be handled in a more transactional way?  What if we should use a judgment-based approach instead of structured sales process?

I never want to be in a situation where I'm writing, coaching, consulting or training about a sales topic, but not actually doing those things myself.  And the same is expected from every professional on my team.  How else can we possibly keep it real for our clients?  

During the past 90 days, I have been secretly selling multiple ways.  On one third of our opportunities, I have been selling the way we teach - using a formal, structured sales process with a consultative approach.  On another third of our opportunities (inbound leads),  I have experimented with a more transactional approach, although even that has a consultative element because I can't help but ask some good questions.  It simply means that I show and tell much earlier than normal.  With the remaining third of our leads, I have experimented with allowing the buyer to dictate the process.   My buyer-dictated approach included a little push-back because I can't allow a potential client to take the wrong approach to a solution.  

Want to know what happened?  Look at the table below:

Sales Experiment

Did I have a bias?  You might think so, but nobody wants to get the business, regardless of approach, more than me.

One thing you don't see in the table is average contract size.  While it can be measured, we don't provide a specific thing that can be compared across processes.  And the services we do provide have more to do with the size of a sales force, their financial resources and the scope of work that we need to provide.  That said, the size of the contracts, when compared with the potential of the opportunities, was proportionately smaller with approaches 2 and 3.

Another thing you don't see in the table is that we were with decision makers in each of our structured, consultative opportunities, but weren't always able to accomplish that with all of the opportunities in the other two categories.  Before you jump to conclusions, we need to consider the chicken and the egg.  Which came first?  Did we default to the consultative approach when we were able to reach decision makers and the transactional approach when we weren't?  No.  Our approach dictated whether we were able to speak with decision makers.  When we took the consultative approach, it was easy to get decision makers to participate in the conversation.  When we took a buyer-driven or transactional approach, it was nearly impossible to get decision makers involved in our discussions.

Proponents of the other approaches might argue that there are some products and services that are better suited for their favorite approaches.  I agree.  But as I have said before, if you don't have a product that is under $200, if you aren't the cheapest, if you aren't the industry leader, or if you aren't the logical or safe choice in your space, then you are an underdog and the underdog needs to outsell everyone else.  If your company needs to outsell the competition, you'll need to do it using a formal, structured sales process with a consultative approach or you'll find yourself with unreliable forecasts, a longer than necessary sales process, smaller deals and a lower closing percentage.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales process, closing percentage, sales cycle

How to Determine if Your Sales Process is Effective

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Dec 08, 2010 @ 08:12 AM

baseline selling sales processYou know all about reverse engineering, right?  The Chinese do...that's how they've copied all of the products that others have created and sold them into the mass market, gray and black markets too.

Technology companies tend to be quite good at reverse engineering. How else can you explain one company's game-changing leap in capabilities, and the short time it takes for their competitors to introduce similar, if not the identical capabilities?

Can you reverse engineer your sales calls? 

OTHER THAN THE PART OF YOUR SALES CALL THAT INVOLVES PRESENTING, could you break down and explain, each step, strategy, tactic, question, response and milestone met, in the order they occurred, why they were chosen, and the resulting reaction of each occurrence, AFTER you've completed an entire sales cycle?

If you can, congratulations.  If you can't, it means the following:

  • You don't have a formal, structured, optimized sales process or, if you do, you don't follow it very consistently;
  • You are so involved in your sales call that you aren't in control of what you are doing, when and why;
  • You tend to wing it;
  • Whatever you are doing is not repeatable or scalable;
  • You can't teach it;
  • It's not indicative - you can't say, "if you follow these exact steps, reach these exact milestones, ask these specific questions, utilize these specific strategies and tactics and do so in this particular order you will get the business 75% of the time".

Try to reverse engineer your last complete sales cycle and let me know what happens when you do...

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales methodology, sales management, selling, sales cycle

The Delayed Impact of Lack of Sales Commitment

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jun 02, 2010 @ 12:06 PM

commitmentWhen should you pay attention to how committed an individual is to sales success?

Clients tend to believe that as long as they're getting results from a salesperson, lack of commitment is not a problem.

Clients tend to believe that when they're not getting results from a salesperson, lack of commitment explains everything.

Clients who recruit backwards (interview, then assess) tend to fall in love with candidates, then learn about their lack of commitment and attempt to justify the redeeming features of the candidate and discount the commitment problem.

Clients who recruit forward (assess, then interview) tend to ignore candidates who lack commitment - they don't even speak with them.

While commitment is a single data point - not the be-all-end-all - it's a very powerful and predictive data point as well.

If you are a client, upon learning that a top producer lacks commitment you might be asking, "How can that be?"

Top performers didn't lack commitment  when they were top performers. While their noteworthy performance may have been recent (last year), their lack of commitment is probably brand new (last month).  So while clients may fight this finding, they have to understand the predictive nature of the finding too.  It isn't showing up in the results yet and won't show up for some months to come.  If your company has a 6-9 month sales cycle the results are still 6-9 months away.  I'm penning this on June 2, 2010, and the results in a medium to long sales cycle won't be known until at least January of 2011.  So of course the client doesn't see it - yet. 

What does lack of commitment look like anyway?  It's different for every salesperson but it has nothing to do with work ethic!  Plenty of salespeople have a great work ethic despite their lack of commitment.  It's the subtle things that commitment interferes with; The extra attempt to turn a prospect around;  The additional attempt to reach a prospect that hasn't responded;  The one additional question that might turn a so-so opportunity into a great opportunity.  Aren't those skills?  Sure they are.  But when the salesperson has the skills but doesn't use them consistently, it can be attributed to commitment.  Only when they lack the skills can you attribute the problem to lack of skills.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales performance, top sales performer, Sales Candidate, commitment, sales cycle, sales assessments

The Defining Moments in your Sales Cycle

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jan 13, 2010 @ 09:01 AM

What are some of the more subtle, but important, key moments in your sales process that affect every sales outcome?

If I were to review some recent conversations with clients and their salespeople, crucial accomplishments included:

Company A - Getting the prospect to visit them rather than vice-versa.  Shows commitment, importance and builds credibility.

Company B - Tonality - it's the difference between an extended phone conversation and lack of interest.

Company B - Handling Stalls and Put-Offs - keeps prospects on the phone long enough to be sold.

Company C - Up-sell and cross-sell opportunities - they have a mature market so when salespeople seek out these opportunities and build cases for them, the company grows.  When the salespeople are complacent, growth and earnings are flat.

Company D - Asking the right questions in the first 2 minutes of the call.  It's the difference between an engaged prospect and "next?".

Company E - Setting Expectations with regard to money.  When they ask if a certain amount would surprise their prospect, they eliminate the sticker shock factor at proposal time and learn whether they need to discuss money and value in more detail now.

Company A - Taking advantage of the opportunity to push back and challenge.  This establishes value and credibility and differentiates them from all of their competitors.

What are some of the key moments that impact your sales outcomes?  Sometimes, just the act of identifying what they are will make everyone pay more attention to doing it more consistently.

(C) Copyright 2010 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales management, Sales Force, sales cycle

Are Sales Cycles Really Getting Shorter?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Dec 11, 2009 @ 10:12 AM

I read an article that claimed that winning sales cycles are getting shorter. 

While I agree with everything else in the article, I questioned the 23% shorter because our substantial data does not support this claim.  So where could the discrepancy be?

Let's start with the author's statement, "from qualify to close has reduced by a little more than 23%".  

I've previously written that more than 90% of salespeople we have assessed don't have or follow a formal sales process. Despite that, even in companies lacking a formal process, there may be a milestone called "Qualified" but, exactly where, and when, does this milestone take place?  Some companies attempt to qualify far too early in the process and, as a result, either fail to convert their opportunities, or their process drags on for much longer than necessary.  Why?  Because "qualified" is not a buying motivation - it doesn't compel anyone to take action.  On the other hand, if a company is using a time-tested, proven, sales process where qualification takes place immediately after determining that the prospect has:

  • compelling reasons to buy,
  • compelling reasons to buy from you,
  • some urgency to solve a problem,
...the sales cycle will accelerate.  This includes a lightning fast qualification where the prospect cooperates in qualifying themselves instead of withholding information.  Why?  They're motivated!  So a company that is qualifying at the right time should shorten their sales cycle from that point forward.

The next question revolves around criteria.  What is the criteria for "Qualified"?  In most car dealerships, if you are able to walk in under your own power, you are a qualified buyer.  In B2B sales, surprising as it may seem, many salespeople continue to take that approach.  How do they know the prospect is qualified?  One of the answers I heard recently was, "They seemed interested and they agreed with what I said".  There can be as many as 30 qualifying criteria that a company may incorporate and all companies must have at least the following eight:

  • prospect is committed to solving the problem identified;
  • they will spend more money to do business with you;
  • you know their time line to have a solution in place;
  • you know their criteria for a decision;
  • you know their process for making a decision;
  • you have spoken with the decision makers and are aware of others that may be involved;
  • you know they have and will spend the money required to solve their problem;
  • you have both a needs and cost appropriate solution;

So even if a salesperson is qualifying at the right time, the number of qualifying criteria has a great deal to do with how qualified an opportunity actually is and the more qualified it is, the more likely it is to close.  For example, if we added three more criteria:

  • competition has been eliminated;
  • doing it themselves is not an option;
  • putting it off until is not an option

...the percentage of qualified opportunities that convert to closed would increase further still.  As you can see, the timing and number of filters has more to do with how likely things will move along than anything else.

Since the article's author used client data as the basis for his statistic, I would simply guess that the 23% reduction in time from qualified to closed represents a before and after picture of their clients - a comparison of those who:

Were previously not qualifying as outlined above (before they became clients).


Adopted and/or formalized their process so that they were qualifying as outlined above (after they became clients).

Objective Management Group's data on the salespeople we've assessed tells us that most salespeople are providing their quotes and proposals at inappropriate times (85% to early), presenting at inappropriate times (84% too soon) and following up inappropriately (92% don't have a reason to follow up ).  The reason?  They weren't qualifying at the appropriate time!

So, 9 of your 10 salespeople aren't qualifying at the right time and with the right criteria.  You decide to get some help to create a formalized, optimal sales process.  You get your salespeople trained long enough and effectively enough to master the consultative skills necessary to develop motivated buyers with compelling reasons to move forward.  They now qualify effectively and appropriately.  How much shorter will the back end of your sales cycle be then?

Since 90% of your salespeople are now converting 50% more prospects to motivated buyers, who have the urgency to self-qualify, in order to get their problems solved, it should be a lot more than 23% shorter!

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, Sales Force, sales cycle, sales qualifying, sales assessments

Sales Velocity - 6th of the 10 Kurlan Sales Competencies That are Key to Building a Sales Culture

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Oct 20, 2009 @ 17:10 PM

This is the 6th is my series of articles on the 10 Kurlan Sales Competencies That Are Key to Building a Sales Culture.


Your salespeople can't wait to do the things at which they are:

  • most competent
  • most comfortable
  • having the most fun
  • in control
  • in the spot light

The problem with all of that is with what they do:

  • present
  • demo
  • tell your story
  • provide capabilities
  • give references
  • do proposals
  • give quotes
  • use company resources

and when they do it:

  • as soon as they can!

When your salespeople do what they are most comfortable with and most adept at, and they do it early in the sales cycle, they fail to develop any urgency for action and the result is an opportunity that doesn't gain traction, move, or close.

In the process I introduced in Baseline Selling, all of the above activity would take place between 3rd Base and Home Plate, but your salespeople are doing it between 1st Base and 2nd Base.  

So what should they be doing between 1st and 2nd Bases?

  • slow down
  • ask more questions than anyone else
  • ask better questions than anyone else
  • ask tougher questions than anyone else
  • listen
  • care
  • identify problems they can solve
  • develop a relationship
  • demonstrate their expertise (through questions, not presenting)
  • develop trust
  • slow down some more
  • when they think they've asked enough questions, continue asking questions

The slower they go between 1st and 2nd Base, the more quickly the sales cycle will flow.  If you want to shorten their sales cycle, get them to slow down!

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales management, Sales Force, Closing Sales, sales cycle, listening and questioning

Rules of Sales Engagement for the Recession

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jun 16, 2009 @ 13:06 PM

On the June 16 episode of Meet the Sales Experts, I answered listener questions - live.  There were some fantastic questions and I provided some fair answers.

Listen to the show to learn how you can shorten your sales cycle by taking advantage of the window of opportunity...

Listen to hear about sales coaching - how often, what kind, with whom, and how...

Listen to discover the single biggest mistake salespeople make...

Listen to some opportunity specific advice.

We also discussed the economy - of course - and right now, there are some new rules of engagement.  You simply have to work three times harder, three times smarter, find three times more opportunities and be three times more effective just to sell what you used to sell.  That's it?  No.  In order to be three times more effective you must refine your strategies and expand upon your tactics.  You must be more creative, quicker on your feet, more resourceful and more persuasive.  You must ask better questions and more of them.  You must be more powerful than ever before.  Do that and you will survive.  Do that consistently and you will thrive when the economy turns around and money loosens up.  In the mean time, no short cuts!

(c) 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, Sales Tactics, improve sales, sales mistakes, sales tips, sales cycle, Sales Experts, sales strategy

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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.

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