[Note - this article was written in August of 2001 so while the first paragraph is outdated, it still sets the stage for the sales part of the article which begins with the third paragraph.]

The CDC is back focusing on COVID case numbers.  Earlier this summer, Massachusetts was reporting fewer than 100 new cases each day but more 1,000 new cases per day have been reported for the past two weeks.  That particular metric supports the narrative that the Delta variant is spreading but it does not tell the real story that allows us to assess our risk.

For the real story to materialize, we should know how many of those 1,000 cases occurred in vaccinated people, how many vaccinated people with COVID have symptoms, and how many of those cases required hospitalization.  Case numbers support that there is new spread, but a detailed breakdown would help us to understand our reality.

The exact same thing is happening with the sales numbers reported by most companies.

Suppose a company reports that its win rate is 24%.  Does that tell you anything other than they suck?  It doesn't tell us how badly they suck, why they suck, how long they've sucked, who sucks, or whether there is any hope for them to stop sucking.  And even if their win rate is double the 24%, the same questions apply. Let me explain.

How badly they suck depends entirely on the stage in the sales process from which the conversion is being measured.  Win rates are not calculated consistently so a 24% win rate could mean five different things:

• Proposals to closed - if they are only closing 24% of their proposals they are demonstrating the highest possible degree of suck.
• Qualified to closed - if they are closing 24% of their qualified opportunities they suck at qualifying!
• Prospects to closed - if they are closing 24% of the opportunities that move past a first meeting, that could be an acceptable rate.
• Suspects to closed - if they are closing 24% of the prospects they get first meetings with that is something to brag about.
• Leads to closed - if they are closing 24% of their leads they are freaking awesome!

Every company handles this conversion differently but in my opinion, proposals to closed provides incomplete information because we don't know how many companies they were competing against.  Prospects to closed, suspects to closed and leads to closed are inferior because we don't yet know if the opportunities are thoroughly qualified. Therefore, only qualified to closed provides the intelligence to determine how badly they suck.

Knowing why they suck requires that a sales process includes all of the required milestones and the milestones have also been integrated into their CRM.  We need to know how many qualified opportunities failed to meet all of the company's criteria/milestones be be fully qualified.  If you want to know which milestones should be included, watch this ten-minute video on the most popular sales processes and methodologies.

In order to know how long they've sucked, look at win rates over time using the exact same criteria that is being used today for comparison.  What was the win rate last quarter, and each quarter before that?  Are we trending up or down or is it the same as it was earlier in the timeline?

Who sucks? Unless your reporting includes win rates by salesperson, you won't have the ability to see how you arrived at 24%.  You probably have someone who is closing closer to 50% and there is probably someone closing closer to 10%.  Why is that?  What are they each doing that is so different?

Is there any hope that they can improve?  This is the most important question of all.  The other metrics we were discussing report lagging data and won't be of much help.  Improvement must be forward looking and the best forward looking metrics have nothing to do with win rate and everything to do with the pipeline.  Is it larger than last quarter, prior quarters and prior years?  Do the opportunities in the pipeline have a larger value than over the same period of time last year?  Is the quality of opportunities in the pipeline higher than it was over the same period of time last year? 24% of 200 opportunities is better than 24% of 100 opportunities.  24% of \$2 million is better than 24% of \$1 million.  And if the quality is better that would suggest that the win rate will be better than 24%.  That is one way to answer the hope question.

The other way to measure hope is to conduct an OMG (Objective Management Group) evaluation of your sales team. OMG's evaluation is unique in that it will very clearly show why salespeople aren't selling more, the specific sales competencies where the gaps are, who could be selling more, how much more, the required coaching and training to get them there, how long it will take to get them there, and so much more. Most companies feel that the money spent on an OMG Sales Force Evaluation is the best money they ever invested in sales.

You can get a sample of an OMG Sales Team Evaluation here (checkmark next to sales force eval).

You can see data on the 21 Sales Core Competencies here.

I'm going to share the story of a real salesperson and his current, real opportunity, but change the names of everyone involved.  I hear stories like this every day but this particular one happens way too often.

2 months ago, Bob agreed to a \$25,000 pilot for an enterprise size company generating billions in revenue.  At the time, he was told a successful pilot would lead to much more business in 2021.  Last week he excitedly shared that the company was very happy with the results of their pilot to date, and they asked Bob to prepare a business case for exponentially increasing the size and scope of their spend.  The future purchase would be north of \$250,000.

While colleagues and supervisors shared their enthusiasm for this exciting moment, my first reaction was, "And why do you think this is good news?"

"Dave, you're so negative."

I was asked to explain why I felt that way because Bob and his team believed that this was clearly a positive development.  I pointed out that the request to prepare a business case was nothing more than a request for (another) proposal and Bob would once again need to prove and convince the company that doing business with them would provide value, create ROI, and justify the tenfold increase in spend.

The response from Bob's team?  "Good point."

This IS the customer moving forward, but only moving forward to resume their discussions as to whether to or not to move forward with an increase in spend.  One more time. The only thing moving forward is a resumption of the discussion about moving forward.  I did not hear anything about decisions, commitments, intent, budgets, terms, agreements, contracts, PO's, timelines, or closing dates.  The only thing certain, is that Bob can open the opportunity in his CRM application and place a checkmark to indicate that the pilot was successfully completed.  Check! The opportunity did not advance in any other measurable or meaningful way because he is right back where he was in October when he proposed the same solution only to settle for 10% of the business in the form of this pilot.  They weren't convinced then, and apparently, still aren't convinced.

There are a few issues here:

• The pilot was not sold correctly - When Bob agreed to the mini-pilot, there should have been a very clear understanding of what exactly would constitute success; and if he met the criteria for a successful pilot, what exactly would happen next.  If the "next" step is anything other than easily and automatically transitioning to the larger order, then Bob should not have begun the pilot.
• The salesperson had happy ears - When the customer asked Bob to prepare another business case for 2021, Bob should not have been so eager to facilitate.  Instead, he should have asked why they were asking for another business case since he did that prior to the pilot.  Bob should have also asked what they were looking for in the business case, who would be reviewing it, and what would happen after it was reviewed.  If Bob hears anything other than "we'll be signing an agreement" it's a no-go on the new business case/proposal.
• The sales manager did not push back - Given the poorly executed expectations and next steps prior to the pilot, and the new request for a proposal, the sales manager should have pushed back hard and not allowed either the pilot or the business case to move forward without a better understanding of timelines, next steps and commitments.

This story is not unusual in any way.  Scenarios like this occur at an alarming rate throughout each day at companies across the spectrum of more than 200 industries.  Even good salespeople make mistakes like these and ineffective sales managers allow them to happen time and time again.  Great salespeople, who make up the top 5% of the sales population, never allow scenarios like this to take place.  Weak salespeople, who make up the bottom 50%, always allow scenarios like this to occur.

The story I shared here is just one example of the ripple effect from lack of quality sales training and coaching, and lack of effective sales management.  Much of this could be solved with improved sales selection - hiring the right sales managers and salespeople to begin with.  The rest can be solved with a sales force evaluation to identify the core issues and gaps, and then the right training to better prepare the sales team to execute when they find themselves in scenarios like these.

The shit show known as 2020.  Many of us have heard that term used to describe this uniquely strange year.  Despite everything unusual about 2020, there have been some normalcies too.  We celebrated births, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's and Father's Days, and we will all celebrate the upcoming holidays.  The gatherings might be smaller and more localized, but the holiday won't pass by without us.  These are all Milestones.

Objective Management Group (OMG) celebrated some milestones this year too.  In January we celebrated our 30th Anniversary, in August we processed our 2 millionth sales assessment and in September we updated the industry standard 21 Sales Core Competencies.  Milestones are important.  How are they important to sales success?

Milestones are also the most important components of a strong, reliable, predictive sales process.

Without specific milestones that must be reached in each stage of the sales process, there is no sales process!

Back in the early 90's, in the very early days of OMG, only 9% of all salespeople had and/or followed a sales process.  While that has improved dramatically in the last 30 years, to 45%, it is still way too low.  Check out these findings.

Sales Process is only one of twenty-one Sales Core Competencies yet it correlates perfectly with sales percentile.  As you can see, the best salespeople are 94% more likely to have and follow a sales process while 83% of weak salespeople, the bottom half of all salespeople, are out there winging it!  And when it comes to all salespeople, 55% are winging it.  Hmmm.  That's pretty close to the 57% who don't hit quota, isn't it?

Consider that salespeople who are just winging it usually have milestones.  For example, most lousy salespeople have conceptual milestones for things like:

• Getting on an approved vendor list
• Quoting
• Submitting a Proposal
• Scheduling a Demo
• Getting a Prospect to Agree to a Trial

There is nothing wrong with these milestones unless they are the only milestones in a company's or salesperson's sales process. Unfortunately, that's what we usually see, with salespeople looking to achieve late stage milestones without meeting the ten to fifteen crucial milestones that must be achieved PRIOR to the five listed above. A best-practices sales process has at least four stages (think in terms of stages like suspect, prospect, qualified, closable) with each stage having between three and eight measurable milestones.

Skipping a single milestone can have devastating consequences.  Imagine what can happen when salespeople skip ten to fifteen milestones!

Very often, companies lacking the appropriate milestones in its sales process have win rates below 15%.  Companies that get their sales processes customized and optimized with predictive scorecards get their win rates up to near 80%!  If yours isn't that high, there's a good chance that sales process is at the top of the list of root causes.

To get a better sense for what a sales process should look like, and how popular sales processes compare, check out this 11--minute video that I recorded four years ago.

Milestones are important.  One of your milestones should be to make your sales process as structured and predictive as your accounting, operations, manufacturing, programming, legal, shipping or engineering processes.  It is irresponsible for your sales process to not be as solid and well-thought out as each of your other processes. Sales success drives revenue and profit. Why would you allow the single process that drives revenue and profit to suffer from lack of professional attention.

Sales is not some fluffy art-form that can be molded to the whims of each salesperson!  Sales is more like a software application where the science lies under the hood in its code and the art or personality is infused into the look, feel and easy-to-navigate user interface.  Sales science lies in the sales process and methodology and the art or personality is infused by the salesperson to have a friendly, easy and enticing conversation with the prospect.

Regular readers know that I have written more than 1,400 articles to help them better Understand the Sales Force.  Some of the articles won awards.  A few were stinkers.  I intended for all of them to be very helpful and I believe they are.  Over the years, some of my favorite articles were completely overlooked, getting relatively few reads compared with the most popular articles that were viewed by tens of thousands of people.

Today I wrote an article for LinkedIn that not only explains Donald Trump's rise to presumptive GOP nominee, but identifies ten, great selling lessons associated with his rise.  It doesn't matter whether you love, hate or are neutral to Trump, I invite you to read my observations and lessons and contribute to the conversation.  You can read the Trump article here.

Speaking of lessons, when salespeople miss key milestones in the sales process – and they are often missed – it leads to proposals and/or quotes that rely on guesswork instead of facts, assumptions instead of agreements, and hope instead of acceptance. When salespeople send proposals to their prospects, they hope the proposal will do the selling for them, but it causes one of four things to happen instead. An article I wrote that appears today on the Selling Power Blog identifies those missed milestones and the four things that happen instead.  You can read the Selling Power article here.

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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