What Is the Makeup and Function of the Ideal Sales Force?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Dec 12, 2013 @ 12:12 PM

studyThe million dollar question.

So many studies are conducted - but only on large companies.

So many findings are published - but they don't apply to your company.

So many findings are discussed - but they don't address what to change.

I've written four White Papers over the last several years, all backed by science and data from the more than 700,000 salespeople and sales managers that Objective Management Group has evaluated and assessed.  They include:

  • The Science of Salesperson Selection
  • The Science of Sales Longevity
  • The Trust Project - Why Aren't Salespeople Trusted and Who are Trusted the Least?
  • The Challenger Style and Its Impact on Sales Selection

You can request a free download of the first 3 papers if you don't already have them.

My next White Paper will discuss the makeup and function of the ideal sales force.  To help with this paper, and to learn how closely companies have structured their sales force to the ideal, I am requesting your help.

You might be asking, so, what is the ideal?  I'll reveal that in the White Paper because to reveal it in advance of the study runs the risk of influencing your answers.

I invite you to participate in the study - a collection of 26 simple, but targeted questions that will provide us with the data we need to make this White Paper useful for everyone with a sales force.

If your company has salespeople, if you are in management, and if you care as much about sharing good information as you do about receiving good information, you should participate in this study.

Finally, this is an incredibly busy time of the year and there is a lot of information being pushed out by a lot of people, so it's very easy to miss some valuable content.  Here are links to some of the articles you might have missed since the Thanksgiving break:

Sales Traditions and Rituals - They're Not Just for December

10 Tips for Great Keynotes and Better Sales Presentations (includes bonus videos plus even more tips in the comments section)

Why Did the Move from Outside Sales to Inside Sales Take so Long?

What is the Most Difficult Part of the Sales Process?

Lost Sales, Deals and Accounts - Fairy Tales or Dragnet? 

Opinion - Why Sales Win Rates Have Reached an All-Time Low 

Study Says to Highlight 3 Features in a Sales Presentation (includes bonus video) 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales study, sales retention, ideal sales force, sales selection, objective management group

Opinion: Why Sales Win Rates Have Reached an All-Time Low

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 @ 07:11 AM

conclusionOne of the findings in the most recent Sales Performance Optimization Study, from CSO Insights, revealed that the win rate for deals has reached an all-time low.  

Does that surprise you?  

Does this represent a change in buyer behavior?  

Is it a result of more competition?  

Are salespeople less effective?  

Is it the economy?  

Has there been a decrease in demand for our products and services?  

Is sales process having an impact?

Let's discuss the degree to which each of these possible reasons may be the actual cause.

Change in Buyer Behavior - Behaviors are always changing and while it may be true that sales cycles are getting longer, there are only four buyer-side behaviors that can really impact sales outcomes:

  1. Relationships,
  2. Access to Decision Makers,
  3. Making price a primary criteria for decision-making, and
  4. An eventual decision to do nothing.

The reality is that all four behaviors have always been in play and there is nothing to suggest that any of them are suddenly having any more of an impact than before.

More Competition - Competition tends to be somewhat cyclical, but for some businesses, the effects of globalization, the internet, mergers and acquisitions and the ability to buy from anyone, anywhere, at any time, have increased the number of customer options.  Practically speaking, most companies do not increase the number of vendors they decide to speak with.  If they usually select from among 5, they are still selecting from 5.  It's too much work to look at 10 and most companies are attempting to create less, not more work for themselves and their staffs.  So, while there are more companies that can provide products and services in more locations, companies are not including more of them in their searches.

Ineffective Salespeople - The latest reports indicate that there are now 15.8 million people selling in the US alone.  Objective Management Group (OMG), having assessed 700,000 salespeople, tells us that one key piece of data remains unchanged.  The divide between effective and ineffective salespeople remains the same.  There is still an elite 6%, another 20% who are quite effective, and then the rest, 74% continue to be ineffective.  With the sales population increasing to nearly 16 million in the US, 74% of a much larger number means that there are simply more salespeople that are ineffective.  The two primary areas of ineffectiveness continue to be the inability to sell consultatively (customer-focused) and ineffective qualifying.  While these two factors make a considerable contribution to lost sales, the reality is that they aren't contributing any more today than they were in the past.

The Economy - There is no question that the economy is still having its troubles.  The Obamacare fiasco is scaring business owners and consumers alike.  I spoke with an owner yesterday who was totally freaking out over the 40% increase in his costs to provide health insurance.  

Despite that, the report in question indicated that the loss rate is at an all-time low.  That has to include 2008-2010 when the economy was really in the tank.  So, while the economy isn't creating a confidence-fest, it shouldn't be having any more of an impact than it has in the years 2011-2012.

Decrease in Demand - If you're selling typewriters or newspapers, sure.  If you own a travel agency selling anything other than tours and corporate travel, sure.  But all indications are that for most other products and services, the only thing going down is margins, so I don't believe that this could be the cause either.

Sales Process - Despite the pleas from me and a host of other sales experts, it is my opinion that most companies are not taking sales process seriously enough.  Oh sure, they have sales processes, but OMG's data says that these processes are either ineffective or not being followed in 91% of the cases.  Salespeople are in love with the demo - perhaps more than ever - and when you combine that with the following factors...

  • The internet,
  • Availability of knowledge and information,
  • Technology to demo online and on-demand,
  • Free trials, and
  • Demo-centric metrics,

...it's no wonder that companies, their sales leaders, and salespeople are demoing early, skipping over the most important milestones in the sales process and selling much more transactionally than they would like to admit.  But demos are like the 15 minutes of previews we see at movie theaters.  As each preview finishes, we make a 1 of 4 decisions:

  1. Must see it as soon as it is released.
  2. Can wait for it to be released on DVD.
  3. No hurry - we can see it anytime.
  4. No way. No interest.

Your prospects are making the very same decisions about your demos and if your demo isn't creating reaction #1 above, then the quotes and proposals that follow are sure to create...losses.

My assessment of the all-time low win rate is that there are a combination of factors that may be having a slight impact on this metric.  However, the ease of getting people to watch a demo, while failing to follow a modern, best-practices sales process, is the biggest factor.

I have written extensively on sales process and you can find more on that topic here.

Image credit: dskdesign / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales study, closing ratio, sales win rate, sales loss rate, ineffective salespeople

Top Kurlan Articles Debunking Sales Studies and Articles

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:12 PM

debunkedI've read an awful lot of studies and articles over the last several years and while most of them have merit, some of them are either dead wrong or have drawn incorrect conclusions.  Here are the ones which have earned my criticism:

Has the Sales Profile of an A Player Changed Dramatically?

What's Missing from the Report That Says Sales Training Doesn't Make Reps Better?

How Wrong is the Harvard Business Article on How to Hire Salespeople

Now That You Have a Sales Process, Never Mind

Inc Magazine Gets it Wrong on Sales Prospecting

Latest Research on Personality Assessments for Sales Selection

Harvard Business Review Blog Off Target on Sales Greatness

Inc Magazine Misses on 13 Traits of Successful Salespeople

Inc Magazine Gets it Wrong on Consultative Selling

Sales Excellence Studies Propagate Mediocrity

Missing on the "Secrets to Developing Successful Sales Managers"

Dan Pink Hits and Then Misses the New Key to Sales Performance

Accenture CSO Insights – Sales Optimization Study

Harvard Business Review Revealing Study of Salespeople Makes News

IDG and CEB Draw Conflicting Conclusions on Sales Effectiveness

If You Structure Your Sales Force Like the Big Companies

CSO Insights - How Many Salespeople Made Quota in 2010?

Harvard Business Review Hit and Then Missed the Mark on Sales

Harvard Business Review Article on Sales Leaves Me with Mixed Feelings

HBR Blog – Worst Question for Salespeople to Ask

HBR Blog – Is Selling an Afterthought in Today’s Sales Model?

HBR Blog – Post Gets Salespeople Wrong

Harvard Business Review – What Customers Expect From Your Salespeople and More

Selling Power – Article Hits Then Misses the Mark on Sales

Software Advice – Do Your Salespeople Have to Give Up Control to Their Prospects?

The Numbers Don't Lie - Why Companies Suck at Hiring Salespeople 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales study, sales articles, sales myths, problems with sales studies, issues with sales studies

Ultimate Comparison of Top Salespeople versus Salespeople That Fail

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 07, 2009 @ 21:12 PM

If you've been following this Blog you know I sometimes refer to the elite 5% of salespeople, the next 20% and the bottom 74%.  After reading Super Freakonomics I was moved to take a new look at our data on the more than 400,000 salespeople we have assessed.  Behavioral scientists would look at our data on the top 5% and report on some common findings.  It might look like this: 

Top Salespeople have the following common characteristics:

They enjoy selling

They prospect consistently

They have a strong Outlook

Of course, there are many more but, the problem I always have with these studies is that they don't look at the characteristics of the salespeople who are failing.  Would you be surprised to know that the bottom 5% have these characteristics too?  Well, they do.  A more interesting comparison would be to look at the characteristics where the biggest differences are:

 Top 5%


 Bottom 5%


 Trainable and Coachable



 Strong Desire for Sales Success



 Strong Commitment to Sales Success



 No Excuse Making



 Don't Need Approval from Prospects



 Don't Get Emotional



 Comfortable Talking Personal Finances



 Supportive Sales Beliefs



 Supportive Buying Habits


 74 pts.

 Average Severity of 5 Biggest Weaknesses

 251 pts.


 Rejection Proof



 Have Personal Written Goals



 High Money Tolerance (choking point)



 Make Decisions to Buy without Thinking it Over



 % of the Attributes of a Hunter



 % of the Attributes of a Closer



 % of the Attributes of a Qualifier


Wow, right?

And you wonder why I make such a big deal out of the difference between personality and behavioral styles assessments as compared with our assessments.  You don't have to look much further than the impact of getting Desire wrong.  If the personality and behavioral styles assessments can't measure Desire for Success in Sales, they can't report on it.  They measure Drive (all the successful people in your company have it but they don't all belong in sales) but market it as a sales finding.

There is a huge difference between the top and bottom performers but any individual finding is meaningless unless it is considered as part of the whole, and in the context of what the salesperson will be selling, who they'll be selling it to, the anticipated resistance, and the expected competition.

Despite the huge gap between the top and bottom groups, even the top group of salespeople falter in these areas:

only 50% are Motivated to earn more money - but that's because most of them have made so much already!

only 29% of them have a sales process they follow - that just reinforces what I've been writing about lately.  The lack of formal sales processes in companies is just astounding!

as you saw from the data above, they only average 45% of the attributes of the closer skill set.  That just places more importance on the earlier stages of the sales process and reinforces what I so often say.  If you slow down between 1st and 2nd base, the sales process will accelerate and closing will take care of itself.

only 34% of them are effective getting high enough in the company.  They aren't a whole lot better in this area than their weak counterparts who get to top decision makers a whopping 20% of the time.

only 43% of them are consistently uncovering the real budget so you know they are wasting some time as a result of that.

here's a shocker - despite the fact that 90% of them prospect consistently (although we don't define what consistent is), only 55% of them have the desire to do it, so they force themselves.  The bottom 5%?  10% more, or 65% have the desire to prospect consistently, but 8% fewer, or 82% actually prospect consistently.

Now that you've seen the data comparing the top and bottom salespeople in the world, what jumps out at you?

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

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Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, Sales Force, comparison of top salespeople, sales study, sales effectiveness study, sales analysis, sales effectiveness

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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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