10 Characteristics of High-Performance Sales Organizations

By Steve Schilling

Building a high-performance sales organization is not easy. There is no shortage of books, methodologies, or experts with opinions on how to achieve top performance, but how do you know where to start? Below, you will find an overview of the key characteristics that all high-performing sales organizations exhibit.

1 – Sales Culture – A high-performance sales organization is ultimately

defined by its culture. Culture defines the way in which an organization interacts with one another, with other functional areas in the company, its vendors, and prospective and current customers. It’s the foundation that guides the team and motivates salespeople. It is also instrumental in attracting and retaining great talent, as well as creating an exciting, happy and fun work environment. However, a great sales culture is not created; it is the result of an organization’s values, practices and behaviors. To change culture, you have to first change behaviors, then culture will follow. A strong sales culture is an indicator of a highly functional sales organization, but it is not the maker of one.

2 – Sales Strategy – Sales strategy is the fundamental road map that lays out a sales organization’s vision and plans, and defines the tactics and methods they will use to achieve their goals. It should be clearly articulated and understood organization-wide and must live beyond a PowerPoint deck. Great strategy must be effectively and passionately deployed across the sales organization. Without a clear and focused strategy, an organization leaves its success to chance. 

3 – Defined Sales Process – “How” you do things matters, especially if you want consistent and scalable outcomes. Creating, refining, and executing on a defined sales process that properly aligns with your prospective customer’s buying process is central to consistent and predictable sales performance. A well-designed sales process helps your reps predictably close deals by giving them a framework to follow. Without a defined sales process, or with one that is poorly designed, an organization is dependent upon the individual tactics and skills of salespeople, which will lead to inconsistent and unpredictable results.

4 – Well designed and documented compensation plan – A well designed sales compensation plan aligns sales performance and behavior with company objectives. The effectiveness of a sales compensation plan for both the plan sponsors and the plan participants requires a balance between cost and outcome, an emphasis on driving the correct behaviors, and a plan that is easy to understand. An organization’s implementation and management of the plan further demonstrates the value (or lack thereof) the organization places on the work and effort of the sales team. Timely and accurate commission statements followed by prompt payment is ultimately critical to achieving the desired outcome. 

5 – Sales Performance Measurement – Collecting, analyzing, and reporting information regarding the performance of an individual, group, and the entire sales organization is critical to managing performance. However, simply measuring sales results is not enough; the organization must measure the leading indicators of sales success as well. Only measuring sales results is like driving a car with the view out of the rear view mirror. High-performance sales organization are obsessed with measurement. They are constantly assessing a range of key performance indicators in an effort to gain new insights into performance. Common measures include cost per lead, lead to close ratio or demo to close ratio, pipeline size and balance, lead velocity, new logos, performance by vertical, customer lifetime value, and average revenue per customer. Understanding these and other measures not only provides insight into the organization’s overall performance but individual and team comparisons as well.

 “Everyone in the sales organization should share a common vision. Unfortunately, over half of B2Bvexecutives indicate their employees don’t understand their company’s strategy, according to HBR research. Sales leaders must outline a consistent sales process and then set specific objectives around those activities. Companies that follow a defined workflow are 33 percent more likely to be high performers.”

Salesforce.com

6 – Performance Management – To achieve high-performance results, organizations must use sales performance measurement to provide continual feedback, coaching, and development.  An organization’s performance management approach should include processes that consist of more than just the immediate manager’s views and emphasize the future more than the past. It requires a long-term view toward skills and capability development while simultaneously being unafraid to experiment and drive performance with enabling technology and tools. The organization should focus on the upper boundaries of performance instead of measuring against the minimum. Success must be continuously celebrated, under-performance quickly addressed, and the bar continually raised.

Research performed by  SiriusDecisions shows that the number-one inhibitor to sales achieving quota is “inability to communicate value message.”  In other words, if your sales force cannot effectively communicate your company’s value proposition in a

compelling and understandable way, there’s nothing your sales strategy can do to fix it.

7 – Sales Skills – One-on-one communication with your prospective clients is ultimately where the rubber meets the road. To be effective, salespeople must have solid abilities to build relationships with customers, discover their needs, persuade them to make purchase decisions and generate repeat business. Salespeople not only present to prospects, but they ask questions, listen to responses, and read the nonverbal signs of buyers in face-to-face situations. This allows salespeople to draw out concerns and unmet needs that would impact a sale. A high-performing sales organization must have a solid grasp of these skills and continually develop them throughout their team. 

8 – Talent Management – Talent management is an organization’s commitment to recruit, hire, retain, and develop the most talented and superior salespeople available in the job market. This cannot be an annual “performance review” process but a ongoing dedication to training, development and performance management. High-performance sales organizations possess and attract the talent every other sales organization wants.

9 – Effective sales messaging – Stories work! Countless studies show that people don’t buy the best products they buy the products; they can best understand. High-performing salespeople must be able to have conversations that win at every stage of the buyer’s journey. Stories and messaging used by a sales organization should be timely, bring the customers new insight, be relevant to their business. High-performing sales organization must be accomplished storytellers, with real-world stories that provide relevant insight and learning to their prospective clients. Sales messaging must also be consistent across the entire organization to ensure proper alignment between the customer’s expectations and the organization’s product and service delivery.

10 – Sales enablement tools and resources – Sales and marketing teams ultimately must have a close working relationship and be in alignment to succeed. To build an effective sales engine, salespeople, marketers, and support resources need to understand how they work together to generate revenue while meeting their customer’s expectations. Sales enablement is at the core of these functions and is integral to achieving consistent high-performance. This is done by arming reps with the technology, tools, content, and coaching at the right time in the sales cycle to improve sales engagements and foster sales success. 

Sales is an ever-evolving field that has seen dramatic change over the last decade with the introduction of new technologies, changing buyer behaviors, and new research and insights into strategies and methods that separate the top performers from the pack. For sales organizations that want to reach the pinnacle of performance in this changing landscape, the path is clear. High-performance sales organizations excel in all of the areas outlined above. With this information in mind, create your roadmap today and begin your organization’s journey to the ultimate level of success.

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