Disturbing research regarding under-performance of the sales function in many businesses came across my desk late last year and troubled me over the Christmas-New Year break, and I suspect I’m not alone. It’s very much stayed top of mind as I’ve returned to work in the New Year and started speaking with clients about their plans for 2015.

Michael Pascoe’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald references the findings of the RPMG Revenue Performance Index, in which 172 CEOs were interviewed specifically about the revenue performance of their businesses. A worrying 68% said their organisations missed or will miss their current year revenue target, 67% reported not being confident of meeting next year’s target, and 58% of sales reps missed or will miss their current year quota (with 27% of sales reps missing quota by more than 20%).

The report is sobering reading, with executives, sales managers, marketers, CRM vendors, sales trainers and recruiters all copping their share of the blame for contributing to a climate of, as one CEO put it, ‘acceptable mediocrity’.

If this resonates with you, the good news is that you’re clearly not alone in being frustrated by the underperformance of your sales team.

After reading a recent blog post by my Davidson colleague, Shawn Ket, in which he discusses that “knowing is not enough . . . we must do”, perhaps it’s not such a mystery as to why sales underperformance is being tolerated.

Right, so we know that you’re likely to be frustrated by the performance of your sales team and, if you’re in the same boat as the RPMG survey respondents, you’ve perhaps become almost accepting of it. We also know that, despite knowing that you need to do something, there’s every chance you’ve not acted meaningfully on it.

The good news is that businesses taking positive action are finding that it’s paying off. A number of companies I work with have raised the bar over the past 12-24 months, in terms of expectations of their sales function and, anecdotally at least, are being rewarded for it. They report improved performance against targets and increases in market share, typically through taking a combination of the following actions:

  • Mapping the ‘buyer’s journey’ their customers embark upon when making purchasing decisions and aligning sales processes to that journey
  • Interrogating their sales pipelines more thoroughly and focusing sales resources on the opportunities with greatest potential
  • Embracing social selling, ensuring sales teams enhance their online presence and engage with customers and prospects proactively via this medium
  • Improving the quality of sales talent they’re recruiting into their businesses in the first place which requires adoption of a more rigorous, structured approach to recruitment
  • Investing in meaningful training and development of their people, using programs designed to effect long-term behavioural change in their salespeople.

Well, it’s 2015 and – for most of us – it’s six months from the end of the financial year. The economy isn’t about to spring to life, either domestically or internationally. Commodity prices are unlikely to rebound anytime soon, and governments sure aren’t about to wave magic wands.

The situation simply isn’t going to resolve itself. Businesses and leaders prepared to grasp the nettle and act are the ones, from what I’m seeing, thriving despite the environment. Wouldn’t you prefer to be among them?


Michael Simonyi is a Senior Consultant – Sales & Business Development in Davidson Corporate.