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The Crisis In Sales Performance

by David Brock on October 14th, 2016

Whatever way you look at it, we are facing a crisis in sales performance.  The data is everywhere-quantitatively and qualitatively.

Last week in Dreamforce 16, there was a lot of discussion about “time available for selling.”  Data points being tossed around showed time available for selling plummeting–in most cases less than 30%, in many far less than that.  In some of our own client work we are seeing ranges as low as 10-20%.

CEB data shows as much of stalled/lost deals is do to internal organizational complexity.  Stated differently, getting things done internally adversely impacts people’s ability to focus on their customers and win.

There are other data points, performance to quota, most studies show over 50% of sales people are failing to achieve their goals.  The data for overall organizational performance isn’t much better.

Other data points include churn, voluntary and involuntary attrition.  The average sales leader’s tenure is less than 18 months, the average sales person tenure is around 22 months.

Whatever data one looks at, the picture isn’t great.  Instead of improving performance, we seem to be going in just the opposite directions.

Qualitatively, I see other impacts on people.  People working longer hours, people constantly tied to their devices, sending emails/messages 24 hours a day.  People struggle to keep up with things, at the same time are less happy and satisfied with what they are doing–at all levels.  The popularity of things, like “mindfulness,” are indicators of challenges each of us face in doing our jobs.

Ironically, things should be exactly the opposite.  There are thousands of sales and marketing tools, all intended to help us be more productive, more effective, and more efficient.  There are thousands of books, articles, blogs, and training courses all focused on helping us be better, helping us engage customers more effectively, helping us be more impactful in each minute we spend on the job.

Never in history have there been more resources all focused on “helping” sales people become more effective and efficient.

Underlying this challenge is massive complexity–at organizational and individual levels.  It’s exacerbated by the rapid pace of change in our own organizations, with our customers, and in the world around us.   Further amplified by the continued efforts to lean down our organizations.

Too often our reaction to these issues makes things worse.

  1. We layer things on top of everything we already are doing.  All is well intended, but it is additive.  It actually creates greater complexity and confusion, adversely impacting results.
  2. We confuse complexity with complicated.  Complicated things are easy to analyze and relatively easy to identify solutions.  Our approach to complicated, however, fails in understanding and addressing complexity.
  3. We confuse simplification with simplistic.  Simplistic turns a blind eye to the realities of our jobs, our customers, and the world around us.  It is simply cluelessness.  Simplification is the thoughtful analysis of how we work, what we do, how we engage our customers/colleagues/community.  It is the thoughtful re-architecting our work processes, how we collaborate, what we do.  It strips away anything that doesn’t contribute.  But simplification is hard work, it requires engaging everyone-our customer/colleagues/community.  Too often, we shy away from this work.

The signs are around us every day—customer engagement data, sales productivity, morale, turnover.  Leading organizations are looking at radical simplification.  Many have gone back to blank white boards, restructuring everything from the ground up.  Others are systematically ripping out things that don’t contribute.  Others are reassessing the structures of our organizations and teams–changing how we work together.

We will never eliminate complexity, but we can’t ignore it, we have to better manage and respond to it.

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  1. I think it might’ve been 2014 when I originally published a post on the oversimplification of sales performance work, which worries me. I guess for once I was ahead of my time, because now the concepts of complexity and simplification seem to be all over the place.

    You make some great distinctions here about simplistic versus simplification.

    On a related topic, it seems ironic to me that in this age of great complexity, that so many of the tried-and-true problem-solving methodologies seem to have been put in a closet somewhere with the door shut and the light turned off. When was the last time you saw someone in a meeting jump up to the whiteboard and start doing a Fishbone diagram, or a force field analysis? It’s a dangerous combination when the world gets more complex and thinking gets more simplistic.

    • Mike: I think problem solving and critical thinking skills are critical, at all levels to begin to address the complexity crisis. The tools, many coming from quality, agile, and lean methods are available–they aren’t sexy or wrapped in a veneer of cool technology, but they enable us to start assessing and simplifying what we do. Thanks for the reminder.

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