Through 2016, we’ve conducted extensive research on sales performance, trying to understand the differences between top performers and everyone else. We’ve reached some startling conclusions.
- 99% of top sales performers pee at least once a day. (Consistent with our 2015 results)
- 85% of top sales performers brush their teeth at least once a day. (an update from our 2015 research showing 96% of sales people brush their teeth at least once a week.)
- 87% of top sales performers wear underwear on a daily basis. Of those 87%, 72% wear clean underwear daily.
- For sales people consistently exceeding quota, 88% are right handed. (Which upsets me, I’m left handed.)
A colleague, Kenny Madden, has been conducting similar research. His data shows: 82% of sales people outperform if they correlate their activities to rainfall in Borneo.
Clearly, this insight turns some of our previous thinking of sales performance on it’s head.
Some studies claim that top performance is a result of using social selling tools. Others would claim top performance is a result of using a particular sales methodology. Others would claim it’s use of specific sales tools. Others claim it’s the magic number of “touches” to get an email or phone response, or the number of LinkedIn connections, or the phase of the moon.
The claims on what drives top sales performance are all over the place. Everyone thinks they have discovered, and have the supporting data to prove that what they do or what they sell is the secret to top sales performance. (or top performance in about everything.)
Turns out, most previous thinking has been wrong. All you have to do to become a top sales performer is to pee and brush your teeth daily, wear underwear (for the customers’ benefits, hopefully it is clean), and be right handed. By the way, in next year’s survey, we will test if peeing and brushing your teeth at the same time drives higher productivity.
All of this gets pretty silly, but even learned journals like HBR promote research with an agenda. This data gets passed around with increasing authority. Once, standing at a urinal, a well known thought leader quoted my own statistic about peeing back to me.
Don’t get me wrong. Understanding what drives performance is important. Much of the market research is very good and can lead to great insights on performance improvement. It’s important to think about the data–how it’s presented, what is not being presented, what’s not being said.
For instance, if you look at our stunning research on top sales performers, there are some facts that I hid from you.
- 99% of everyone in the world pees at least once a day. While I associated that data point with top sales performers, it turns out they are no different than everyone else.
- Only 12% of people are left handed. 88% of people are right handed, so it stands to reason 88% of top sales performers are right handed.
Whenever we see any data about things like top sales performance–or anything else, we have to ask questions and be critical:
- How does the data differ for top performers differ from similar data for others? Usually, only the most favorable part of the data is presented. For instance if 75% of top performers do something, and 70% of all others are doing the same thing–is that really a distinguishing practice? Usually the 75% is reported, not the 70%, so you assume it is a distinguishing practice.
- What are the causal effects? Is it because top performers are doing one specific thing that causes them to be top performers, or is it just one of many things that top performers do?
- Look at the context of the data and it’s relationship to other things–particularly your own situation. I once saw some research where a top performer was anyone selling more than $X dollars per year. But if your performance benchmarks are that 2X is only substandard performance, then clearly the research isn’t very helpful to your situation–while it may be very helpful to another organization.
- Some of the research shows dramatically different results than other research. For example, there is a famous recent research report of several 100 participants that suggests 5 million sales jobs will be lost by 2020, bringing total sales employment to around 10-12 million. Yet BLS data show sales employment in 2020 increasing and exceeding 20M in 2020. BLS data is the basis for much of our national and global economic forecasting. Which is right? It’s impossible to know, but important to look at more than one research report before you draw conclusions. And when you see dramatically different results, question the validity of all of them (or choose what you want to believe, but be honest about your choice).
- Be careful about statistical relevance, both in sample sizes and in sample selection. One of the most egregious is LinkedIn SSI. It’s social selling index is based solely on an individual’s use of LinkedIn and ignores all other channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Piintrest, and any number of other major social platforms.
The best discussion on how to critically look at research and statistical data is in a book written in the 40’s. Be sure to read: How To Lie With Statistics by Daniel Huff and Irving Geis. It’s a fascinating, fun read!
Moreover, apply common sense. Top performers never do just one thing well, they do lots of things well. No single thing they do is the reason for their performance, but contributes to it.