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Home  > Resources  > Small Business Resources  > The Trouble with Sales People

The Trouble with Sales People Back To Business Resources >>

The Problem with Sales
Companies are investing more than ever in sales training, but performance isn't improving. Just 9% of sales meetings end in a sale, and only one out of 250 salespeople exceed their targets. What's going on? Researchers Lynette Ryals and Iain Davies observed 800 sales professionals in live sales meetings to understand the gap between investment and performance.

Harvard Business Review - Effective Sales People -  Experts
Harvard Business Review - Effective Sales People -  Closers
Harvard Business Review - Effective Sales People -  Consultants
Harvard Business Review - Ineffective Sales People -  Storytellers
Harvard Business Review - Ineffective Sales People -  Focusers
Harvard Business Review - Ineffective Sales People -  Narrators
Harvard Business Review - Ineffective Sales People -  Aggressors
Harvard Business Review - Ineffective Sales People -  Socializers
(click the color bars above for more information)

The Best and the Rest
Ryals and Davies identified seven behaviors, of which only four were actually related to sales success. By mapping how salespeople relied on each behavior, they discovered eight types of salespeople. But only three were consistently effective, and they only made up 37% of the sample. The remaining five types of sales people - the other 63% - fell short.

The Effective Minority
Here's a visualization of the skill-sets of the three effective types of salespeople - Experts, Closers, and Consultants. The closer each corner of the polygon is to the edge of the circle, the more effective the salesperson is at the corresponding behavior. Experts (9% of salespeople) are good at all seven skills; Consultants (15%) listen well and are good problem solvers; and Closers (13%) can pull off big product sales, but their smooth-talking style doesn't work as well for selling services.

Ineffective Salesperson #1: The Socializer
Despite the reputation most salespeople have of being socially gifted, it turns out that Socializers are the worst-performing when it comes to making the sale. Notice how small their polygon is compared to the dotted line, which shows the average skill set of all salespeople. Socializers tend to chit-chat at the expense of actually making the sales pitch.

Ineffective Salesperson #2: The Storyteller
Storytellers also talk a lot, but at least their gab focuses on how other clients used the product or solved the problem. Ryals and Davies found that some storytelling could improve sales performance, but that too little or too much is counterproductive and turns customers off. The danger for storytellers is that pay too much attention to these past customers, and not enough on those sitting in front of them.


Ineffective Salesperson #3: The Narrator
Narrators hew too closely to their prepared marketing materials and their rehearsed sales pitch. If the client throws a curveball, they stick to their script and their marketing collateral instead of responding artfully.


Ineffective Salesperson #4: The Focuser
Focusers, like Narrators, desperately cleave to their pre-meeting prep and to conveying all of the technical aspects of their offering. They often insist on detailing every product feature, and may not hear customers' needs.


Ineffective Salesperson #5: The Aggressor
Aggressors can be effective in the right setting. They approach every sales meeting as a pure negotiation on price. While some customers dislike this combative approach, and while aggressors aren't very successful overall, every now and then they can score big wins. And they rarely concede too much.

Sales Traning

Fixing the Problem with Sales Training
Ryals and Davies found that a disproportionate amount of training is allocated to presentation and rapport skills, as well as the actual sales pitch. Since everyone gets this training, these skills have been commoditized. Adding training on the key skill of rising to the challenge - that is, overcoming customer objections on the fly, the skill that all three of the "good" salespeople excelled at - would be a smart reallocation of training budgets.


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