Bob Apollo recently launched a poll on LinkedIn asking: “Which one of the following initiatives has the greatest potential to boost your organisation’s sales performance ?”
a) Finding more qualified opportunities
b) Shortening our average sales cycle
c) Increasing average sales win rates
d) Qualifying bad deals out earlier
e) Improving sales & marketing co-operation
Finding more qualified opportunities as well as improving sales & marketing co-operation are “top of funnel” initiatives. Three quarters of the respondents to Bob’s poll consider that this is the key to boosting sales performance. For those respondents, Bob has since written a post giving ideas on how to shape such initiatives.
A different look at the results
Shortening the average sales cycle, increasing average sales win rates and qualifying bad deals out earlier are sales effectiveness initiatives. I believe the quarter of the respondents who prioritised sales effectiveness initiatives have an important message to tell.
When parsing the responses according to job titles, the results indicate that ‘owners’ and ‘C-level &VP’ focus exclusively on “top of funnel” initiatives. While ‘owners’ gave about the same weight to finding more qualified opportunities and improving sales & marketing co-operation, ‘C-Level & VP’ want to focus solely on finding more qualified opportunities.
Respondents carrying a ‘management’ title equally value “top of funnel” and sales effectiveness initiatives. Among the sales effectiveness initiatives, increasing average sales win rates was mentioned twice as often as shortening the average sales cycle.
In the ‘other’ category, “top of funnel” activities were equally split between finding more qualified opportunities and improving sales & marketing co-operation. A quarter of the ‘other’ category consider qualifying bad deals out earlier as a top priority to boost sales performance.
The differentiation of the results by job function is also very interesting. Half of those being either in a sales or marketing role want to boost performance by finding more qualified opportunities. The remaining half in marketing sees shortening the average sales cycle as the top priority. In contrast, the remainder in sales wants to put the priority on increasing average sales win rates.
Although the poll sample is very small, I think differentiating the results by job title and job function is revealing.
What are these results telling us?
The results seem to suggest that the executive level does not believe in effectiveness initiatives such as shortening the average sales cycle and increasing average sales win rates in order to boost sales. Meanwhile, managers are well aware that these measures can also boost sales performance.
Possible explanations for this discrepancy are: the distance to the sales front line and the different time horizons.
Management knows very well that sales effectiveness initiatives improve results faster than “top of funnel” activities, especially with long sales cycles. Management also seems to be aware that blending sales effectiveness initiatives with “top of funnel” initiatives is the way towards sustainable, superior performance.
“Top of funnel” initiatives fit better with the long term view of executives.
Although, the sole focus on “top of funnel” initiatives can be dangerous when executives start to intervene because they see an urgent need for improved sales performance. If they insist on giving priority to finding more qualified opportunities as the measure to improve performance, they might actually cause a momentary drop in sales performance. Longer term, performance might return to what it was before the dip.
Following the order of executives, managers and salespeople will spend more effort on “top of funnel” activities. This will be to the detriment of sales effectiveness initiatives.
It would be wrong to associate only a short term effect to sales effectiveness initiatives. A more effective sales force also needs fewer new qualified opportunities for sustained superior performance. On the other hand, too much focus on “top of funnel” initiatives leads to a vicious circle, inhibiting sustainable sales performance improvement.
Executives having doubts about these mechanics should look at how top sales people work. Top sales people usually pursue fewer opportunities than average performers. The sales effectiveness initiatives mentioned in the poll can thus be considered best practices to increase sales performance.
Executives wanting to boost sales performance should thus make an effort to better understand “funnel mechanics” and stay away from “top of funnel myopia”.
Christian Maurer is a Paris-based independent Consultant, Trainer and Coach who helps B2B organizations increase their sales productivity by improving Sales and Marketing Effectiveness. He is a member of Top Sales Experts (www.topsalesexperts.com), an accredited Funnel Coach with align.me and is the author of the blog “The Ultimate Sales Executive Resource” (https://ultimatesalesexecresource.blogspot.com). For comments, feedback and enquiries, he can be reached at [email protected]