Execs don’t consider selling a top salesperson trait
According to a new joint study from the National Center for the Middle Market (NCMM), executives consider interpersonal skills more important than selling skills when hiring new salespeople.
NCMM says the survey results back up an earlier report, The Force Is With You: Building a Highly Effective Sales Organization, which explores middle market C-level executives' impressions of their sales forces, and the differences in structuring, hiring and compensation practices for sales teams. NCMM developed the study in collaboration with the American Marketing Association and Greg W. Marshall, professor of marketing and strategy at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and co-author of Sales Force Management, a top-selling sales-management textbook.
Among high-growth middle market firms (firms with 10-plus percent annual revenue growth), successful practices for sales teams include:
- Formal mentoring or coaching for new hires (61 percent)
- Implementing sales quotas (54 percent)
- At least some online sales (51 percent)
"This is the first time anyone has collected data about how the most successful mid-sized companies develop, organize, pay and deploy their sales forces," says Thomas A. Stewart, executive director of NCMM, a partnership between SunTrust Banks and The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. "We're shining a bright light on best practices. We also learned some fascinating stuff about how sales force management changes as companies get bigger."
Additional key findings
- 83 percent of high growth firms believe their sales teams are more effective than other sales forces in the industry
- Base salaries are the most likely form of compensation for salespeople (57 percent) versus commission (25 percent) and bonuses (17 percent)
- 59 percent of senior sales management positions are promoted from within their respective organizations
"Extremely/very important" skills considered in hiring decisions
- Interpersonal skills (86 percent)
- Executional skills (84 percent)
- Selling skills (82 percent)
- Organizational skills (77 percent)
- Technical skills (72 percent)
Individual vs. team mentality
Responses demonstrated a shift from an individually centered sales philosophy to a more collaborative approach as the size of firms increase. While individual performance is a critical component to a salesperson's evaluation, large companies place greater importance on company (31 percent) and team performance (21 percent) than mid-sized (23 and 17 percent, respectively) or small firms (24 and 15 percent).
"As larger middle market companies rely more on sophisticated sales organizational structures and team-based performance management, we find they focus most on employees that can fit into the firm's culture," says Marshall. "Smaller firms, meanwhile, utilize smaller sales forces and are more likely to rely on the skills of their individual salespeople."
Key avenues for improvement
Despite the general effectiveness and success of middle market sales forces, the report's authors say there is room for improvement in several areas. The positive sentiment from top growth companies notwithstanding, only a quarter of firms overall believe they are much more effective than other sales forces in their industry.
Around 40 percent of firms believe they can improve the sales force's ability to drive the business. The two top ways of spurring development in this front – particularly amongst smaller firms – were "becoming more effective at using technology" and "building new markets."
When asked about sales force effectiveness and improvement, executives considered prospecting and developing customers to be more challenging for sales forces than maintaining existing customer relationships: 76 percent of companies considered themselves to be either very or extremely effective at maintaining customers, compared to developing customers (67 percent) and prospecting/capturing customers (64 percent).
"Whether it be through developing better prospecting techniques, establishing a mentorship program or turning to new technologies to advance the capabilities of the sales team, the fact remains that high-growth firms are more likely than others to place a great deal of importance on their sales forces," says Stewart.
The National Center for the Middle Market is a collaboration between The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, SunTrust Banks Inc. and Grant Thornton.
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