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Software // Information Management

Sales Performance Expectations Rising Fast

From efficiency to effectiveness in the sales organization.



Ventana Research is seeing a new emphasis on sales performance improvement, including a demand for new technology to drive excellence in sales organizations. Largely due to recent slow-growth and attendant cutbacks, sales organizations have become smaller, with the expectation that the quality of sales effort be elevated — a classic example of natural selection in the field. This trend and increased compliance scrutiny have led to a growing demand for accountability in the sales organization, driving added focus on more robust pipeline analysis, accurate reporting on sales activity and outcomes, pipeline progress, and adherence to sales processes.


Ventana Research finds that sales performance is most often measured by quota achievement, or simply "making the numbers." When this happens, by almost any means, organizations find ample reason not to be concerned with people, processes, or enabling technology. The new realities of today's economic and investment climate have moved many organizations to drive for higher sales productivity and performance. Quotas are more difficult to achieve, fewer quota-carrying sales representatives are stretched to deliver on growth goals, process adoption and adaptation is increasingly recognized as a crucial foundation for building excellence, and enlightened sales organizations are relying on enabling technology to bootstrap sales performance improvement initiatives.

A common approach often taken to sales performance management is to measure and report on sales results, replete with year-over-year, quarterly, quota, forecast, and plan comparisons. This has been the stuff of business intelligence from day one. There is clearly value in this approach to evaluating outcomes, but it doesn't paint the entire picture. It provides little color or insight into the selling process, and it does not link outcomes to performance improvement in individuals.

Ventana Research asserts that creative sales performance management will be enabled by vendors capable of linking outcomes reporting not only to inside-out goals and objectives, but also to outside-in sales drivers and causal factors. Business intelligence vendors most often respond to the quest for more advanced capability with vertical industry solutions and special metrics or KPIs. A more enlightened approach provides the capacity to directly tie outcome metrics and reporting to organizational and individual objectives, thus enabling more direct alignment of performance up and down the organizational hierarchy. Newer and fancier reporting capability is no longer the path of advancement. Real progress involves innovative application of dashboards and scorecards (see Pilot Software Drives New Direction of Performance Management).

Sales force automation (SFA) applications are most often linked to sales performance management. Frequently billed as field sales support applications, the value proposition is more often one of sales management support: monitor, measure and report on pipeline status, build a bottom-up expected value forecast, and assess quota performance of managed sales personnel. It provides the manager with metrics and tools to understand what happened or didn't happen (both in the past tense) in last month's quest for quota.

Ventana Research gives high marks to a more advanced class of sales application that embraces robust sales process and delivers sales coaching and learning capability into the context of SFA. The focus is on interpreting the condition of the pipeline, applying sales methodology rules and techniques, and aiding the sales person in prioritizing and determining the most appropriate next steps (future tense) toward closure. In the simplest of terms, the application is designed to help a sales person sell. A few large vendors of SFA applications have this coaching capability embedded in their offerings, but none features it. This type of enabling technology in support of tactical selling skills development is simply not often part of ongoing training, education, and learning platforms for the sales organization. They are an important feature of sales performance improvement on their own merit.

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