Who are our best salespeople?

Being in sales basically my entire career (aren’t we all, really?), and being charged with leading large sales organizations, I was intrigued by a recent article in Harvard Business Review this past month which segmented sales professionals into 8 types based on observations of over 800 sales meetings focused on their behavioral tendencies (not their personality types), how they performed in those meetings, and their ultimate results.  The article would be an interesting read for sales leaders, as it not only segments the sales types, it also offers suggestions for growth and improvement in each segment.

In a nutshell, the top 3 grouping are: 1) The Experts, 2) The Closers, and 3) The Consultants. Amazingly, less than 35% of all sales people fall into these groups. The Experts are those sales folks who make it seem very easy, customers love them, and they consistently outperform their peers. They are great mentors for other sales folks and are a great source of  best practices for senior leadership. Only 9% made the cut for this group. The Closers are the big deal hunters, the smooth talkers, and are the best at countering objectives. They often tick off their clients due to their aggressive style, and are much better at selling products (not services) as they want ‘the win’ without the ongoing management of the client. Obviously, they respond well to highly incentive compensation plans and competitive cultures. The Consultants are great listeners, problem solvers, and customers love their commitment to the overall success of whatever they are selling. They are excellent service sales people, and are ripe ground for building and growing percentage of a client’s overall ‘spend’.

Frankly, for those of us steeped in a sales background, this is simply reaffirming what we know through years of experience. We have all lead sales reps from each of these segments (and the other five outlined, as well), and frankly, my most successful teams were those sprinkled with a diversity of styles and approaches.

However, the two statistics from this study which gave me pause were: that only 1 out of 250 sales people exceed their targets! 1 out of 250! Secondly, they presumed an average sales meeting costs about $160.00 (which is a conservative number in  most industries, particularly high tech). Given this presumption, an organization needs $1,760.00 of pure profit per sale just to cover the cost of failed sales meetings over the life of a product or service sales cycle.

Wow. This begs heightened attention to the type of sales folks we recruit and how to continue to grow and incent the behaviors we need and want for our respective industries and client-types. In 2011, with my Aspire to Fly series, I will be discussing how to best align our sales teams with our product and service offerings and most importantly to our prospective clients.