The 8% Solution

Coming up to the New Year there are a couple of things you can count on as sales professionals, one of which is that you quota will rise.  That’s not bad, it is just a fact, so the question becomes what can you do, now, to ensure that you can deliver.  The question comes down to how you can become more effective in what you do in the process of becoming more productive. 

To help you and your team achieve this we have brought together three sales specialists to share specific things you can do going into 2010 to get and stay ahead of the curve.  Over the next couple days, we will present two posts focused on things that impact how you sell, and how sales managers can help their teams succeed.

The article below is a guest post by Tibor Shanto, Founder & President of Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., and creator of Objective-Based Selling. You can find Tibor on twitter at @renbor.

A few years back, in a piece in the Harvard Business Review, it was stated that an 8% improvement in the productivity of your existing sales team will result in the same sales growth as if you were to add 27% more reps.  I am sure the numbers may have changed in the three years since it was published, the underlying reality has not.  In fact what has changed is the ability of organizations and managers to add headcount, in the post-Lehman Brothers-era, cost restraint is the overriding mantra.  So with the added stress and demands on the average sales rep and team, the question becomes how to achieve this productivity without distracting the team or breaking the camel’s back.

To me, if you have to focus on only thing it would be time allocation to improve sales velocity.  If you can focus your resources on better opportunities, you will not only move them through the process quicker but create a way to not deal with opportunities that either will never happen or whose time has yet to come.  If you can allocate your time to those activities that have the highest RPA Return Per Activity while developing the discipline to only execute those activities that move a sale forward, then you will increase productivity and sales closed.

To achieve this you will need to understand two key things:

  1. What activities you should allocate time for and in what proportion?
  2. What does the right prospect look like?


While number one is the more important, you really can’t deal with it until you answer number two.  The good news is that it is not as hard as it may first sound; it is laborious and dry work at times, but once you have the basic template, it is easy to update and will pay ongoing dividends. Go back and look at all the deals you have won over the last 18 months, and see what are the most common attributes shared by these.  Don’t just do it on an account basis, that is what these companies have in common, but also on a deal basis.  How did the deal unfold, number of meetings, people involved, roadblocks, accelerators, language, bet right down to cellular level.  Why did they engage with you in the first place, did they engage right away, or did you have to nurture them for a while; if yes then how long, what did they respond to, what were they hoping to accomplish, why did they not engage right away.  As a rule, if you are not the number one salesperson in your company, you want to spend time looking at the above factors for the best rep at your company, really park your ego and make some money.

Do the same for deals you lost or did not happen, look at the ones you lost early, halfway through your predictable cycle (you’ll know what your cycle is from doing the above), at the end of the cycle.  Again, how did you engage, were they in your lead pipe (different than your prospect pipe which active opportunities) too long or not long enough?

Once you have done this, you will have two profiles, ones that you want to pursue vigorously, and those you want to avoid like Tiger does the media.  In some ways, the economic climate over the last 12 – 18 months provides a good time to do this exercise, as you can truly see who clearly fits into each group.

Now you can focus on who and how to best engage with the type opportunities that will help you work with people who will act like your successful deals.  When you engage with these people they will move more predictably, not always faster.  Remember that velocity involves both speed and direction.  There is an optimal speed, and when you reach it, it is not a good use of resources to keep pushing.  Where you can add to velocity and results is by fine-tuning your direction, and when involved with the “right” prospect, their direction, after all, you have the advantage of knowing because you did your work and went after them for a reason.

While it may be obvious, it is worth pointing out that the biggest impediment to productivity is time and resources spent on prospects that will not close NOW, this is why we raised nurturing leads.  Some are not ready NOW, so let’s manage them, put them in the “leads funnel”, which should have rules and attribute like your sales funnel.

Once you know who (specifically), and how, and how long, you can now allocate time to those activities that are necessary to consistently execute, and not allocate time to things that don’t lead to sales.

Eliminate waste; accentuate the right activities, easy 8% right there.