Sales forces find it hard to close deals: Survey

  • Business
  • Thursday, 12 Jun 2003


GLOBAL companies seemingly working harder and spending more than ever to improve their sales performances are apparently not working smarter and are failing to “close the deal”, the results of a study on the effectiveness of sales organisations revealed.  

A new global survey by consulting firm Accenture has found that over half or 56% of the 178 respondents viewed the performance of their sales forces as lacklustre at best, with some saying that the results obtained were “catastrophic”. 

Teo Lay Lim

Some sales managers may have blamed their poor sales figures on weak demand and economic uncertainties but the study reveals that this could be no more than a convenient scapegoat. 

Accenture said more than half or 55% of the respondents, 24% of which were based in the Asia-Pacific region, found their sales force had generated sufficient leads but could not adequately analyse them, while 47% reported that the leads had not been properly handled. Only 38% said their companies were not generating enough leads. 

“Lack of sales opportunities was not so much the problem,” said Teo Lay Lim, Accenture managing partner (CRM Asia Pacific) based in Kuala Lumpur. “Rather, it is the difficulty in evaluating and responding to these opportunities effectively that seems to be the problem.” 

New and changing buyer behaviour is posing one of the greatest challenges to sales organisations. The survey found that this had resulted in a lengthier and harder process to close a deal and were frequently posing insurmountable obstacles to traditional sales forces. 

“Buyers have less to spend and defer spending it, and when they do spend they demand more for their money,” said Teo. 

As such, sales success required deep insights into customers’ needs and behaviours and the ability to “operationalise” these insights through the sales force and marketing campaigns, she said. The survey found this was possible only with reliable customer data and good analytical capabilities.  

“The findings suggest companies most effective at qualifying and managing leads are also more effective at data management, data analytics and customer insight as well as changing the behaviour of their sales force than their counterparts,” Teo said, adding that there was a clear distinction between above-average and below-average performers in their future Customer Relationship Management (CRM) investment plans.  

“We were struck by the disparity between them? regardless of past performance, the top performers consistently reported to invest to a greater extent than poor performers.”  

The survey, however, found an anomaly in that although companies had spent a great deal of money in building sales infrastructure in recent years such as in automating processes and stockpiling data, particularly through CRM technology, they did not seem to be producing outcomes that they had intended to achieve. 

“Perhaps what is lacking from this infrastructure is intelligence – not simply records of past sales but real insight into what people are likely to buy in the future,” Teo said, highlighting that 76% of respondents agreed that better tools to capture and analyse customer data would do the most to improve sales. 

It was also not surprising that the survey found a large number of respondents (30%) saying that the organisational changes most likely to improve sales performance would be the refocusing of the sales force on high-value customers and opportunities.  

This was followed by the better integration of sales and marketing functions (28%) and by persuading the sales force to sell solutions rather than products (23%). 

Many respondents said that consequently there was a need for “reengineering” sales force behaviour to fully benefit from the improved customer intelligence. 

“By acquiring, analysing, drawing insight from and using customer information, companies would then be able to take full advantage of market booms and weather down markets successfully,” said Teo. 

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