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 Chuck SchaefferHow To Increase Sales Win Rates

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Successful selling is getting more difficult. Research by CSO Insights and Aberdeen reports that sales win rates have decreased from 50% to 47% and no-decision rates have increased from just under 20% to just over 25% in the past five years.

Despite the challenge, making even small improvements to sales win rates (sometimes called sales closure rates) can deliver big increases to top line revenues. Even better, improving sales win rates is a sustainable benefit.

But for most sales leaders the goal can be elusive as poor sales win rates are a manifestation of several factors occurring much earlier in the sales process. The 12 factors below are the most influential actions to improve sales closure rates. When diagnosing sales win rates with clients, I drill down on each the below items, to determine which items are most in need of improvement, or if certain items need reinvention.

The 12 Factors that Most Improve Sales Closure Rates

  1. Begin with more accurate target marketing. Successful selling starts by targeting the right prospects – that is those buyers who will most benefit from your solution. Marketing is normally in charge of identifying the high-probability and high-profitability target markets that will yield the fastest sales cycles, highest conversions and longest tenure with your company. This effort often begins by pinpointing your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) in specific and objective terms and then seeking look-alike audiences.

  2. Improve account qualification. Sales win rates improve when salespeople focus on accounts that can be won. Investing limited time and company resources on qualified sale opportunities – and walking away from unqualified sale opportunities – will improve sales win rates and revenue growth. Qualification must be objective and measurable in order to be repeatable and continuously improved. The complexity of your solution and the competitive environment will determine the optimal qualification checklist, but at the minimum, the qualification score will weight factors such as customer type, company quals, solution fit, position analysis and sale probability. The qualification checklist will calculate a Go- or No-Go decision. Remember, an early loss is better than a late loss. For young sales professionals, it takes discipline and coaching to disqualify unqualified sale opportunities.

  3. Know your sales personas and buyer insights. From 30 years of sales coaching, I've found that most executives believe they know what their buyers most want when making purchase decisions, and more often than not that they are only partially correct. Selling capabilities, benefits and features that are not important to buyers increases the sales cycle duration and lowers sales conversions. Also, buyers are not homogeneous, but they can be grouped into personas with good accuracy. Don't guess what you think your customers most want and don’t assume every buyer wants the same thing. Instead, create personas, determine their top buy criteria and apply insights and messaging that will resonate with each buyer and appeal to what is most important to them.

  4. Improve your offerings. Buyers are risk averse, particularly with considered purchases or sophisticated solutions. Low barrier offerings are used to accelerate purchase decisions, minimize buyer risk, get something started and implement a land and expand sales strategy.

  5. Leverage Sales Playbooks. Top producers have an innate ability to apply proven sales strategies for repeatable results. However, sales strategies solidified in Sales Playbooks are needed to replicate that success to the rest of the sales force. Sales Playbooks provide clear guidance to systemically streamline and automate successful actions that lead to predictable results.

  6. Benefit from sales force coaching. To many sales managers apply the bulk of their coaching to the top and bottom performers. While those groups should not be excluded, the biggest sales upside will come from the core sellers in the middle. Small improvements to the higher number of core sellers will render the biggest revenue increases. It will also result in an increased frequency of core sellers graduating to become top producers.

  7. Learn from loss analysis. Too many sales organizations and salespeople avoid formal win/loss analysis reviews because they don't fully appreciate the learning opportunity. Salespeople will learn more from lost than won sales. When properly done, loss analysis reviews are like wake-up calls that spotlight unproductive behaviors, or lack of action, that lost the deal but can be remedied from this point forward. Salespeople want to become better sellers and loss analysis reviews are a key tool to this end.

  8. Realize the sales training dividend. Salespeople are some of the most highly compensated people in the company. It doesn't make sense to invest big dollars into salaries and not invest small dollars into sales training. When done correctly, sales training always increases sales close rates. Ah, but done correctly is easier said than done. Sales education classes alone don't produce action. To create real transformation, sales training is best done in small and continuous increments and made experiential by applying the knowledge to daily action, getting feedback and iterating for improvement. Sales staff must live it to learn it.

  9. Apply sales enablement for sales transformation. In a recent CRM magazine article, Forrester advised that Sales Enablement teams assumed the leadership role in 15 out of 16 sales transformation initiatives, including deployment of new technology, improvements to forecast and pipeline reporting, sales process redefinition and managing seller performance metrics. Improving your sales win rate is a strategic initiative and will benefit with a sales enablement or sales operations team.

  10. Relentless execution. Hustle counts big time.

  11. Scale lead generation. Increase your lead gen campaigns but not before the prior items are ready. Otherwise cost per lead becomes unacceptably high and sales win rates will actually decline as the sales force applies inconsistent or indiscriminate efforts to an even larger volume of sale opportunities, which will magnify inefficiencies and unproductive efforts.

  12. Leverage technology for sales automation. The primary technology for salespeople is CRM software, or maybe more specifically the Sales Force Automation (SFA) suite within the CRM system. The following section offers some examples in how to apply CRM technology for sales productivity and improved sales win rates.

Applying Technology

Turning to technology before you have a working process will only add to the chaos. However, once processes are in place, the following eight CRM software enabled capabilities will further impact sales win rates.

  1. Apply customer segmentation and personas for more accurate target marketing.

  2. Automate customer research. Tools such as InsideView and LinkedIn Sales Navigator take a new lead name, source desired information about that company (i.e. firmographic data, contacts, news and updates) and automatically import select data to the CRM system, thereby saving each salesperson a lot of time.

  3. Improve account qualification with semi-automated or automated lead and opportunity scores. CRM systems can score qualification criteria from the lead, account and opportunity records and calculate a total score to provide guidance in making the Go- or No-Go decision. Depending upon the CRM software solution, it may also be able to apply highly comparable historical sales results to new opportunities to affect the qualification score. Ranking your qualified leads takes this a step further by identifying those leads most likely to close, and thereby deserve prioritization.

  4. Sales Playbooks facilitate guided selling and can be integrated with CRM software to reinforce sales methodologies, facilitate sales processes with guided selling automation, deliver contextual insights based on account, persona and sales step, and suggest processes, ideas, content or assets based on the customer or sale opportunity type and progress.

  5. Loss analysis reviews performed in the CRM system as part of the Opportunity close process build a highly practical knowledgebase. These online reviews are performed by a sales manager and salesperson to identify and capture the unproductive behaviors or actions that fell short of a successful sale. The answers and outcomes feed the CRM knowledgebase and are categorized by customer type, sale opportunity type and other relevant factors so they can then be contextually delivered to new similar deals to systemically improve future sales results.

  6. Measure engagement and take action. Tracking salesperson and customer activities can identify stalled accounts, reignite engagement to increase sales wins. Your CRM system can calculate the number and frequency of activities (such as meetings, calls, emails) that resulted in historical won sales, and then identify variances to those patterns with current deals. These deviations are generally best delivered as alert notifications or displayed in dashboards. With marketing automation software, you can take it a step further and have the CRM system measure prospect or customer online behaviors, such as interactions with your website, downloadable content or emails, and flag opportunities where engagement has waned and needs to be reinvigorated.

  7. Setup metrics to measure progress. What gets measured get done. And what gets done should be recorded in the CRM system, making it the source to capture, track, display and report all things related to sales pursuits and advancement toward sales wins.

  8. Collaboration improves sales results. Selling is a team sport. Collaboration tools such as enterprise social networks (i.e. Microsoft Teams or Salesforce Chatter) provide real-time or asynchronous communication and collaboration among decentralized teams. These tools are subscription-based, use pull instead of push delivery, and record topic-based conversation history and documents that become a knowledgebase for future search and knowledge sharing.

The Point is This ...

Poor close rates are generally the consequence of earlier actions and not the real problem. Delivering anecdotal sales win recommendations, a training class of sales closure recommendations or instructing the team to close better are not real solutions and are going to fall short. Instead, the sales process must be looked at holistically to understand how improvements in any of the upstream actions will yield downstream improvements to the result. End

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Even small improvements to sales win rates yield big increases to top line revenues. Even better, improving sales win rates is a sustainable benefit.


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