A question for tech business leaders: How can you be better in the sales arena?.

May 7, 2020, Hannah Barraclough

The outbreak of Covid-19 has seen all businesses operating in a ‘new normal’ – it’s fair to say that even as New Zealand moves down the lockdown levels, what we previously termed ‘business as usual’ is a long way off. For the foreseeable future, remaining operational and focusing on revenue growth is happening under vastly altered circumstances. Now more than ever, revenue growth is critical to business survival, and the challenge is how to increase sales in the Covid-19 era.

When it comes to revenue growth, the role of the sales leader in any business is a big one. They’re a central cog in determining business success, and as businesses worldwide are coping with the pandemic, the importance of the sales leader becomes even more critical.

For the past three years, New Zealand sales company Indicator has published a report on the Mood of the Sales Leader, supported by HubSpot, PWC and Robert Walters. Mood of the Sales Leader 2020 was published before the business world was upended by Covid-19, but it still contains some valuable insights into the sales leadership role, and how they’re in a unique position to look ahead – something that’s even more important now.

The report also offers leaders of technology firms the chance to benchmark their own sales teams and leaders against some of the best performing businesses in New Zealand – 226 of them. A key goal of the survey is for you as a business leader to ask yourself: how can we do better with our sales?

Who’s represented in the report?

226 businesses were surveyed for this report, with a total of 4,743 people making up sales teams from:

  • Professional services, manufacturing, technology and wholesale trade made up the majority of businesses surveyed
  • Sales directors and sales and marketing managers counted for 52% of the people
  • Ranging in size from $0 – $1million to over $100million in revenue. The majority (45%) was in the $1million – $5million range


From our reading of the report, we took the following insights:

1. Firms have CRMS but are they using them?

Digitisation is disrupting business models on a global scale, and the importance of harnessing technology has increased significantly since the Covid-19 outbreak. But even before the pandemic, it was clear that business leaders needed to utilise technology to support their growth potential. A challenge with CRM is aligning it with existing sales process and existing practice.

It appears that the majority of respondents understand this; 77% of them use a CRM system to support sales outcomes, but there’s still a lack of salespeople making the most of digital and social channels. What the survey found was that sales leaders would really like their teams to do more lead generation and prospecting using the technology available to achieve it.


2. To Incentivise or Not?

By a large majority, there’s a strong belief that incentives are important for salespeople. In fact, only 3% of those surveyed thought that they weren’t and 75% of sales teams received some form of sales skills development in 2019. With that said, there’s still a troubling 28% who believe that their sales incentives don’t work, or worse, are actually demotivating. There is also the issue of sales meetings where; there is a belief that too much focus is on admin and not enough on sales performance. So the questions business leaders need to ask are:

  • Are your incentives resulting in the desired outcome?
  • How much value are sales meetings really adding?

If you don’t like the answers to those questions, it might be time to look at how incentivisation and meetings need to be realigned to sales objectives.

3. Finding the right salespeople

One of the goals of the report was to learn how businesses were recruiting sales team members, and what role diversity and work flexibility play. It was interesting to note that nearly 50% of sales people take more than six months to reach their full potential. The conclusion is that the processes for recruitment and induction are critical, and that induction needs to include sales process as well as product knowledge. The survey also found that:

  • 75% of businesses encourage work flexibility
  • 63% consider they have a wide range of diversity in age, gender and ethnicity

With regards to the 50% statistic, it’s important for businesses leaders to consider this:

  •  When did you last review your recruitment and induction processes with a view to improving them?
  • Are your new sales team members receiving a focused sales induction that goes beyond product and company knowledge?

If getting new salespeople up to full performance quicker is something you need to focus on, it could be time to review your induction and training processes.

4. Exporting – Opportunities to truly scale

Of all the businesses surveyed, only 36% of them were out there in the international marketplace. However, that is still an increase from 2019, and of those who are already exporting, 75% of them were continuing to look for more overseas markets to expand into. They recognise that the potential for significant revenue growth lies in the ability to trade globally and expanding into offshore markets.

5. Their biggest challenges

Obviously, doing business in the Covid-19 era must rank at the top here, but as previously stated, it wasn’t a consideration when the survey was conducted. With that said, it’s still interesting to find out what these businesses saw as their greatest challenges in the past year, and what they thought they’d be facing in 2020. Competition was the number one challenge, meaning that differentiation was one of the main objectives. Business development was another concern, and obviously, a hot focus for sales leaders. And the questions they need to be asking themselves – especially now – are:

  • What will they change in the way they manage their teams to meet the challenges of 2020 – specifically Covid-19? That includes better aligning marketing and sales.
  • How will they continue to generate leads to fill their sales funnel?
  • Can forecasting be improved to help the business plan to provide more capacity?
  • What’s being done to differentiate from the competition?

6. What’s the ‘one thing’ sales could do better

Simple but powerful questions: what is the ‘one thing’ sales teams could be better at, and the ‘one thing’ they think is the biggest risk? The response to the first question was overwhelmingly business development, with prospecting, sales processes and consistency close behind.

The answer to the second question was competition by a country mile … although as we’ve said, they didn’t yet know about Covid-19. But it is still worth noting that sales leaders recognise the need to remain competitive. Close behind were external factors such as the government, the economy and consumer confidence, while internal risks included complacency, lack of focus and poor leadership.

The report is an interesting and comprehensive look into the mood of the sales leader for 2020. Although Covid-19 has complicated things to a large degree, the insights gleaned from the report are still valid and worth taking note of. What is not under dispute is the importance the role of the sales leader plays in revenue growth, which is critical for business survival and growth now more than ever.


About the Author:

Concentrate was formed in 2004, and has since worked with hundreds of New Zealand technology companies across virtually every industry and geography.

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