The 2023 sales landscape is tricky—buyers are more demanding, budgets are tight, and the economic outlook looks uncertain. In a competitive environment, how you squeeze the most value out of your existing resources and engage with prospects can mean the difference between success and failure.
45% of sales leaders want to exceed sales targets and quotas in 2023, but navigating this tricky landscape won't be easy. Here are nine strategies sales organizations can use to improve sales performance in 2023.
1. Start by hiring the right people
Build a sales team that possesses soft and hard skills to fuel success. When asked what “must-have” traits they screen for in every sales hire, respondents in a study listed communication, curiosity and continuous growth, grit and resilience, good listening skills, and accountability as the most sought-after traits.
It can be challenging to measure intangible skills, though, and hiring the wrong employee can be expensive—52% of respondents in the same study shared that one account executive (AE) mishire carries a cost of more than $100K. Interviews alone don't cut it, according to Juste Semetaite, Marketing Lead at Toggl Hire.
The correlation between interview predictions and job success is abysmal. While a structured interview is still a valuable candidate evaluation method, you need to see how candidates apply the skills they say they have in a real-world context.
Based on this, Juste suggests immersing candidates in the work they'd encounter.
A common mistake when hiring sales reps is to count on their ‘previous selling experience’. However, unless you get really clear about what type of experience counts as similar, this job requirement can hurt your talent pool and lead to poor hiring decisions.
A better approach is to simulate daily tasks your sales reps would encounter and see who delivers the best performance. We use homework assignments and paid test projects to evaluate candidates’ on-the-job skills — it works like a charm!
Implement a skills-based hiring process to ensure you don't just hire candidates based on their interviewing skills. A holistic approach gives you a better sense of their ability to use soft and hard skills.
2. Set clear goals and objectives
Measurable, clear, and realistic sales targets set the standard for what you hope to achieve and provide a roadmap for sales reps to follow.
Research by HBR suggests that when 10% to 20% of salespeople miss goals, the problem might be the salespeople, but when most salespeople miss, the problem lies with their goals.
Unattainable goals affect sales quantity and quality. It's demotivating and can encourage excessive risk taking and unethical behavior, both of which can negatively impact your team's performance.
Out-of-reach goals can also push top performers to leave due to their inability to meet these goals.
Set achievable goals by analyzing your existing data—your industry, how long you've been in business for, the number of leads that come in, customer acquisition, and your current sales team. Look backwards to set a baseline and assess market potential, then create a plan of action based on the data you have.
Also, evaluate your existing sales team. What are their strengths? How many reps do you have? How long have they been on the team? What motivates them?
Jeff LeBlanc, Head of Sales at Forwrd.ai, a no-code predictive scoring platform, offers a unique approach to goal setting:
The goals I set for my sales team fall into two categories, sales goals within their control and those that are not. Goals that are in their control are messages sent, conversations with people on LinkedIn, dedicating time to learn certain topics or skills, etc. I try to understand all the activities that are within my team's control that they can do and create an environment for them to achieve these things.
I also set goals outside of my team's control. These include intro calls, demos, and revenue. I use these goals as benchmarks. If I am not hitting my revenue targets, then what are the activities within my control that I can change that could result in more revenue? It's important to focus on the things that are within your control and let the things that are outside of your control take care of themselves.
Understand your resources and provide adequate incentives to ensure your sales goals are attainable.
3. Optimize your sales process
A defined sales process gives a sales rep everything they need to succeed—it allows them to focus on the right thing, at the right time. A defined, clear-cut sales process also leads to more sales revenue and helps reps close more deals.
Optimizing your sales process starts with analyzing it. How do leads transition from one stage to the next? What sales tools and technologies do reps have access to? What tasks take too much time?
In The Sales Hunter podcast, Salesforce's Tiffani Bova also suggests cutting down on tech fat.
The average enterprise has a little more than 900 unique applications in it, yet, only 27% of them are integrated. As the stack gets bigger, the integration is not happening. So the employee, and, in this case, the conversation we're having is sellers having to open five different things to do our job, none of which are integrated. Data is different in every place.
Make the most of the tech you already have instead of piling up different tools. Automate manual processes, integrate existing technologies to streamline your sales cycle, and create a single source of truth.
Ed Porter, Chief Revenue Officer at Blue Chip CRO, also suggests using exit criteria that specifically define when a prospect moves from one stage to the next.
Each conversation should move the buying decision along and build an in-depth buying justification (not qualification). If each conversation with a prospect has a definitive goal and defined exit criteria, the sales process is aligned to the buying process.
You remove the unnecessary "follow up" emails to see where things are stalled. I had a client implement an exit criteria in an existing sales process and their deal cycle went from 88 days to 45 days. Almost cut in half.
Whatever steps you take to optimize your sales process, ensure buy-in from stakeholders for each step of the process. Bring relevant stakeholders from marketing, product, and customer success to the table. Consistency and cooperation are key.
4. Give sales reps the content they need to close deals
Provide sales enablement content to give reps valuable insights for their conversations. More than three-quarters (82%) of top performers say they “always” perform research before reaching out to prospects (compared to just 49% for other sellers) and 97% consider sales enablement tools “very important” or “important.”
Sales and Marketing Advisor Daniel Peretz suggests sharing sales enablement content tailored to every buyer.
I provide reps with access to case studies and testimonials that relate to the industry and the ICP involved in that specific opportunity. Make sure it fits the narrative and the storyline.
I'd also provide info for each specific stakeholder, so if CFOs tend to get involved, just have a note that pushes that business case. For that particular role, I would also provide details around onboarding and making sure that there's less friction.
Most importantly, ensure sellers have those resources easily accessible. Create a centralized hub for sales enablement content and keep it up-to-date, so reps don't waste time searching for relevant resources.
Involve stakeholders in the process of creating content that is valuable—ask your marketing team what kind of data they’re collecting from campaigns, collaborate with customer success to find out how customers are using the product, and leverage insights from customer support to determine which topics are most frequently requested.
Make sure you also have an analytics tool that gives sales reps visibility into which type of content works best with different audiences. This visibility enables them to tailor their approach and optimize sales strategies.
Finally, review your process with stakeholders and counsel reps on how to use the content effectively. Provide training and coaching sessions to ensure everyone is well-informed about the purpose of each step in the sales process.
5. Implement an ongoing training and coaching program
Provide real-time coaching regularly to guide your sales team in multiple areas. Right now, 38% of companies who coach their reps do so "at random" and the lack of a regular schedule can make it difficult for reps to retain information and, as a result, performance suffers.
Research also suggests that existing coaching programs are only reactive—you only get guidance if you’re stuck— instead of taking a more proactive approach. Coaching is an investment. While it takes time away from selling, the time spent creates a return in the long run.
Create a proactive coaching program that teaches your sales rep how to ask better questions, develop deeper relationships with customers, and listen better.
Schedule regular sessions and limit the number of reps each coach has to spend time with for more personalized sessions. Use tech tools such as Zoom to involve remote reps and make training more accessible by delivering it via multiple channels such as email, Slack, group sessions, and 1:1s.
In the Sales Coach podcast, Nick Salas, Revenue Enablement Leader at SirionLabs, emphasizes the importance of involving sales leaders when creating a coaching program.
When I can involve sales leaders in the actual creation of these programs, not only does the credibility of that program go through the roof, but the enforcement then becomes easier for the sales manager to enforce, because they know exactly what they're getting themselves into and what they're asking their reps to do and accomplish.
Even if it's just a phone call, steps to incorporate leadership reduce friction and create a culture of tribal knowledge.
An integrated coaching program that tailors content to each rep’s needs increases success. Monitor performance closely and adjust training as needed. If a sales rep struggles, provide additional support.
6. Track the right sales performance metrics
Track sales metrics or key performance indicators that help teams identify areas of improvement, set future goals, calculate progress, and make better decisions.
Not every metric is relevant to every team. It’s critical to identify the specific goals of your sales organization before setting up a tracking system. This should involve stakeholders from multiple departments so you have a well-rounded understanding of what data is significant, and how it can be used to drive success.
Jacobo Sanmartin, Head of Business Development and Sales Operations Strategy at B2B wholesale platform BigBuy suggests evaluating your company's position to determine which sales productivity metrics to track.
It's critical to understand where each company is at. For a startup just starting out, getting its first 10 customers will be absolutely key. However, for a B2B HR SaaS with 5 years in the market, churn rate may be a key metric.
Therefore, you must understand where your company is at to align this point to specific sales metrics.
While sales metrics depend on various factors, there are three categories of metrics that every company should track:
- Company-wide sales performance metrics – These include total revenue, average revenue, monthly recurring revenue, net revenue retention, and average customer lifetime value. These sales performance metrics provide an overall picture of sales performance and identify sales opportunities.
- Sales function performance metrics – Include conversion rate, lead-to-opportunity conversion rate, sales cycle length, customer lifetime value. Sales function performance metrics help identify areas for improvement so your sales team can close more deals.
- Individual and team performance metrics – These include win rate, quota attainment, and pipeline coverage. These metrics help identify high-performing reps and teams so you can replicate their success.
Communicate sales metrics to all stakeholders and ensure they are informed. Having all stakeholders on the same page regarding which sales performance metrics are tracked and why, helps ensure alignment across the board.
7. Take advantage of sales automation
Create the right tech stack to give your sales team insights into who to target and what actions to take. Automation eliminates tedious tasks that take up valuable time so reps can generate revenue.
Poor sales tech can negatively impact sales team happiness, according to 71% of respondents in a Freshworks survey. Implement sales tech that reps can use to research buyers and prepare for sales calls. The right tech boosts sales productivity and minimizes blind outreach so reps know exactly how to approach potential customers.
When deciding which tools to invest in, ask reps what they need to save time on.
Eddy Bahnam, Sales Strategist at EB3, a business consulting company, focuses on the importance of tools having native capability of speaking to each other.
This helps me ensure an action takes place, it's available in other related tools so I don't miss a beat.
Dirty data plagues 45% of sellers so ensuring integration capabilities can save reps hours correcting data and eliminate time-consuming manual entry.
Here are few examples of sales activities you can automate:
- CRM data entry – A tool like Weflow can help eliminate tedious CRM data entry and help reps save time. It automatically syncs your sales team’s activities (including emails and notes) to Salesforce, ensuring all relevant sales data ends up in your CRM automatically.
- Email outreach – Are your sales reps still reaching out to prospects and following up manually? Sales engagement software such as Outreach and Salesloft can help automate this process.
- Lead routing – The process of routing leads to the appropriate sales rep, when done manually, can be a very time-consuming process. Use tools like Chili Piper to automate it.
Looking for more opportunities for sales automation? Check out our guide to sales automation and our list of the top sales automation tools.
8. Improve your incentive compensation structure
Create a strong incentive compensation structure to motivate your sales reps and provide visibility into their performance. Achieving success with an incentive compensation structure is a balancing act between rewarding top performers, motivating underperformers, and protecting against gaming the system.
92% of reps believe clearer compensation visibility is a strong motivator, but only 26% have access to real-time insights.
With increased economic uncertainty, several macroeconomic changes, sales reps also experience job insecurity, and a transparent incentive compensation structure can counteract that.
In the Sales Compensation Show, Christopher Goff, Founder, Author and Speaker at Sales Compensation Guy suggests creating transparency around incentive compensation:
We need to make sure that people are more comfortable having conversations about compensation. And that means leaders, companies, and employees need to have a deep appreciation for what makes up their pay, why they're paid a certain way, and why it's okay.
Variable pay also links sales rep's performance to their total compensation and creates a strong connection between their day-to-day activities and their pay.
A study by CaptivateIQ also highlighted that 51% of sales reps want 50/50 or even higher variable pay. The same study found that sales managers are willing to provide this—a win-win situation. Design a compensation plan that doesn't cap variable pay and has a strong performance-based payout structure.
Also, clawback provisions are an excellent way to protect against system manipulation by creating an environment of trust. Set up a provision where reps only keep their commissions when they hit certain targets or metrics.
These practices ensure sales teams focus on attracting customers that deliver actual value over the long-term rather than just focusing on making quick wins.
A strong compensation plan that protects reps and incentivizes performance improves sales team morale and builds trust and loyalty among the team.
9. Foster transparency and encourage friendly competition
Create a transparent culture within and across sales teams. A healthy culture that encourages open discussions around compensation, performance, and strategies builds trust among the team.
The typical sales culture revolves around goals and a 'work hard, play hard' approach, but 66% of respondents in a study agree that this approach works against sales happiness. Instead, a 'social,' 'transparent,' and 'supportive' atmosphere creates a happier sales team.
Encourage a top-down approach and get leadership involved in the process. Ask leaders to have consistent conversations with teams to discuss sales goals and performance. This keeps team members accountable and allows them to learn from each other.
Use sales leaderboards to celebrate wins and showcase success stories. Whether it's on Slack or in a team meeting, share success stories and let everyone know when reps hit their goals. This helps foster healthy competition and motivates reps to achieve more.
Lastly, ensure sales teams have access to all data. A single source of truth that everyone has access to helps reps have more visibility into their performance and allows them to track goals and celebrate milestones.
Boost your sales performance in 2023 with these tips
Ready to boost your sales team’s performance this year? Pick one or more tips from our list above and work on implementing it this quarter.
While you’re here, make sure to also check out our guide to sales performance management.