Poor Sales Productivity in the Era of Distraction

At the recent annual MBA conference in Boston, Stratmor shared statistics on a shocking mortgage banking trend: sales productivity has dropped from 10.0 closed loans per retail LO in 2003 to 4.8 closed loans per retail LO in 2015. This is a dramatic decrease that has continued for years. Many managers will point to increased regulations or compliance burdens as the culprit, but the decline started well before the 2008 recession. What has caused this to occur?

When you think about it, this downward trend has happened in spite of the fact that companies have invested billions in sales productivity tools hoping that by giving the salesperson more time to sell, this will translate into better sales performance.

In a terrific white paper by Accenture, Selling in the Age of Distraction, the authors relate that productivity hasn’t happened because today’s sales forces are bombarded with data. Accenture further suggests that many sales enablement programs intended to boost productivity have instead contributed to diversions that pull producers off course from actually selling to buyers.

The authors contend that today’s customers are demanding personalized experiences that make it difficult for sales teams to isolate the “moments of truth.” As a result, a sales force is influencing the buyer at the wrong time in the buying process—typically too late after research is completed. The problem is compounded by distractions that are everywhere including 24/7 access to endless amounts of information. Both the customer and the salesperson are overwhelmed.

The article also points to information overload due to CRM systems and performance management solutions. The reality is that most salespeople find these systems to be more of a hindrance to better sales performance than a facilitator. The reason? The more time a salesperson spends doing unproductive administrative work, the less time there is for meaningful customer interactions. Accenture also states “that this situation is particularly acute for the mediocre sales reps.” As I mentioned last week, sub-par producers account for 40 to 60 percent of a typical mortgage company’s sales force and are a source of significant revenue loss.

What is the solution if it is not more productivity tools? Accenture reiterates the importance of cutting through distraction and zeroing in on actions that matter. Not surprisingly, they suggest tactics that are practical but often overlooked:

  1. Crush the silos and rise of predictive insights. Separating business lines by product lines does not work anymore in this new world of rapid change in customer behavior. What matters is the experience that a company creates for the customer. Likewise, predictive insights from the next-generation analytic tools and data methods need to be in place so that salespeople have access to it in a real time.
  1. Maximize talent management. Understanding top sales performers and their behaviors is a must and sharing their techniques with the entire sales force is critical. (A validated pre-hire assessment is invaluable in distinguishing between poor producers and above-average sales candidates.) Customers are insisting on an outstanding sales experience —something that only the top performers can deliver.
  1. Active sales management. Accenture’s research concludes that one-to-one coaching and a rigorous sales process are the the cornerstones of active sales management. Producers who follow a rigorous sales management process perform 10% better than their peers. In other words, the best tool for a salesperson is to have a good manager who coaches.

So with 2017 right around the corner, sales executives must make the right choices regarding how to improve sales performance. The answer is clear: Invest in better sales management and talent management.