Stephen Newman’s Blog

New MH 2011 Sales Study warns – don’t sit back and watch sales slide

Hopefully you’re up and running after an encouraging start last quarter. Of course there’s always someone else – a colleague or even a competitor who’s also had some success with seemingly little effort. But as you watch them sit back complacently, stay on your guard. Take a look at the results of the new Miller Heiman Sales Study 2011. It’s clear that if you lose focus with over confidence, then business can start to slide away very quickly.

In previous years’ studies of most organisations, it’s clear to see a shift away from following established best practices in selling and sales management effectiveness. Companies reacted to a challenging economy in panic. There was a return to several activities that usually fail to produce the desired results:

  • cold calling
  • more discounting
  • pursuing customers in non-traditional target markets

In this year’s data, there’s a clear return to best practice sales activities. Some of the most significant year-on-year improvement across all responses was seen in customer focused initiatives including:

  • formalising a compelling value proposition to prospects
  • jointly setting long-term objectives with strategic accounts
  • collaborating across departments to pursue large opportunities and manage strategic accounts

“We get caught in the psychological doldrums from 2009 and not realize what 2011 will bring. The good news is, there are opportunities; customers are looking for providers to help them grow.” 2011 Survey Participant —

But before you start thinking it’s going to be easy now, reflect on how much you’ve learned from the last few years:

  • How to listen
  • How to get creative with solutions
  • How to really help customers get value
  • How to get through obstacles day by day

“Even the top performers are getting a little sloppy.”

Listen to what Sam Reese, CEO of Miller Heiman has to say about the recent Miller Heiman Sales Study 2011

Customer Satisfaction – last year 71% of the World-Class sales forces (think of them as the top 6% in the survey) had a formal process for measuring customer satisfaction, as opposed to only 32% for all of the others.

While the also-ran companies stayed at that same 32 %, only 57%of the World Class sales teams now have a tight focus on measuring customer satisfaction. A troubling trend that will have larger ramifications if the economic growth remains flat.

  1. Chasing No-Hope Opportunities – in 2010, 57 % of the World-Class sales forces had an established procedure for stopping investment on deals that were not progressing.
    Other firms only did this 17 % of the time.
    In 2011, once again the other firms remained at the same 17 % (no wonder many companies seem to lose consistently) while the World-Class ones went down to 47 %.  Not a huge drop but another signal that the same discipline is not being applied.
  2. Performance Reviews – last year 94% of World Class selling teams believed that their performance review process was constructive and helped them improve at their job.
    This is in comparison to only 24 percent of the other respondents.  Once again the needle did not move for the others but the World-Class firms now report that only three-quarters of them still believe in their performance management system.
    This is a pretty dramatic decline and another indicator that the top sales forces are fading and coming back to the pack.
  3. Coaching – 70% of the World-Class companies believed that their sales managers spent an adequate amount of time coaching each individual on their sales team, compared to only 18 %for the other companies.
    There is no change from the mediocre companies in 2011, but now only 53 % of the World-Class companies believe it.  It seems that leadership and coaching were key tools that helped sales forces get through lean times but now they are losing focus as the economy gets back on track.

The bottom line according to Sam Reese is that truly great sales managers and top individual contributors learn to stick with disciplines and continue a game plan that worked for them when times were tough.

What we all have to do now is apply these same principles during challenging economic cycles. Then the opportunity for break through results is right in front of you – just don’t get complacent. Carry on thinking of the economic landscape as uncertain, so you can be certain about the best practices for Strategic Selling that you bring to your selling job every single day.

To receive your copy of the Miller Heiman 2011 Global Sales Best Practices Executive Summary, please email us at: If you’d like to benchmark your company’s performance against the study, contact Stephen Newman at or phone +44(0)1923 818967

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