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If You're Not Looking at These 3 Things, You're Not Optimizing Sales

Although sales has traditionally been a face-to-face exchange, technology and data allow sales teams to make better decisions in a post-pandemic reality.

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Sales has always been a face-to-face game. Even though technology has streamlined the prospecting stage for sales teams, the goal is to get a strong prospect face-to-face with a salesperson who can close the deal.

The pandemic sparked a paradigm shift. Suddenly, in-person meetings were impossible. Salespeople who had relied on their personal skills to woo prospects and build rapport had to switch gears quickly. The plot twist? It worked. Now that nearly all sales take place online, many people seem to prefer it. A McKinsey & Company report found that 70 percent of buyers prefer virtual interactions, and salespeople appreciate the added efficiency.

This represents a broader change in customer behavior. Customers are trying out new ways to buy, including all-digital shopping, pickup and delivery services. As they continue to adapt to a "new normal," they’re more willing to think outside the box and try different methods of purchasing.

And the feeling is mutual on the sales side of the equation. A Gartner study showed that 72 percent of sales leaders didn’t feel they were getting the most they could out of existing accounts before the pandemic. With virtual sales capabilities, sales teams have more resources to automate and scale their cross-selling and up-selling capabilities — and easily connect with the highest quality prospects.

Related: How to Build Rapport With Customers Online

Going with your gut

The throughline here is that both customers and salespeople have learned to rely more heavily on gut instincts as they navigate this new sales landscape. Most small-business owners were already quite in tune with their inner emotions and instincts. For some, it might be the reason they decided to start their business in the first place — that quiet inner voice that pushed them to take the plunge.

For many small-business owners and founders of fledgling businesses, sales decision-making can come down to what they feel is right. That instinctual ability can be invaluable, but it also must be considered through a wider lens. While strong instincts play a role in success, this new era also means business owners and salespeople must embrace data-based decision-making in business. It’s the only way to measure just how well gut instinct is guiding business decisions, and it’s the only way to fuel growth based on certainty during uncertain times.

According to The New York Timesunemployment rates are expected to remain high; meanwhile, McKinsey suggested it may be hard for governments to find the cash necessary to give businesses extra financial support for much longer. And with the state of the global economy still so unstable, sales leaders need data and sales performance metrics to know that any decisions they make are right.

Related: 4 Essential Imperatives of Virtual Sales Success

Use these steps to start looking at your sales performance metrics and making data-driven decisions.

1. Determine your average sales cycle length

As a sales leader, you likely already know your average sales cycle length. But have you reevaluated it since the pandemic hit? If not, that’s one of the first things you need to do. Ask pointed questions: How long does it take for a prospect to become a customer now? How has that amount of time changed in the past year?

This data should come directly from your customer relationship management (CRM) system. If you don’t already have automated reports set up for key sales performance metrics, you should. This information allows you to use sales team huddles to preview exactly what the buyer’s journey looks like, how long each step is taking on average and how you can pivot or augment your sales team’s approach accordingly.

You can likely build out this reporting capability directly in your CRM, or you may need to explore outside technology solutions that integrate with your CRM and can help you collect and analyze data in sales. Many businesses are making more of an investment in such solutions; the use of sales enablement tools has increased by 567 percent, according to Membrain.

2. Determine your buyer’s journey rather than your sales process

It’s the classic sales mistake: leading with your own sales goals instead of your buyer’s goals. Customers have infinite choices, and they can detect selfish goals and a lack of authenticity from a mile away. But if you lead with an altruistic intent and truly try to help them solve their problems, the sale will be far more natural — and they’ll be willing to give you their time.

As you develop your sales plans and actions, determine how your prospects want to buy from you rather than how you want to sell to them. Remember, your buyers’ preferences have likely changed materially over the past year. The pandemic’s large impact on everyone’s daily lives has undoubtedly caused preferences to change. And McKinsey has made it clear that customers will keep the new behaviors and preferences they’ve developed during quarantine. A survey of your customers and prospects will help you understand these new preferences.

Related: Sales Tactics to Survive the Extended Effects of the Pandemic

3. Reconsider your current sales compensation plans

Your sales team’s structure, behaviors and general approaches to its work have completely changed over the past year. It follows that your sales compensation plans need to be updated to reflect these changes while providing compensation and incentives that are relevant to your current reality.

According to Bain & Company, only 50 percent of companies have updated their sales compensation plans. But of those that did, 35 percent created incentives for offerings that had high appeal during the pandemic. About 31 percent changed quota and commission rates, and 14 percent generally increased incentives per monetary value of sales. These companies used data-based decision-making, and they understood the importance of shifting compensation structures in the face of an evolving sales landscape.

That said, revisit the way your salaries and bonuses are structured. Are you incentivizing the new behaviors you want to take place? Make sure to align compensation to your current sales goals.

The pandemic created many challenges for small-business owners and sales leaders. Some business leaders have been used to relying on instinct for their decision-making, but they now have to use data in sales to inform sales plans and actions. For sales leaders moving forward, it’s vital to reevaluate sales performance metrics and embrace data-based decision-making in business. By starting with the sales cycle, buyer journey and compensation plans, you’ll be well on your way to setting up your business for success for years to come.

Mark Thacker

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Mark Thacker is the president of Sales Xceleration, a firm specializing in sales strategy, process, and execution. Mark has a 33-year history of sales leadership and success in diverse industries. Mark is the author of Beyond the Mountaintop: Observations on Selling, Living, and Achieving.