The salesforce is typically at the interface between an organisation and its customers. Whilst the role of Sales is undoubtedly evolving with the explosion in online technology, they continue to play a vital role in understanding and influencing customer behaviour.

This is the story of how we helped one client identify the key components of their salesforce’s ’X’ Factor.

Our Client: A global technology company, offering B2B products and solutions that enable commerce in the areas of customer information management, location intelligence, customer engagement, shipping and mailing, and global ecommerce.

The Market: More than 1.5 million clients in approximately 100 countries around the world.

Their Challenge: Recruiting and retaining high calibre salespeople in their field salesforce.

The Problem: Only 10% of the field sales people recruited were performing at top quartile after one year – despite considerable time and money spent on recruitment, including assessment centres, candidate profiling and competency based assessment.

Our Hypothesis: Our client wasn’t recruiting the right behaviours. With a ‘hit rate’ of 1 in 10 they might as well go into a local pub and appoint the first 10 people they see…

The Solution: Need to identify the sales ‘X Factor’ – those behaviours, competencies and character strengths that would significantly improve the hit rate.

“The top quartile groups were more visibly energetic. They moved around the room more quickly, their speech was more paced, and they put their points across more forcefully.”


Getting Under the Skin of Sales

We decided to get under the skin of the salesforce role. This meant we had to look at behaviours, competencies and personality factors, of the most successful 10% to really understand what influenced ‘top’ sales performance.

We undertook a range of sales manager interviews, field sales consultant focus groups, and interviews with the key senior managers to understand their expectations and perceptions of the sales role, and their views on what helps and hinders sales performance.

The focus groups were split into three types – high, mixed and lower performing sales people, as determined by previous years sales value. What did we find?

We identified six personality/behavioural factors and three competency/behavioural factors shared by the top performing sales people:

Six ‘Observed’ Personality and Behavioural Factors from Focus Groups

  1. Noise – The top quartile groups were louder in decibel terms, and spoke more frequently.
  2. Energy – The top quartile groups were more visibly energetic. They moved around the room more quickly, their speech was more paced, and they put their points across more forcefully.
  3. Rapport building – Making a good first impression – The top quartiles more often, individually introduced themselves, shook hands, welcomed the facilitators to the session, offered refreshments.
  4. Networking – At least one respondent in every top quartile group, (often more than one), made a connection with the OE Cam facilitator e.g. “You guys did some interesting work with Vodafone. Was that with? … I know…
  5. Dress – Can be a very subjective observation, but top quartile groups clothes were newer, more fashionable and ‘smarter’.
  6. Internal locus of control – The top quartile groups were more likely to attribute their success to their own behaviour. The lower quartile groups were more likely to blame the company for their lack of success. For example, the contact centre not being responsive enough, their sales order fulfilment equipment not being effective enough, their territory being ‘weaker’ in terms of potential.


Competencies and Behaviour Factors from Focus Groups and Interviews

7. Internal relationship building – where it counts
We interviewed the managers in the contact centres (where customer orders are fulfilled). Feedback from these managers showed marked differences in their perceptions/opinions of individual sales people. The higher performers were rated more positively by the contact centre managers. For example feeling valued by them, seeing them more often, being thanked by them for fulfilling orders quickly and accurately, and in a few cases, remembering birthdays, sending flowers / chocolates to thank them for discretionary effort, and knowing everyone’s name.

8. Customer and internal networks combined with drive / energy / effort
The higher performers reported more contact points by a factor of 1.5 (compared to the medium performers), and a factor of 2 (compared with the lower performers) with both customers and internal networks. Put simply, they made more appointments in general, and spent longer with customers.

9. ‘Better’ time with customers
The higher performers had both broader and deeper relationships with customers (they knew more individuals within the customer business), and deeper relationships (they knew and were interested in, their customers personal drivers/agendas issues).


The Combined “X” Factor

This B2B technology case study suggests that The Sales X-Factor, comprises the right engagement model with customers, the right behaviours, the right relationships within your own company, an internal locus of control, and time and energy.

These insights may seem obvious. However, it is important to emphasise that with this B2B client, we found that customer contact was as much about focus as much as it was about time. Whilst the top quartile performers had more contact time by a factor of 2.0 compared with low performers, they often had fewer accounts overall and spent more time with each of those accounts relative to lower performers.

The highest performers focused on building deeper relationships with fewer customers. And, linked with this, whilst the top performers often had significantly larger networks within their company, there was both a frequency and intimacy of internal contact reported.

In essence, the key X Factor differentiators were the quality, depth and therefore durability of relationships, externally and internally.

This combined with the six personality and behavioural factors, became the focus for this client’s field salesforce recruitment, development and retention.