Seven Levels of Best Practices Sales Benchmarking

This week’s blog comes to us from Aaron Bartel of Sales Benchmark Index, a strategic advisory firm, and author ofMaking The Number: How to Use Sales Benchmarking to Drive Performance.”

Before you launch a sales improvement effort it makes sense to understand what level of Best Practices your sales organization is capable of leveraging.  These levels begin at the most basic and proceed to the most involved (but also most effective) form.

In reading about the definitions of each level of best-practices benchmarking, some might be tempted to think that it seems simple. Where is the complexity found in most corporate programs? If your thoughts tend to this direction, you are not alone.

Yet most organizations are not putting energy and commitment to these areas, so even if the concept is basic, the execution is lacking.  In fact, as the goal of a best-practices sales benchmarking effort is improvement – the dogma of any particular benchmarking approach is unimportant. Best Practices Sales Benchmarking is a business practice or skill with countless forms and applications.

With that said, each of the seven levels of best-practices benchmarking is described below.

  1. Learn from Past Success:  Organizations should perform the technique of success analysis. This encompasses the habit of documenting what went right as well as what went wrong on any number of corporate-specific tasks.
  2. Borrow Good Ideas: Small companies tend to be especially skilled at idea importation. Starved of resources, small companies naturally develop a beg, borrow, and creatively imitate mentality that enables them to leverage others’ experience and learnings.  The important concept is that these ideas originate from outside the organization and are freely available.
  3. Best in Company:  This type of benchmarking captures the follow-up activity that occurs in those companies collecting large amounts of data through CRM or other sales-related systems. Through the collection, assessment, and display of this data in various dashboard systems, sales executives can spot the best performers.
  4. Industry Standard: This type of benchmarking, and the next three that follow, all require comparison of internal performance to external performance. What differs in each is the degree of excellence represented by the external sample set. In industry-standard benchmarking, the goal is to bring some aspect of the organization up to the level of the relevant peer group.
  5. Industry Leadership: This type of benchmarking is not greatly different from the previous one, but it captures an element that sometimes can be missing from industry-standard benchmarking. As discussed previously in this section, the definition of a peer group for purposes of benchmarking may or may not contain companies that are directly or even indirectly competitive.
  6. Best in Country: Achieving this designation may or may not have significance to the organization based on its customer base, market, and geography. Those selling to government organizations or those in relatively closed economies will value this highly.
  7. World Class:  The urge to be the Babe Ruth of benchmarking is irresistible. Sales leaders particularly are always on the hunt for the Big Idea that is easily adopted and yields breakthrough results. These do exist, but they are a precious few. Most successes achieved through benchmarking are a series of modest improvements – singles, steals, bunts, and the occasional double – that, taken together, enable a sales organization to achieve world-class performance. To attain world-class status in benchmarking requires a deep and longstanding commitment, resources, patience, and a willingness to persevere through many obstacles.