By Jill Harrington, SalesSHIFT Blog

I’m constantly on the lookout for good studies on sales performance and best practices. Statistics have always interested me. But what’s more important than the research findings is the implication of these statistics to our ongoing sales success. Here are what I believe to be seven statistics that every seller needs to know. Some, at first view, are frightening. But take a close look and you’ll see BIG opportunity in these numbers. And, to help you take advantage of this knowledge, I’ve provided my insights on how to turn these scary stats into competitive advantage and sales producing facts.

#1    On average … it takes 8.4 tries to reach a live prospect on the phone.

Unfortunately many sellers approach prospecting with the expectation that the prospect will return their first call or will be waiting at their desk for a follow up call. When this doesn’t happen the average seller gets frustrated and gives up calling after 2 or 3 tries. But who wants to be average?

Jill’s insight: Prospecting is a warm process. Not a cold event. Just because it’s a good day for you to make a sale doesn’t mean it’s the right time for the prospect to buy. Lower the “8.4” by making sure that, before you pick up the phone, you have a valid reason to call from the customer’s point of view. Do your homework and take the time to create a clearly articulated message of high value to this prospect now. And, knowing that prospecting is a process, plan a relevant “access campaign” – a multi-method approach that delivers relevant high value information over time to this contact – so that you increase their sense of urgency and you position you to be top of mind when the time is right.

# 2    A scant 4% of prospects appreciate persistent calling, while more than 70% say it is irritating.

How can this be? We’ve had it drummed into us that persistence pays. And now that we understand that prospecting is a process, surely we need to be persistent!

Jill’s insight: Before you ditch persistence as a positive sales attribute let’s be clear … persistence is good. Provided you deliver messages of high and current value to the prospect. I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but I believe that the root cause of this painful statistic is the flood of uninspired, ill-prepared follow up calls informing prospects, “I’m just calling to check in” or “I sent you an e-mail and haven’t heard back” or “I haven’t heard from you in a while and want to remind you all about me.” Hearing this 8.4 times would certainly put me in the 70% who feel irritated!

#3    92% of sales organizations raised quotas last year and it’s a trend that’s not going away.

Now that’s a scary stat – especially when the economic trend is one of unpredictability. What happens when we’re under immense pressure to bring in more sales? We chase any lead, we accept every meeting, and we go after the low hanging fruit believing we’ll close more deals faster.

But wait! Here’s scary stat # 4 … Studies show that the “no decision” rate today is 24%. Which means, on average, 24% of the opportunities you pursue result in “no deal.” Nobody wins – not you, not the competition, not even the client. The opportunity falls into the black hole and simply goes away.

Jill’s insight: With quotas rising annually you can’t afford to waste your precious, and limited, time on deals that will end up in the black hole. So strengthen your qualification and discovery skills. Prepare insightful questions ahead of time – not just about the opportunity, but also about the purchasing process, criteria, motives, and stakeholders. Be crystal clear as to how this opportunity contributes to your prospect organization’s strategic objectives … and how it ranks in terms of current priorities to key stakeholders. If you can’t obtain, or are being denied, this information … proceed with caution or move on.

#5 When it comes to analyzing why we lose a bid only 23% of sellers involve the customer. Even more frightening is that only 16% of sellers involve the customer when analyzing why they win a new sale.

Jill’s insight: A larger percentage of sales teams conduct a “self-analysis” as to why they believe they won or lost a recent bid. But think about it. The only person who knows the exact reason(s) for the outcome in any sales situation is your customer. And things are not always what they seem. While price is the most common reason provided to sellers who lose bids, it’s rarely an accurate picture.

Be willing, and able, to masterfully interview customers who choose to go with your competitor. Seek out all of the reasons for their decision and specifically what you might do better in the future to assure your success. And, when you win, thank the customer, get their perspective on what specifically clinched the deal for them and, most importantly, leverage these reasons in future prospecting messages and bids.

#6    99% of customers feel that it is important that vendors come to a first meeting well prepared and that they already understand the customer’s business and industry.

Jill’s insight: To add to this research finding … when salesSHIFT asked a select group of buyers about their #1 pet peeve relating to sales people the response was, “I wish that sales reps would take the time to understand me and my business.”

Who can blame them? Knowing your customer is a prerequisite for any productive sales conversation. With the vast number of resources available to us to obtain people, company and industry information we should be embarrassed to pick up the phone, or go to a first meeting, without a good understanding of who we are talking to, their company’s interests, and the state of their industry.

At the very least check out their website, news releases, president’s message. Look up people and companies on LinkedIn, InsideView, Google and other available data sources. Use this information to create relevant prospecting messages that center on the customer, and to come to a first meeting prepared to share your understanding and to ask insightful questions.

#7    Almost 75% of sellers believe that their sales approach differentiates them from their competitors. Yet only 3% of their customers say they do this extremely effectively.

What this says to me is that an awful lot of sales pros are out there thinking their sales approach is working its magic. And it’s not!

Jill’s insight: This represents a massive opportunity for those of you who recognize that the world we sell into has changed dramatically and, as a result, we need to regularly take stock of our sales approach and how aligned it is – or isn’t – with how our market buys. The smartest sales organizations realize we live in a time when product and service benefits no longer provide adequate differentiation. And that one’s sales approach – how we act and interact with our prospects and long term customers – is one of our most powerful sources of differentiation. Why? Because as this statistic shows … so few sellers do this well.

Good selling!

Statistics were extracted from the following studies: “Sales Performance Optimization Study” conducted by CSO Insights, USA and “What Really Matters in B2B selling”, an international study conducted by Infoteam, Switzerland.