TOPO Sales Sentiment Index Reveals Opinions of B2B Sales Reps
Analyses of sales effectiveness are usually based on the views of sales leaders. While those opinions are clearly important, it is equally important to hear about the day-to-day realities of sales directly from the reps in the trenches. That is why the TOPO Sales Sentiment Index (SSI) is based on feedback from sales reps themselves.
To get a clearer picture of what sales reps are experiencing on the front line—both overall and in selected key industries—TOPO surveyed more than 500 U.S. reps in mid-2019. The survey established a benchmark for reps’ optimism about their success in hitting quota, as well as their views on their workplace, sales leaders, and challenges they face in the market.
How do quota-carrying sales reps feel about their work?
To assess the sentiments of sales reps about their work, the survey collected answers to the following questions:
- For the current period (month, quarter, etc.), do you personally expect to exceed, hit, or be under quota?
- For the current period (month, quarter, etc.), do you expect your sales organization to exceed, hit, or be under quota?
- Would you recommend your company’s sales organization to a friend as a place for them to work?
- Do you approve of the job your sales leadership is doing?
- What is most preventing you from meeting or exceeding your sales quota?
Respondents to the survey included sales reps in mostly high-growth B2B companies. The surveyed population represented a range of roles (mainly outside, inside, and sales development reps) and tenures, with 27% of respondents having been with their current companies for two years or less and 56% for more than five years. The top industries represented were Financial Services, Healthcare/Life Sciences, Technology, and Manufacturing but 25% of respondents came from industries besides those four. The reps’ companies ranged in size from fewer than 100 employees to more than 50,000.
Reps are currently optimistic about their ability to succeed
The SSI score for the sales reps surveyed in July 2019 was 114, putting it in the upper half of the “Optimistic” range. The SSI is a weighted average measure of reps’ performance expectations for themselves and for their team. It is scaled so that a score of zero means that a rep fully expects to miss quota—both individually and as a team—while a score of 200 indicates a rep’s expectation that they will exceed quota—both individually and as a team.
In calculating the SSI, reps’ views on the likelihood of their own attainment of quota are weighted more heavily than their outlook for their team as a whole.
TOPO believes that this optimism is rooted in the overall strength of the economy, especially for B2B companies which have mostly enjoyed excellent business conditions throughout this decade. That said, recent economic indicators raise concerns that the rosy conditions for B2B selling may be coming to an end. The results presented here will serve as a benchmark for comparison in future quarters; if the economy slows, the index may fall in turn.
Reps hold positive overall views of their performance and their leaders
In line with the SSI score above, most of the reps surveyed expressed a positive outlook when answering the first four questions of the survey. In particular:
- 84% of reps expect to either meet or exceed their personal quota
- 79% expect their organizations to either meet or exceed quota
- 79% of reps would recommend their organization as a place to work
- 78% of reps approve of their sales leadership
While there is not much variance in the average optimism expressed at the individual or group level, much more variance arose when TOPO studied individual sales organizations. In many cases, areas of variance pointed to clear issues faced by the organization whether in the competitiveness of their offerings, their sales management practices, or their internal communication.
Sellers face a hyper-competitive marketplace
When survey participants were asked to choose up to three challenges inhibiting their ability to meet or exceed quota, four categories emerged on top: strength of competition, too many non-sales activities, non-competitive pricing, and insufficient pipeline, in that order.
Note that insufficient pipeline is almost always at the top of the list, given that most sales reps typically want more and better leads. Yet here it does not hold its normal #1 position because of big changes in the overall selling environment.
The #1 challenge mentioned was intense competition, which combined with the #3 challenge (non-competitive pricing) reflects the reality in the marketplace today: a hyper-competitive environment in which products and solutions across many categories are subject to rapid commoditization. Another key environmental factor is the overwhelming rate of change in markets, specifically in the products and solutions within them.
Another key challenge is too many non-sales activities. In today’s difficult selling environment, organizations need to clearly focus on driving sales productivity. The vast majority of a rep’s day—on the order of 60–70%—should be spent preparing for and engaging with customers. While some non-selling activities such as pointless meetings may reflect on poor management or bad processes, there are also many opportunities to use technology to lighten the load.
Key initiatives for better sales performance
Commoditization and hyper-competition affect reps across all industries, putting the burden on sales to deliver value and develop true customer partnerships and on their organizations as a whole to deliver an outstanding customer experience. To address this, organizations are well-served to dig into the sales sentiments of their own reps to find areas where they can do better whether in day-to-day processes, training, marketing support, or others. Sales leaders are responding to changes in the environment, and that shows in some of their key initiatives:
- Sales enablement – Sales organizations are building dedicated sales enablement organizations that are moving enablement away from tactical, ad-hoc training to the delivery of always-on, year-round training supported by strategy, people, processes, and technology.
- Sales productivity – Organizations need to track sales productivity, starting with an audit of their reps’ current day-in-the-life, so they can find areas to eliminate mundane tasks and pare down meetings to only the most consequential.
- Business relationship building – TOPO’s research of top enterprise sales organizations shows that many are moving the sales pitch and demo further back in the sales process. Instead of rushing those plays, they lead with workshops and ideation sessions to show organizations that they are the right business partner to help them achieve their business goals—well before diving into product-specific discussions.