With customers in more than 140 countries, you really start wondering:
“How different is sales work around the world?”
We started looking into it and went on a quest to find the best sales nation in the world.
What we discovered was that we can’t trust stereotypes. For example, Americans simply aren’t the world’s best closers. But that’s not the whole story – we realized that some numbers in isolation can be misleading.
We pulled anonymized metadata generated by Pipedrive users around the world about the number of deals that were added and closed; number of activities that were initiated and marked complete, and so on – and put it in a large database. We sliced up the data by country and removed all outliers. What we got was a clean view about the differences in conversion, length of the sales cycle, and levels of activity.
What did we find out?
The world’s best closers are South Africans (but it’s not the whole story)
Conversion rate is one of the best indicators of sales skills. And if you only look at conversion rates, a clear winner emerges – South Africa. Runners-up include Brazil, Chile, Denmark and Sweden – a surprising combo of fast-growing emerging economies and the conservative Nordics.
Worst closers, based on conversion rate? Sales people in Switzerland, Poland, Canada, Russia and … the United States. That’s right, Americans who invented selling as we know it are at the bottom of the conversion list.
Could it be? The numbers don’t lie, but we realized that the conversion numbers don’t tell the whole story. To understand what’s going on we decided to see whether similar trends would emerge under other metrics as well.
Brazilians get to ‘yes’ quickest
Time is money, which is why we included the average time of closing as one of the proxies for identifying the best sales nation.
Brazilians get to hear “yes” quickest – they take the least time to close a deal. Runners-up: South Africa and Chile, who were in top three positions also in the conversion table. It’s mostly the developing world who follow the top three, including Mexico, Russia, Colombia and India.
On the other end of the spectrum – countries slowest to close – we find mostly European countries with Australia and Canada in the mix. And the Dutch – the great traders throughout much of history – are the slowest of the slow.
So far, all of our preconceived ideas about who’s great and who’s not seem to be wrong.
Salespeople in Spain have the magic touch
Finally, some sales managers argue that the best indicator of sales skills is efficiency. The more time you spend with one prospect, the less you have for others. So we looked at the average number of activities (calls, emails, meetings, etc.) per each deal eventually won.
A salesperson in Spain needs 3.8 activities per closing with salespeople in Denmark, Netherlands, Estonia, Sweden and South Africa not too far behind. On the other end of the scale, we found that a Russian salesperson needs 6.11 activities per every closed deal, with Great Britain, Germany, Colombia and United States also all in need of relatively many touches to get to a “yes.”
Again, we find the hardcore salespeople of Great Britain and the United States at the end of the scale with little context to explain it. However, it’s possible that there is more competition for attention in developed nations so those sales cycles are expected to be more protracted; buyers have more options and have more sales teams competing for their attention.
What does this mean?
What we found was any sales success indicator in isolation is probably misleading.
It would be a mistake to declare South Africans, Brazilians or Spaniards the best at sales. As you saw, interesting correlations emerged in the different rankings. Countries among the best in one dimension tended to fare well across other dimensions as well.
The countries that were quickest also converted highest (with the exception of Russia).
Overall, we found a correlation:
Countries with high conversion rates close deals faster.
Low conversion tends to correlate with lots of activities per deal, and vice versa. Combining three variables, it becomes clear that countries with the highest conversion rates also enjoy the fastest sales cycles and fewest activities needed to complete each deal.
Is this a signal of cultural differences, or is the mix of businesses using Pipedrive just different from country to country (expensive vs. cheap items, enterprise vs B2C sales, and so on)?
Truth be told, it’s probably a bit of both. The correlations are not so clear that you could explain them simply with big differences in the business mix.
The big reveal – how tough is the life of salespeople around the world?
Salespeople in South Africa, Brazil and Chile seem to have it easiest – well, at least for Pipedrive users there. The United States, Canada, to an extent the United Kingdom, Australia and France have the toughest conditions – slow, low conversion and lots of activities per deal.
What this means – generally, for you and for your team
And this reveals what we’ve been looking for – there is no best sales nation. And there’s two sides to this.
The first has to do with the cultural and historical background and differences that have created this situation.
The second is perhaps more important. Admittedly, for many of you, this will be like reciting the alphabet, but for others it’s something that will make a big difference in their day-to-day sales work:
- For the 10% (and growing) of salespeople who sell globally – be aware of the sales culture of the country you’re selling to. When you’re selling to the people in the United States, it’s likely that you’re going to get more “no” responses and you’re going to have to do a lot of sales activities for the deals you’re able to close than in some other countries. If you are one of the people who can adjust well to different circumstances, try changing your rhythm a bit; maybe you’ll be more successful.
Don’t judge your own work or the work of other salespeople by looking solely at the conversion rate. It differs, surprise-surprise, from industry to industry and product line to product line. Though it’s general advice and has been repeated again and again, it remains relevant – look at sales with a more holistic view and you’ll have a better chance to improve.
Three tips on how this can benefit you:
- Try improving your conversion rate as much as you can. Usually, it starts from improving a critical stage-to-stage conversion a little. If you hit the ceiling, look elsewhere to other metrics.
- Measure the length of your sales cycle. Compare it with others, compare it with the data presented here about your region. Try shortening this cycle, chat with colleagues who close faster. Find out how long they take to move from one step to another. If there are people around you who are more successful and have longer cycles, study their work habits, slow down a bit and see how this works for you.
- Calculate your number of activities per an average deal that you win. Compare it with the best producers in your company. Are they doing more things with prospects? Less? Again, try adjusting your workflow and monitor the results.
PS! The meta-data on the tens of thousands users researched is only representative of the population who are Pipedrive users - people and businesses that love using modern and well-designed web tools (as opposed to old-school companies that love having their software downloaded, and have lots and lots of different menu options and data entry opportunities and bad interface - but it might apply to them as well, who knows).
Nevertheless, it’s probably a useful point of reference anyway - we don’t know anyone else having done research like this.