Sales is difficult to compare as every aspect of it seems to be unique—product or service, business model, pricing, business environment, customers, their purchasing power—you name it. Hence, it’s almost impossible to get a sense of how salespeople across the United States differ in their approach or performance from their counterparts in the United Kingdom or Brazil. Don’t you want to know who’s the best sales nation in the world? We certainly do.
One thing that makes all businesses similar is their use of a process that gets them a customer. Every company follows some sort of a step-by-step path that has proven successful to them. The way salespeople perform along their chosen process is what makes businesses of different shapes and kinds comparable and therefore becomes the center point of our analysis.
For the purpose of our global sales study, we take anonymized metadata of sales performances across 34 countries and more than 10 industries, remove outliers and look for differences.
Our particular interest goes to three questions:
- How many of their potential prospects salespeople manage to convert to customers?
- How long it takes them to do it?
- How hard they need to work for it? (read: how many activities they need to engage in. An activity is any scheduled action e.g. a phone call or meeting)
For some years now, we’ve discovered fascinating patterns that show how salespeople in different countries perform. We’ve also discovered notable differences due to industries people work in.
Let’s take a look at how everyone stands when it comes to selling skills.
The best closers work in South Africa
According to our global sales survey, conversion rate is one of the best indicators of sales skills. For the second year running, South Africa is top of the conversion rate league table. Standing the test of time, it’s hard to argue against them being the best closers in the world. It’s a fairly close race between them, the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand as the only nations where salespeople are able to close north of 20% of their prospects into customers.
Where do we find the UK, US and Germany, for example? At 18th, 19th and 33rd place, respectively. Compared to studies from the last few years, both the US and Germany are moving up.
What’s up with South Africa? I’ve asked this question to a few South Africans and they don’t seem surprised. They see an unusually straight link between making it in sales and being able to survive. This top-three African economy apparently has less of a safety net in the form of welfare and more pressure to succeed. Many people point to an ‘if you don’t kill, you don’t eat’ metaphor. It’s arguably a case of an environment shaping the people operating in it.
South Africans also have a reputation for directness and an aversion to small talk. They get to the point quickly. When it comes to the sales data, it does seem like South Africans understand the lay of the land far earlier in the sales process, that is, knowing when to ‘step on it,’ and also when to throw in the towel.
Brazilians are quickest to ‘yes’
Another indisputable indicator of success in sales is the speed or velocity of revenue coming in. Following a similar pattern from earlier studies, salespeople in Brazil get to ‘yes’ quickest, needing less than 30 days to do so.
South Africa and Chile complete the top three. So, while South Africans can claim to be the best closers, Brazilians take the throne of being the fastest closers in the world. In fairness, it’s a tight race across the board and at a closer look, we find the US at 25th, the UK at 28th and Germany at 32nd place.
What’s behind the Brazilians’ performance in speed? Local salespeople are somewhat surprised they lead in this category as Brazilians tend to put a lot of emphasis on being really friendly and conversations often drift to many other areas besides business.
However, they also recognize that if they’re not the fastest to close, someone else is going to be even friendlier and pushier and likely will end up winning. Competition is extremely tight and, again, it shapes the way people get things done in sales.
The US and European countries have their edge
It is misleading to think that salespeople in the US, UK or Germany are resting on their laurels.
"Closing well and closing fast are certainly very important...but equally, an ability to close really large and high quality deals are just as important"
My own experience in sales has shown that I’ve been able to generate top revenues in organizations while being well down the leaderboard in closing percentages or speed.
Even though the size of deals was not the focus of this research, earlier analysis has shown that companies in the developed world boast more purchasing power, more expensive products and services are being offered, and more rigorous purchasing processes have been put in place.
So, for example, Brazilians might be faster to smaller deals while Americans or Germans might be slower to larger deals.
Let’s throw in another global sales variable: the way buyers behave naturally according to the cultural norms of their respective countries. Of course, great salespeople live and work on their terms and enjoy success because of their initiative, dedication and resilience. Faced with headwinds, they still find a way to move forward.
"However, even high performers need to match their style to those of the buyers."
For example, when working in a country like Sweden (known to value consensus in decision making) you might never get a prospect to go forward without enough debate with other internal stakeholders in the company.
What your industry says about you
According to this year’s data, manufacturing records a 31.12% conversion rate—the highest of all the industries and nearly double the average. Trading and construction are runners-up followed by creative industries.
Manufacturing can be an industry that is complex and labor-intensive, where multiple parts often physically move locations, which can be very costly. As this can affect profits, there is a greater need to qualify any deal well ahead of time rather than meet a large volume of unknown prospects.
If you work in finance, you’re likely to prefer phone calls as your modus operandi—around four to win a deal.
In software and app development, emails are much more favored. The most lunches are scheduled for those working in health and real estate. The sectors most likely to hold face-to-face meetings are real estate and manufacturing. With the former, the very nature of the business means salespeople must get out and about to view properties and shake hands.
What can you learn from this data? It’s good to compare and benchmark, but every industry and region is different. First, it’s important to understand your own metrics and see how you perform against your historical records. Second, it’s good to ask questions about what and how others are doing, either face-to-face or from research.
What does the data tell us about improving your performance?
High performers have a 36.97% conversion rate, and they take on average 36.5 days to close a deal. For low performers, the average conversion rate is 4.95% and they take 53.62 days to close.
Generally speaking, high-performing organizations add half as many deals into their pipeline but win at least twice as many. What does this mean? Great salespeople are especially careful about not filling their days with conversations leading to nowhere. At the same time, once they’ve detected a potential prospect, they use all their intelligence and experience to maximize their chances of winning.
If they feel their chances are getting too small, they usually let go better than others to make room for new high potential conversations.
Essentially, the more deals in a pipeline, the lower the conversion rate. You’ll risk losing focus, which is detrimental to any salesperson’s performance management. If conversion rates weren’t important, then sales teams would likely be run by A.I.-enabled computers, which could work around the clock but only achieve a 2% conversion rate. This is already happening in the transactional sales world, that is, lower value purchases, while the human touch is essential in more complex sales.
How can you improve in 2018?
We are a global sales company. Working with 90,000 companies and hundreds of thousands of the best salespeople means we see what makes the best performers successful. We’ve collated these insights to help you and your teams drive even greater sales performance.
Stick to your strengths, know what works
We’ve seen different sectors favor different methods and approaches. By embracing your strengths you can optimize your approach to match. So, if you’re a wordsmith stick to emails, and if emotional intelligence is your thing then it makes sense to focus on those all-important face-to-face meetings.
Streamline your sales process, don’t overcomplicate
One of the key conclusions from our data is simplification. Sometimes salespeople try to do too much. Champion the art of cutting back the layers of process in favor of clear and easy-to-remember steps. But note, that doesn’t mean doing less – it just means sharpening up your act and shaking off those stages that are not working.
Tool up and embrace available tech
A critical part of the sales process is managing and recording conversations. Also, high performers are much more active on their mobile devices. This suggests that those using their mobiles know the importance of capturing key information, while it’s fresh in their minds – and before the next meeting washes it away. In my view, no notes mean no progress. Think about leveraging tools to advance conversations along the pipeline. Whatever your weapon of choice, embed it deeply into your sales process.
Focus to get ahead
Focus is essential for closing deals: I’ve seen that from my own experience. I was always in a better place when I knew exactly what I needed to work on. Companies with low conversion rates conduct 30% more activities than higher-performing ones – around two more per deal. It sounds obvious, but doing less and focusing on the right things means you’ll do them better. Avoid a scattergun approach, keep an optimum number of good deals in your pipeline. Otherwise, it affects everything: the processing, analyzing and execution.
Leading conversations is instrumental
I’ve seen so many salespeople fall by the wayside because they struggle with leading a conversation. Leading a conversation transforms into leading a sales process and leading your sales career. Learn how to initiate a move forward, do it with certainty and make sure you have your prospect with you every step of the way.
Be mindful of speed
It’s true that if you’re quicker to ‘yes’ you’ll achieve higher performance. Conversely, that also means you may be quicker to ‘no’. That can be difficult to digest, as we may often want to go along with the illusion of a potential ‘yes’ rather than burst the bubble. But tough as a ‘no’ is, it will also bring clarity—it means you can move onto new prospects.
Even though the world is getting more competitive, with the possibility of tough times ahead, I believe that the best salespeople will continue to strive to do better. The best salespeople will make sure they have the right tools and that they are continually learning from others so that they can thrive in any conditions.