Sales Agility: The Secret to Successful Small Businesses

Small business owner researching winning sales practices.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

For any company to be successful over a long period, it has to be agile. Markets change, partnerships evolve, and employees come and go — and companies need to pivot quickly to keep up.

Sales agility, specifically, should always be top of mind. A sales department’s ability to be nimble and adjust to all external environments is a key to handling any changes that come its way.

The ideal level of agility follows the Goldilocks principle. Instead of “not too hot, not too cold,” think of it as a “not too structured, not too off the cuff” happy medium. Companies with outstanding sales agility fall somewhere between being extremely rigid and making spur-of-the-moment decisions with no plan at all. Having too many rules can cost your team sales, but so can having no rules whatsoever.

For example, if you don’t consider the individuality of your prospects — their different personalities and communication styles — you’ll find yourself unable to adapt to best meet their needs. If you have a risk-averse, numbers-minded prospect, a pushy sales approach with grandiose presentations and “wow factors” will probably do more harm than good. A soft sell backed by metrics, though, might be just what that person needs. “Here are a few report excerpts to back up our brand promise and service commitment. Let us know when you’re ready to discuss, otherwise, we will check in after two weeks and see how you’re feeling.”

In a nutshell, great sales agility enables companies to quickly and continuously prioritize their accounts and wisely use their resources to meet customer expectations, thrive under any conditions, and create consistent revenue.

Unpacking the Sales Agility Assessment

At Sales Xceleration, we conduct Sales Agility Assessments for small and midsize businesses. We asked business owners to self-evaluate, look within, and divulge how closely they adhere to best practices for sales compensation, sales strategy, documenting sales opportunities, and holding people accountable.

As we constructed our Sales Agility Assessment, we took a specialized approach. First, we took everything we’ve learned in our 10 years of working with thousands of small and midsize businesses to identify the key success factors for small businesses that are critical to the survival and quality performance of every organization. Then, we laid out those sales components into 48 questions covering four key areas: sales strategy, sales methodology, sales analysis, and sales organization.

One of the most important, defining characteristics of our assessment is its focus on self-assessment. It doesn’t impose or promote Sales Xceleration’s view of how to successfully run a business; it empowers owners to assess their own business while considering what changes might be necessary based on what they discover. This enables them to get a sense of where the sales health of their company stands, how they can improve their sales agility moving forward, and set appropriate benchmarks to help them continue growing and improving.

After taking the Sales Agility Assessment, business owners understand how they rank against other companies as well as how they perform against benchmarked best practices. Examples of what a successful small businesses owner might learn in each section include:

  • Sales Strategy:This section is focused on understanding your defined target market, competitive landscape and the health of the markets focused on.
  • Sales Methodology: This section focuses on prioritizing prospects and customers, sales territories, sales process, sales activity, and sales forecasting.
  • Sales Analysis:This section focuses on goal setting, CRMs, sales metrics, and compensation plans.
  • Sales Organization and Talent: This section focuses on sales training, onboarding, hiring, job descriptions, and performance management.

Already, thousands of business owners have taken a major step in building their ability to respond to external factors using our Sales Agility Assessment. And even more have used our 10-question sales agility test online, which is a simplified version we offer for free to help business owners get started.

Let’s take a look at the most noteworthy findings from our assessment.

1. Companies aren’t compensating sales reps in a way that drives desired behaviors.

Salespeople need to understand their role in helping a company achieve its sales goals and know that they’re properly compensated for their work. Compensation plans should align with your revenue goals and incent what you want and when you want it. If business owners want to encourage their sales teams to perform, a good place to start is to consider a compensation mix of about 50% salary and 50% commission.

When sales compensation plans are weighted too heavily toward either salary or commission, you start to see sales teams unravel. Despite this pattern, only 19% of companies had a 50-50 compensation structure and strategy.

It’s also key to remember that communicating this compensation plan — and doing so clearly — is just as important as creating it! Having each salesperson sign off on the compensation plan annually can help eliminate any confusion. Simplicity and clarity are key.

2. Companies aren’t sticking to documented sales processes.

A scant 8% of leaders believe their sales processes are well understood, and only 28% of small and midsize companies have a sales process document in the first place. Companies cannot identify the deficiencies in their sales process if that sales process is being carried out differently each time — that would be like trying to fix your golf swing when you never swing your club the same way twice.

This also impedes businesses from scaling appropriately because there are no set processes from which to scale. Implementing CRM software to manage customer relationships can help — so can training and educating on the right processes. If business owners can commit to implementing the software and educating salespeople on best practices and expectations, they should see improved sales results.

3. Businesses are getting worse at providing performance reviews.

Are you asking yourself how to improve sales performance and struggling to find an answer? The problem could be your performance review process. Every employee deserves to know what their leaders expect of them. Withholding that information is unhelpful and prevents you from showing employees how much you value them.

Performance reviews should be quantified, specific, measurable, and written — so they can be used as a benchmark to help employees improve. Our findings, however, show that only 68% of small and midsize businesses provide written performance reviews, which is 10% less than in 2019. This is an area primed for improvement that can make a significant impact on your business.

4. Onboarding and training processes have room for growth.

The onboarding process is a critical time for new employees. It’s also a business owner’s chance to welcome new hires to the family, make sure they have the tactical resources and understand processes that are needed to succeed, and share their company values, products/services, and unique sales proposition. Because 61% of CEOs and sales leaders rate their onboarding efforts poorly, there is a need to think through ways to strengthen the process and take action as soon as possible.

After onboarding comes the integral task of training, which we also found to be lacking all too often. About 92% of companies don’t provide sales training to address the gaps in sales competencies, which means far too many salespeople are not as equipped as they need to be to successfully do their jobs. In the assessment, we ask whether leadership understands these gaps — and why they aren’t providing training to close the gaps. For sales performance to be optimal, sales leaders have to understand where their salespeople are struggling or need support; just hoping their teams get better doesn’t lead to improvement.

5. Sales teams don’t have clearly defined success metrics.

About 79% of respondents said their sales success metrics lack definition. This has countless practical implications because it means most salespeople don’t understand how to hit their goals — or even what those goals are.

Further, 86% of respondents say they don’t know what needs to happen at each step of the sales cycle, indicating that sales reps aren’t taking consistent actions to reach specific objectives. This makes it incredibly difficult to forecast future revenue because businesses cannot gauge the probability of closure at the end of each cycle. Without a clear definition of what needs to be accomplished at each stage, forecasting is a guess rather than a science.

These findings were extremely compelling to our Sales Xceleration team. We’re passionate about helping business leaders overcome obstacles like these — and we work diligently to do so every day, in tangible ways.

When companies don’t have the right incentive compensation structures, we rewrite their compensation structure and strategy and help them communicate those changes to employees. When they lack a documented sales process, we help them create a sales process document and educate their sales teams on it. If their performance reviews or onboarding practices are lacking, we craft the documents and processes necessary to help employees build the skills they need to succeed. And finally, we help them ensure they are using the right tools, leveraging data to report on the right measurements, and putting the right processes in place to drive revenue growth.

It’s our mission to enable small and midsize business leaders to see the big picture. We assess where they need to make operational changes and provide an outsourced sales consultant to each of our clients to help supercharge their sales operations and drive growth. We’re committed to taking a hands-on approach and putting the right processes and tools in place to make our clients successful — and agile — for years to come.

If you’re ready to take the Sales Agility Assessment to find out where your company currently stands — and how to make it stronger to meet whatever comes its way in the future — click here to get started today.