Sales performance in Australian businesses rated very poor to average, AIM survey finds

Australian businesses are struggling to boost their sales performance, hampered by a lack of focus on customer service skills, a new survey has found.

Forty per cent of businesses felt their business’s overall performance was in need of significant improvement, according to an Australian Institute of Management survey of 966 business professionals.

Of this 40%, almost 75% of business owners believed their company’s sales performance was very poor to average.

This number jumped to 88% when it came to chief executives, but a gap exists between the perception of sales performance in business leaders and their frontline managers.

Only 54% of team leaders, supervisors and frontline managers reported their sales performance was very poor to average, leading to the conclusion that the message that sales need to be lifted isn’t filtering down from the top level decision-makers.

The chief executive of the Victorian branch of AIM, Tony Gleeson, told SmartCompany these businesses have difficulty communicating the aims of the company.

“They have difficulty communicating goals and even communicating the culture of the organisation to staff, as well as the way an organisation wants to react with customers and potential clients,” he says.

“Some businesses are all about selling and want their staff to get the sale and get out, while others want their staff to develop ongoing relationships with customers, but these varying strategies aren’t being understood.”

Despite the dismissal of sales performance of many businesses, only 10% of respondents ranked sales and customer service skills as important to advance their careers.

Gleeson says this reflects the stigma around the word “sales” and the fact it’s not being valued highly in organisations.

“A lot of people see sales as a dirty word and it’s not where they want to go in their career, but everyone sells,” he says.

“Sales is all about relationships… but it’s not valued highly by those outside of sales teams. In organisations where the chief executive takes a leadership role that helps drive a sales culture, but sales is so often misinterpreted.”

Out of the list of 11 skills, sales and customer service came in second last, with business etiquette the only skill to be rated less important. Topping the list of skills was leadership development with 46%, followed by creative thinking and problem solving.

The survey found only 38% of chief executives in Australian companies had sales management experience.

Gleeson says to have a good sales environment, it needs to be approached methodically with strategic plan, and everyone needs a good understanding of products and knowledge of the differences between selling, promotion and knowledge sharing.

“You need to embed a sales culture and reinforce it throughout the entire organisation… In some organisations where a CEO takes a leadership role that helps drive the culture,” he says.

“Often, the number one key person is the receptionist. The receptionist should know the products, what the business is providing and who the best people are to talk to.”

Businesses with sales managers were also found to have better sales performance than those without one.

Almost three quarters of the companies without a sales manager considered their sales management record as poor to moderate, whereas 65% of firms with a sales manager said they were doing well or extremely well.

Gleeson says for small businesses, having a sales manager is crucial to the direction of the company.

“Someone needs to be the manager who can push the strategy and educate the other staff. Someone needs to be the leader or else you end up focusing on something the organisation doesn’t want,” he says.

“Say in a bicycle shop, the sales people might be better at selling tyres and tubes, but never actually sell any bikes, unless there is someone there to give them that direction.”

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