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Sales Executive Forum identifies gaps in sales practices

The Center for Sales Innovation at St. Catherine University invited Rich Blakeman, sales vice president for Miller Heiman, Inc., to speak at September’s Sales Executive Forum. Blakeman brought the latest research about what companies are doing demonstrably different in sales leadership to the group, which consists of sales executives from Twin Cities companies and meets monthly on St. Kate's campus. 

Based on an annual study of sales leaders by Miller Heiman, Inc., Blakeman led a discussion around some of the major gaps between those companies identified as 2011 World Class respondents and those that are not.

One gap occurred in a key survey statement that read: “Sales and Marketing are aligned in what our customers want and need.” This statement was found true among 86 percent of World Class companies compared to 33 percent of other responding companies.

A lively discussion focused around the voice of the customer — how important it is to gain a better understanding of customer needs, listening to customer problems and holding people accountable on what they know and share about customers. 

“It’s easy to talk in generalities about our customers, but we need to insist on having real and valid customer data for decision making," Blakeman said. "Hypothetical answers come from hypothetical facts.”

He challenged the group to consider how to close this gap. Ideas from the Sales Executive Forum included:

  • Spending a day in the warehouse or waiting on customers;
  • Conducting customer listening sessions and playing the calls about canceling your product or service;
  • Inviting Marketing into Sales planning meetings
  • Asking customers more questions throughout the process — from concept to sales.

Another large gap identified by the 2011 survey grew out of the statement: “We know why our top performers are successful.”  This statement was valid for 94 percent of World Class companies compared to 38 percent of other respondents. 

Again, Sales Executive Forum members contemplated this gap by sharing their own experiences. One person expressed her reliance on frontline managers to identify sales rep strengths and struggles then coach to fill the gap using best practices. Another individual in a relationship-based sales organization suggested that finding the right personality traits are important in addition to a mix of other sales tools and training. 

Considering both survey gaps, Blakeman asked a pointed question: "If leaders are not looking at what their top performers are doing or understanding customer needs, what are they doing with their time?"

Miller Heiman produces the largest global research study on sales effectiveness – the Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study.

Another session of the Sales Executive Forum will be held on Oct. 14, 2011. Those interested in joining the next session should contact Lynn Schleeter, the director of the Center for Sales Innovation, at

Sep. 22, 2011 by Lynn Schleeter

See also: Business, Leadership