New Directions in Sales Performance

salesperson wearing red cape standing on red arrow.

Why do only 25% of sales reps hit quota if every organization thinks they’re training their sales forces well? In this article, we explore why your sales enablement program may not be as effective as you think, and what you can do about it.


Did you know that organizations spend a staggering $66 billion a year on enabling salespeople to sell (across processes, skills, and tools), yet only 25% of sales reps hit their quotas? For many organizations, the first response is to throw money at training their salespeople. However, while training can make salespeople smarter and give them the right skills, it can’t make them take action in the moment. There is a know-do gap between what salespeople are trained to do and what they actually do. Enabling the desired behaviors in the moment requires reinforcement and coaching from sales leaders to ensure that knowledge doesn’t remain stuck in sales reps’ heads and instead gets implemented on the job for increased sales performance.

Where is the $66 billion of sales training dollars going?

If organizations are spending $66 billion on improving sales, but three-quarters of salespeople still fail to hit their quotas, where exactly is this money going, and why isn’t it having the desired effect?

Selling means different things to different people, whether that’s CRM, sales goals, operations, analytics, training, the sales tech stack, compensation, commission, and more. However, the problem is that each of these factors tends to be created at different moments in time by different people, meaning they’re not connected. This complexity creates interference across the sales effort. If all the sales process elements aren’t aligned, it can lead to duplication of effort, mixed messages, or confusion for the sales team and their leaders. In a typical sales team, roughly 20% of the team will be “A-players” or the top performers, while 60% will be “B-players”—solid performers who can be coached, guided, and encouraged to perform better. It’s up to sales leaders to nurture and reinforce A-player behaviors among the B-players to enable them to sell more effectively. Technology is a vital piece of the puzzle to help “move the middle” by focusing efforts on the 60% majority who will benefit the most from sales enablement strategies.

AI-Driven Systems for Sales Enablement

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers. When implemented correctly, AI can help identify areas where salespeople struggle without forcing them to engage in topics they already know well. This ensures that the sales enablement process remains efficient. Salespeople generally prefer to be with clients or do activities related to “selling” rather than spend time on training. AI pushes only relevant bites of information to each salesperson, tailoring it to their existing knowledge, requirements, and experience.

AI can also look at a salesperson’s behaviors and trends, and based on that, it can recommend the best course of action. The AI can learn from the behaviors of A-player salespeople, then make recommendations to the B-players, who may need a little more guidance, and can learn from the best salespeople. However, AI isn’t magic. It’s only as good as the model it’s built upon—AI based on a flawed sales model just means you’re giving your salespeople bad information more efficiently. That’s why it’s crucial to master basic concepts before loading them into your AI-driven system. With the right inputs—including building competencies, confidence, industry savvy, and timing—sales reps will benefit from the “secret sauce” that makes the best salespeople so successful.

Gamification for Sales Readiness

Whenever the question of strategies for sales enablement comes up, one of the first suggestions is usually gamification. There are several definitions of gamification. In this context, gamification is the process of adding game-like elements to a task to encourage participation. It uses psychological elements from game environments to motivate and reinforce behaviors, such as overcoming challenges, positive feedback loops, progress, and stories.

Where organizations tend to go wrong with employing gamification for sales readiness is relying too heavily on points and leaderboards. While the first 10 people on the leaderboard will be highly motivated to maintain their score and climb the ranks, the 100th person will likely feel demotivated.

Another common mistake is gamifying outcomes, not behaviors. “Whoever sells the most wins” isn’t an effective goal. the person who sells the most is already the winner, as they will make the most commission. Instead, where gamification helps is gamifying behaviors based on the actions of top-performing sales reps. For instance, if the top salesperson makes 10 cold calls a week or takes detailed notes about leads in Salesforce, these behaviors should be gamified to reinforce this behavior in others. Finally, gamification works because the world of sales is highly emotional. It’s all about talking to and forming relationships with others, which can take its psychological toll. Changing behaviors in this highly emotional environment can be tricky, but gamification allows people to experience success and failure in a safe environment, meaning they can try out new behaviors with no catastrophic consequences. Humans love progress, receiving recognition for their achievements, and mastering new skills, and gamification is an effective tool for tapping into these basic human drivers to help “move the middle” of the sales pack.

Using the Metaverse for Salesforce Development

Most have heard about the metaverse but don’t understand it or how it applies to them. Firstly, what is the metaverse? Simply put, it is a virtual environment where individuals can interact. Think virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and 3D environments. The metaverse supports fiercely social environments, completely different from most virtual environments, and highly immersive and interactive.

An early example of the metaverse is the online game Second Life. Players can create avatars of themselves and interact with other players from all around the world. The virtual world creates a sense of intimacy not possible in most other virtual environments, as participants feel like they are standing in a “room” face-to-face with their peers. This can be ideal for global sales teams, as members can come together in a virtual space to interact with each other and virtual “customers.” For example, a retailer may host a training session in the metaverse, allowing a salesperson to immerse themselves in the virtual environment. They can wear the uniform, stand in a store, and practice their sales skills with potential customers. While they may not be in a real store, it gives them a much more immersive sense of the experience than role-playing the scenario at head office, and sales leaders can watch the session to offer feedback at the moment.

What does all of this technology mean for sales enablement?

To quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Organizations looking to move the middle of their sales teams and ensure that more than 25% of salespeople hit quota must stop doing the same thing repeatedly and try something different.

The three technologies outlined above—AI-driven systems, gamification, and the metaverse – are great places to start, as long as sales leaders realize that they’re not a magic bullet that will miraculously transform the entire sales team into A-players. These technologies must be integrated into the wider sales strategy and tested carefully to see what’s moving the needle, what’s not resonating, and what is truly driving sales performance in your organization.

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Want a deeper dive into the hottest technologies helping to drive sales performance? hear from an expert panel as they discuss why sales quota attainment is still lagging and technology’s role in operationalizing skill building to increase performance.

Rich Mesch

Rich Mesch has been working in the performance improvement space for over 30 years. An ideator and creator, he works with some of the world’s largest companies to solve business challenges by improving human performance. He is the host of the podcast “Real Impact!”, co-author of the ATD/Wiley book “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook,” and a frequent blogger, conference speaker, and contributor to industry publications. Rich is the VP, Consulting for Performance Development Group.

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