Disappointing sales performance among global companies might have less to do with the economic downturn than with the companies' effectiveness at managing sales opportunities, according to a global survey of business executives released today by Accenture.

When asked to describe the performance of their sales forces, more than one-fourth of respondents (28 percent) said their companies' sales performance was "average," 41 percent said that sales were "good but not outstanding" and 26 percent said that their sales results were "below average."

However, respondents were far more troubled by their companies' effectiveness at managing sales opportunities than by having too few opportunities to pursue.

For instance, only 38 percent of respondents said they believed that their companies were not generating enough leads, yet more than half (55 percent) said they believed that their sales organizations could not adequately analyze leads, and 47 percent reported that leads were often not properly handled.

"The findings suggest companies most effective at qualifying and managing leads are also more effective at customer data management, data analytics and customer insight as well as changing the behaviors of their sales force, than their counterparts," said Eric Gist, a partner in Accenture's Customer Relationship Management service line.

Among organizational changes considered most likely to improve sales performance, refocusing the sales force on high-value customers or opportunities was the top choice, selected by 30 percent of respondents. This was followed closely by better integrating sales and marketing functions (28 percent) and by persuading the sales forces to sell solutions rather than products (23 percent).

Asked to identify technology changes with the most potential value, the majority of respondents (76 percent) said that better tools to capture and analyze customer data would do the most to improve sales.

"These findings also suggest that to take full advantage of market booms and to weather down markets successfully, companies should focus on acquiring, analyzing, drawing insight from and using customer information," said Troy Miller, an associate partner in Accenture's Customer Relationship Management service line. "Companies must continuously generate customer insight and use the learnings to drive sales strategy and sales execution. In addition, companies need to align the skills and behaviors of the sales force and sales managers to enable and sustain the changes required to operationalize the sales strategy."

The survey, conducted for Accenture by the Economist Intelligence Unit in March 2003, entailed querying 178 executives. They represented all geographic regions: 36 percent were from Europe, 26 percent from North America, 24 percent from Asia-Pacific, 14 percent from Latin America and 11 percent from the Middle East and Africa. The survey respondents were from a wide range of industries. For more information, visit www.accenture.com.

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