HOW GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION IMPACTS SELLING STYLE AND SALES SUCCESS
Sales leaders who manage nationwide sales organizations know there is a big difference between selling in New York versus North Carolina, and Kansas versus California. In this research report, we examine the impact geographic location has on the personal attributes, attitudes, and actions that influence the productivity of field salespeople. Specifically, we seek to understand the selling styles of salespeople who work in different regions of the country and to quantify their success.
Over one thousand sales professionals completed an extensive 43-question sales persona survey on various subjects, including sales strategy preferences, quota performance history, and a wide variety of questions to better understand their values and personal beliefs. Results from this study are available in two additional research reports, “The Persona of Top Sales Professionals” and “The Differences and Similarities between Men and Women in Sales.”
In this report, we analyze results from 250 business-tobusiness field salespeople who completed the survey. This study group was segmented into four geographic regions resembling a typical sales organization as shown below:
When the research data is analyzed by region, it provides interesting insights on how geographic location impacts selling style and overall success. This information has been grouped into three subject areas. The first subject is career success and orientation, including performance comparisons and what motivates the salespeople. The second is sales strategy, which includes topics such as how the salespeople decide which deals to work on and the relationships they have with customers. The final subject is belief systems, ranging from how members perceive themselves to attitudes about truthfulness and even how competitive they are. The full research report includes all of the following topics while on this page we review selected subjects.
Career Success & Orientation
Previous Year Quota Attainment
Career Average Quota Attainment
Career Advancement Rating
Customer Interaction Strategy
Deal Pursuit Risk
New Account Penetration
Quality of Leads
Handling of Failure
Prospective Customer Perception
Importance of Luck
CAREER SUCCESS & ORIENTATION
Previous Year Quota Attainment
In which region of the country were salespeople most successful last year? At 112 percent of annual average quota attainment, the West region was 24 percent higher than the next closest region. The average for the South region was 92 percent, the Northeast region was 91 percent, and the Midwest region was 86 percent.
Sixty-one percent of salespeople in the West region met or exceeded their quota compared to 52 percent for the South region, 45 percent for the Northeast region, and 44 percent for the Midwest region. There were also far more top performers in the West region as well. Thirty-two percent of salespeople in the West region achieved at least 125 percent of quota compared to 24 percent for the Northeast region, 16 percent for the South region, and 14 percent for the Midwest region.
Some readers may be surprised by the low percentages of field salespeople who achieved their quota last year, but there are logical explanations for this. First, the majority of study participants are involved with selling sophisticated technology-based solutions that require them to penetrate new accounts.
These sales cycles rank among the most difficult to close, particularly when compared to salespeople who sell to existing clients or through channel partners. Second, enterprise sales cycles are complex, as the purchase decision typically involves multiple departments of a company and all levels of the organization (C-level executives, mid-level management, and lower level personnel). Conversely, point-specific purchase decisions are made more quickly by a small number of lower-level decision makers. Finally, these numbers are in line with previous studies I have conducted, where the average annual quota attainment was 52 percent for software salespeople
Average Quota Attainment
Over the course of a career, does selling in one region have an advantage over selling in the others? The average number of years in sales for study participants in the West, South, and Midwest regions was 16. The Northeast region average was 17 years. There was a 15 percent difference in career average quota attainment between the best performing and worst performing regions. The career average was 81 percent for the Northeast region, 79 percent for the West region, 76 percent for the South region, and 66 percent for the Midwest region.
Career Advancement Rating
Study participants were asked to rank their career advancement for last year on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high). In other words, did they feel they successfully moved their career forward to the next level last year? West region salespeople reported the highest average at 7.5, while South and Northeast regions both ranked their year at 6. The Midwest region had the lowest average at 5.5.
The study results also suggest that sales success is associated with a higher level of work fixation. Salespeople were asked what percentage of time they find themselves thinking about work on nights and weekends. The average for the West region was 57 percent; South, 49 percent; Northeast, 45 percent; and Midwest, 44 percent. This order also matches the previous year’s annual quota attainment average from highest to lowest, suggesting there is an association.
Are there regional differences as to why study participants pursued a sales career? Salespeople from each region reported different characteristics when asked to select their career motivation. Midwest reps seek control, Northeast reps aren’t afraid of hard work, and a career in sales was more likely to happen by circumstance for salespeople in the South.
Fifty-one percent of Midwest salespeople selected “I like to control my own destiny” compared to 35 percent of reps in the West, 27 percent in the Northeast, and 22 percent in the South. Forty percent of Northeast salespeople selected “The harder I work the more money I make” compared to 29 percent of South and 25 percent of West and Midwest sales reps.
Only 9 percent of Midwest salespeople selected “It suits my personality,” compared to 27 percent of Northeast, 24 percent of West, and 21 percent of South sales reps did. Conversely, only 6 percent of Northeast salespeople selected “It just happened naturally,” compared to 28 percent of reps from the South, 16 percent from the West and 15 percent from the Midwest did.
CAREER SUCCESS & ORIENTATION
A salesperson’s personality will impact his or her selling style. One aspect of personality is whether someone is more likely to be a short-term practical planner, someone who dreams about the future, or a happy-go-lucky person.
To classify personas, study participants were asked which of three distinct descriptions best described the type of person they are. The top category for the Midwest (64 percent), Northeast (63 percent), and West (60 percent) regions was a practical planner who “Has a written or mental list of things I want to accomplish.”
However, the top selections for South region reps were split evenly between practical planners and future-focused dreamers at 40 percent. The latter type of person “Is frequently thinking what my future will be like in 5, 10, or more years.” Thirty-one percent of salespeople from the West region, 23 percent from the Northeast region, and only 12 percent from the Midwest region selected this statement.
More than any other region, 24 percent of Midwest reps selected the easygoing answer, “Lives my life one day at a time.” Think about this answer for a moment. Sales success requires perseverance, determination, and a goal-focused orientation. One out of four Midwest reps selected this answer, and this may be a key factor in the region’s lowest quota attainment average for the previous year. Conversely, only 9 percent of West region reps (the highest quota attainment average) selected this answer.
A career in sales requires decisiveness. Salespeople have to make continuous decisions about which accounts they will pursue and the strategies they will use to win over the prospective customer.
Sales requires the artful combination of structure and free thinking, process and people, and logic and instinct. Study participants were surveyed to understand the impact of logic and instinct on decision making. They were asked if they base important decisions that impact their life more on logic, more on instincts, or on equal parts logic and instincts.
The top response for all four regions was equal parts logic and instincts, selected by 42 percent of the South, 40 percent of the Midwest and Northeast, and 33 percent of the West. Northeast and Midwest reps were the most logical. Thirty-six percent of each region indicated they used much more or slightly more logic than instincts when making decisions. West region salespeople were the most instinctive, as 43 percent indicated they used much more or slightly more instincts than logic.
At the foundation of all sales is a relationship between people. Great salespeople have an innate talent to build such relationships by creating rapport so that the customer feels at ease and enjoys their company. But the study results indicate there are regional influences in the type of relationship salespeople develop with customers.
West region salespeople develop more intimate relationships and bond more with their clients than the other regions. For example, when asked how they work with their clients, 42 percent of West region salespeople versus 27 percent of Northeast region salespeople selected, “Feel personally responsible and dedicate myself to ensuring my clients’ success.” Twenty-six percent of West region salespeople versus 11 percent of Midwest region salespeople selected, “Develop very close personal relationships with my clients.”
Northeast region salespeople are more likely to have superficial relationships with clients. Thirty-three percent of Northeast salespeople versus 16 percent of West region salespeople indicated they “Have cordial relationships with my clients because we are both very busy.” Twenty-three percent of Northeast reps and 24 percent of Midwest reps indicated they “Keep a general pulse on what’s happening with clients after the sale.” In comparison, only 16 percent of West and 17 percent of South reps made this selection.
Customer Interaction Strategy
The drive to take command of a situation is instrumental to a sales professional’s success. Just as a doctor must sometimes prescribe a painful treatment to heal a patient, in some sales situations, salespeople must control prospective customers to help them. Conversely, at other accounts salespeople must align with the customers’ business strategy and follow their decision-making process explicitly. The concept of “situational dominance” is a personal communication strategy and selling style by which the customer accepts the salesperson’s recommendations and follows his or her advice.
Study participants were asked to select one of three statements as an indicator of their natural level of situational dominance. The highest level situational dominance statement was “Sometimes you have to point out that what customers are doing is wrong and proverbially tell them their baby is ugly.” This statement is based on provocations and confronting the customer’s belief system. Fifty-three percent of the Northeast, 45 percent of the West, and 40 percent of the Midwest regions selected this response, while only 27 percent of the South did.
The medium level situation dominance statement was “Likeability is an important differentiator between myself and my competitors.” Sixty-percent of the South region selected this statement followed by 52 percent of the West, 45 percent of the Midwest, and 40 percent of the Northeast.
The low level situational dominance statement was “Challenging the customer’s point of view can make the customer feel too uncomfortable.” Fifteen percent of the Midwest and 13 percent of the South regions selected this statement. Only 7 percent of the Northeast and 3 percent of the West regions did.
Deal Pursuit Risk
Deal pursuit risk can be defined as a salesperson’s natural propensity to work on certain size deals that is commensurate to his or her appetite for risk. For example, the nature of large deals is that there are great personal rewards for the salesperson who wins the deal. The second characteristic is the complex nature of the large deals. The decision is made over a period of time through a process that involves multiple groups of evaluators and senior level approvers that is typically measured in months. Therefore, it is riskier to pursue large deals.
Conversely, with medium-size deals, the decision is typically made by lower level decision makers and the purchase amount is smaller. They usually occur in a shorter period of time and involve less risk.
Study participants were asked if they would rather pursue a medium-size deal that has a higher probability of closing than pursue a much larger deal with a lower chance of winning. The results indicate the big deal hunters are more likely to be in the West and Northeast regions and least likely to be in the South region. Twenty-six percent of West region salespeople and 23 percent of Northeast region salespeople disagreed with the statement, while only 8 percent of South region salespeople did.
Quality of Leads
Which region’s salespeople receive the best lead generation support from their company? Participants were asked what percentage of leads they received from their company’s marketing efforts they considered viable. The average for the West region was 45 percent; South region, 32 percent; Midwest region, 30 percent; and Northeast region, 25 percent. The results confirm there is a direct correlation between lead quality and performance as the top two regions were the West and South.
New Account Penetration
One of the toughest tasks in all of sales is penetrating new accounts and securing meetings with busy prospective customers. Think about it for a moment: the same people you are trying to reach are continually hounded by your competitors and hundreds of other salespeople at the same time. This raises the question, “On what day of the week do you have the highest probability of receiving a response from a cold call or e-mail?”
The results show that there are regional prospecting preferences. South region salespeople prefer to prospect earlier in the week.Northeast region salespeople like the middle of the week and West region salespeople like Fridays and Wednesdays more than any other region.
Based purely on the metrics presented in this report, one would be hard pressed not to name the West region as the best location for a salesperson to find success, with the South a distant second, followed closely by the Northeast and Midwest right behind. Since more Americans are moving West and South according to the most recent census estimate, this migration might be creating more selling opportunities in the top two regions.
However, each region is a vast territory that consists of big- and small-business cities, along with areas of diverse industry specialization. For example, there’s Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the auto industry, the oil industry, and the entertainment capital in Hollywood, to name a few. The reality is that salespeople can find success throughout the United States.
Perhaps the final answer about the best place to sell should come from the salespeople themselves and how they answered the last survey question: “On a grade of A to F, how would you rate your overall career?” In this regard, the West and Northeast would be tied for first with 59 percent versus 58 percent grading their career as an A, 33 percent as a B, and 8 percent versus 9 percent as a C or below. The South would be next with 38 percent A grades, 58 percent B grades, and only 4 percent C grades or below. Finally, the Midwest ranks at the bottom with 45 percent grading their careers as an A, 36 percent as a B, and an unfortunate 19 percent as a C or below.
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HOW LOCATION IMPACTS SELLING STYLE AND SUCCESS
Velocify® the leading sales acceleration platform has paired up with acclaimed sales expert, Steve W. Martin, to conduct an extensive study to determine how geographic location impacts selling style and sales success. The results might surprise you! Read the Full Research Report
Steve W. Martin
Steve W. Martin is the foremost expert on Sales Linguistics and the Human Nature of Complex Enterprise Sales. He is the author of the "Heavy Hitter" Series of books for Senior Salespeople.
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