South Africans named best salespeople in the world – here’s why we stand out

 ·17 Feb 2018

A new report by sales software company, Pipedrive, has found that South Africans are currently the best salespeople in the world.

The report was based on metadata collected by Pipedrive on over 70,000 organisations, across 34 different countries and over 10 industries.

“One thing that makes all businesses similar is their use of a process that gets them a customer,” said Timo Rein, CEO of Pipedrive.

“Every company follows some sort of a step-by-step path that has proven successful to them. The way salespeople perform along their chosen process is what makes businesses of different shapes and kinds comparable and therefore becomes the centre point of our analysis.”

In particular, the report tried to answer three questions:

  • How many of their potential prospects salespeople manage to convert to customers?
  • How long it takes them to do it?
  • How hard they need to work for it? (read: how many activities they need to engage in. An activity is any scheduled action e.g. a phone call or meeting)

‘Always Be Closing’

Conversion rate is one of the best indicators of sales skills, and it is key for any salesperson to take a possible sale (or “lead”) and turn it into a sale.

For the second year running, South Africa was named at the top of the conversion rate league table – followed closely by the the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand –  which were the only nations where salespeople are able to close north of 20% of their prospects into customers.

In speaking to a number of South African organisations, Rein said that the high rate of closing did not seem to surprise them.

“They see an unusually straight link between making it in sales and being able to survive,” said Rein.

“This top-three African economy apparently has less of a safety net in the form of welfare and more pressure to succeed. Many people point to a ‘if you don’t kill, you don’t eat’ metaphor. It’s arguably a case of an environment shaping the people operating in it.

“South Africans also have a reputation for directness and an aversion to small talk,” he said.

“They get to the point quickly. When it comes to the sales data, it does seem like South Africans understand the lay of the land far earlier in the sales process, that is, knowing when to ‘step on it,’ and also when to throw in the towel.”

Quickest to ‘yes’

Another factor looked at by Pipedrive was the speed or velocity of revenue coming in. Following the similar pattern from earlier studies, salespeople in Brazil get to ‘yes’ quickest, needing less than 30 days to do so, while South Africa and Chile complete the top three.

“Local Brazilian salespeople are somewhat surprised they lead in this category as Brazilians tend to put a lot of emphasis on being really friendly and conversations often drift to many other areas besides business,” said Rein.

“However, they also recognize that if they’re not the fastest to close, someone else is going to be even friendlier and more pushy and likely will end up winning. Competition is extremely tight and, again, it shapes the way people get things done in sales.”

Leading industries

According to this year’s data, manufacturing records a 31.12% conversion rate – the highest of all the industries and nearly double the average. Trading and construction are runners-up followed by creative industries.

“Manufacturing can be an industry that is complex and labor intensive, where multiple parts often physically move locations, which can be very costly. As this can affect profits, there is a greater need to qualify any deal well ahead of time rather than meet a large volume of unknown prospects,” said Rein.

In contrast if you work in finance, you’re likely to prefer phone calls as your modus operandi – around four to win a deal, he said.

“In software and app development, emails are much more favored. The most lunches are scheduled for those working in health and real estate. The sectors most likely to hold face-to-face meetings are real estate and manufacturing. With the former, the very nature of the business means salespeople must get out and about to view properties and shake hands.”

However Rein cautioned that while it was good to  compare and benchmark, every industry and region is different.

“First, it’s important to understand your own metrics and see how you perform against your historical records,” he said.

“Second, it’s good to ask questions about what and how others are doing, either face-to-face or from research.”

Read: Some companies could be exempt from having to pay SA’s new minimum wage

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