With customers in more than 150 countries, you really start wondering:
“How different is sales work around the world?”
With some data and time on our hands, we started looking into it and went on a quest to find the best sales nation in the world.
What we discovered was that we can’t trust stereotypes. For example, Americans simply aren’t the world’s best closers. But that’s not the whole story – we realized that some numbers in isolation can be misleading.
We pulled anonymized meta-data generated by Pipedrive users all across the world about # of deals that were added and closed; # of activities that were initiated and marked complete, and so on – and put it in a really large database. We sliced up the data by country and removed all outliers. What we got was a clean view about the differences in conversion, length of the sales cycle, and levels of activity around the world.
Now come and see how people sell all around the world.
The world’s best closers are South Africans (but it’s not the whole story)
Conversion rate is one of the best indicators of sales skills. And if you only look at conversion rates, a clear winner emerges – South Africa. Runners up include Brazil, Chile, Denmark and Sweden – a surprising combo of fast growing emerging economies and the conservative Nordics.
Worst closers, based on conversion rate? Sales people in Switzerland, Poland, Canada, Russia and… the United States. That’s right, Americans who invented selling as we know it are at the bottom of the conversion list.
Could it be possible? The numbers don’t lie, but we realized that the conversion numbers don’t tell the whole story. To understand what was going on we decided to look whether similar trends would emerge under other metrics as well.
Brazilians get to “YES” quickest
Time is money, which is why we included the average time of closing as one of the proxies for identifying the best sales nation.
Brazilians get to hear “yes” quickest – i.e. they take the least time to close a deal. Runner up positions are taken up by South-Africa and Chile, who were in top 3 positions also in the conversion table. It’s mostly the developing world who follow the top 3, including Mexico, Russia, Colombia and India.
On the other end of the spectrum – countries that are slowest to close – we find mostly European countries with Australia and Canada thrown in the mix. And the Dutch – the great traders throughout history – are the slowest of the slow.
So far, all of our preconceived ideas about who’s great and who’s not seem to be wrong.
Salespeople in Spain have the magic touch
Finally, some sales managers argue that the best indicator of sales skills is efficiency. The more time you spend with one prospect, the less you have for others. So we looked at the average number of activities (calls, emails, meetings, etc.) per each won deal.
A salesperson in Spain needs 3.8 activities per closing – whether they be calls, meetings or emails, with salespeople in Denmark, Netherlands, Estonia, Sweden and South Africa not too far away. On the other end of the scale, we found that a Russian salesman needs 6.11 activities per every closed deal, with Great Britain, Germany, Colombia and United States also all in need of relatively many touches to get to a YES.
Again, we find the hardcore salespeople of Great Britain and the US at the very end of the scale with little context to explain it. However, it’s possible that there is more competition for attention in developed nations so those sales cycles are expected to be more protracted; buyers have more options and have more sales teams competing for their attention.
What does all of this mean?
What we found was that… any sales success indicator in isolation is probably misleading.
It would be a mistake to declare South Africans, Brazilians or Spaniards the best at sales and call it a day. As you probably saw, interesting correlations emerged in the different rankings. Countries that were among the best in one dimension tended to fare well across other dimensions as well.
The countries that were quickest also converted highest (with the exception of Russia).
Overall we found a correlation:
Countries with high conversion rates close deals faster.
Low conversion tends to correlate with lots of activities per deal, and vice versa. Combining three variables, it becomes clear that countries with the highest conversion rates also enjoy the fastest sales cycles and fewest activities needed to complete each deal.
Is this a signal of cultural differences, or is the mix of businesses using Pipedrive just very different from country to country (expensive vs. cheap items, enterprise vs B2C sales, and so on)?
Truth be told, it’s probably a bit of both. The correlations are not so clear that you could explain them simply with big differences in the business mix.
The big reveal – how tough is the life of salespeople around the world?
Salespeople in South Africa, Brazil and Chile seem to have it easiest – well.. at least for Pipedrive users there. USA, Canada, and to an extent the UK, Australia and France, have the toughest conditions – slow, low conversion, and lots of activities per deal.
What this means – generally, for you, and for your team
And this reveals us what we’ve been looking for the entire post – there is no best sales nation. And there’s two sides to this.
The first is to do with the cultural and historical background and differences that have created this situation.
The second is perhaps more important. Admittedly for many of you this will be repeating the ABC, but for others it is something that will make a big-big difference in their day-to-day sales work.
For the 10% (and growing) of salespeople who sell globally – be aware of the sales culture of the country you’re selling to. When you’re selling to the people in US, it’s likely that you’re going to get more NOs and you’re going to have to do a lot of sales activities for the deals you are able to close than in some other countries. If you are one of the people who can adjust really well to different circumstances, try changing your rhythm a bit, and maybe you’ll be more successful.
Don’t judge your own work, nor the work of other salespeople by looking solely at the conversion rate. It differs, surprise-surprise, from industry to industry and from product line to product line. Though it’s general advice and been repeated over and over again, it keeps on staying relevant – look at sales with a more holistic view and you’ll have better chances to improve.
Three tips on how this can benefit you:
1. Try improving your conversion rate as much as you can. Usually, it starts from improving a critical stage-to-stage conversion a little. If you hit the ceiling, look elsewhere to other metrics.
2. Measure the length of your sales cycle. Compare it with others, compare it with the data presented here about your region. Try shortening this cycle, chat with people in your business who close faster. Find out how long they take to move from one step familiar to you to another. If there are people around you who are more successful and have longer cycles, study their work habits, slow down a bit, and see how this works for you.
3. Calculate your number of activities per an average deal that you win. Compare it with the best producers in your company. Are they doing more things with prospects? Are they doing less? Again, try adjusting your work flow, and monitor the results.
PS! The meta-data on the tens of thousands users researched is only representative of the population who are Pipedrive users – people and businesses that love using modern and well-designed web tools (as opposed to old-school companies that love having their software downloaded, and have lots and lots of different menu options and data entry opportunities and bad interface – but it might apply to them as well, who knows).
Nevertheless, it’s probably a useful point of reference anyway – we don’t know anyone else having done research like this.