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“Focus On Activity More Than Results”

by David Brock on March 5th, 2018

It’s clear that activity drives results—or at least it should.

We all know that orders and revenue is a trailing metric.  The danger of focusing on end results is that by the time you can report them, it’s too late to do anything about it.  If you focus only on making the number, at the end of the month, quarter, year, you’ve missed it, there are no do overs.  You can only look to recovering in future periods–but then it’s too late, you’ve missed your goal.

As a result, we want to find the leading indicators/activities that produce the results we expect.  We start looking at things like pipeline metrics, meetings, proposals, prospecting calls, and so forth.

We identify these metrics by walking backwards in the buying/selling process.  What are the key activities that drive orders?  What are the activities that drive those prior activities, and so forth up to, how many people/organizations do we need to be engaging to produce our numbers.

It sounds logical, makes sense.  But somehow, too often, we lose the connection between activity, outcomes, results.  Soon we start looking at activity for activity sake–and there is no connection with the results they produce.

Some examples:

  1.  A client insists sales people have at least 3 times coverage on their pipeline.  I ask why he chose 3 times, he said, “That’s the way I’ve always done it.”  When I point out the average win rate across the organization is 22-25% and that he needs 4-5 times coverage to make his number, he blanches.  He’s chosen a good metric but the wrong goal.  Plus, he really needs to look at it individually.  A small number of his people have 40-45% win rates and only need 2-2.5 times coverage.  So he is detracting from their ability to perform, just because he wants to see more deals.  They are at risk of leaving.
  2. Another client says they need 7-9 times coverage, indicating a win rate of 11-14%.  This means the sales people have to maintain unreasonably large funnels and spend huge amounts of time prospecting.  In fact, what’s happening is their win rate is declining further.  I challenge the VP, “What are you doing to focus on improving pipeline quality, win rates, average deal sizes, to free up the time so they can actually manage the deals.
  3. Another client insists on 15 proposals per sales person per week.  I ask why, his response is “If they are doing a lot of proposals, they are likely to close more business.”  The problem is, the sales people are gaming the system, they are sending out unsolicited proposals to hit their number and to prospect.  It’s not improving his results and forces them to be in a pricing discussion, before they even know how they are positioned and what it takes to win.  As you might guess, the percent of proposals that close are very low–but his people are hitting the number.
  4. A different organization mandates 50 prospecting calls per week.  When I ask, “How do you know it’s enough?  How do you know they are calling on the right people?  How do you know they are accomplishing what they should be accomplishing in these calls?”  The problem is the focus became purely the number of calls, they had lost sight of how these calls linked to finding qualified deals, their abilities to close those deals and the ability to achieve their goals.  Over time, the number of weekly calls had been increasing, sales people were gaming the system, making their calls, but not producing the results needed.

I could go on, but you get the point.  Activities are only meaningful when they are done in the context of results that need to be created.  We constantly need to be examining the whole activity chain to see if the activities are producing what’s needed.  We can’t arbitrarily declare activity levels, without understanding their connectivity to the results.  We have to constantly be assessing and re-engineering the activity chain, not seeking more activity, but tilting the numbers in our favor so we are doing the right activities.

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  1. Great post.

    I think of it this way, Dave. In my ROAM model, I suggest managers look at Results vs. Objectives, and focus on areas where reps are lagging compared to better producers in the same company (proving it’s possible to improve in this area).

    When digging into the detail with a rep, I suggest managers start first with Activities (what is the rep doing, how much of each activity, and possibly when and where). If they’re not doing the right stuff, or the right amount of activity, or at the right time or place, that’s the first fix.

    If that still doesn’t produce the right Result, managers need to examine the rep’s Methods, meaning how the rep is performing the Activity (quality measure). Using best practices, known top-producer practices, or what’s taught in training as the benchmark, managers can coach to close the quality of the methodology.

    I’ve found this to be very effective and something that’s not too difficult to get managers’ heads wrapped around.

    Oddly, the toughest piece has often been getting the right dashboards in place to allow for comparison of top vs. middle producers in key metric areas (such as recent historic sales process stage metrics like number of deals per stage and average conversion ratios), since that doesn’t seem to be a standard report in CRM packages. But the data can be culled in other ways, for a while, while that gets scoped, prioritized and built.

  2. Brian MacIver permalink

    If I want a fast result, for credibility, when offering Sales Consultancy, then I always start on ACTIVITY.

    Sales Related Activity increase, WILL increase Sales.

    But, the formula is:
    Activity x Selling Skills X Relevant Knowledge.

    Hence a 3/10 for Skill, times 3/10 knowledge only scores 9/100 or 9% for effectiveness.

    Even if I DOUBLE Sales Activity it will barely move the Results Needle.

    Let’s try with 7/10 Skill with 7/10 Knowledge or approx. 50% for effectiveness. NOW I get ‘bangs for the Buck’ on Activity Management.

    If their current Activity is 5/10, then results are 250/1000 of about 25% Effective.

    If I can change their Sales Activity, through focus, to 7/10 then the Results needle should move to 35% effective.

    or a relatively small change in Activity produced a 40% improvement in results.


    Except to use it you need to:
    Define Revenue Generating Activities,
    Objective evidence of Selling Skills,
    and an accurate Measure of Sales Relevant Knowledge.

    That’s why, so few can use it, or everybody would!

  3. Dave,
    I fully agree with your conclusion. The question is though why sales managers continue trying to manage their business with simplistic ineffective rules of thumb. The first answer that comes to my mind:
    Lack of training.

    • Lack of awareness is certainly one reason, Christian (don’t know what to do, why to do it, or how to do it). I also think poor selection (of managers), unclear expectations, overly-busy schedules with a prioritized focused on developing reps and improving performance, and cultures that foster “faster, harder, longer” thinking and knee-jerk reactions, versus a “diagnose and prescribe” approach to problem-solving and decision-making, all contribute to the problem.

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