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Lot’s Of Activity, No Results!

by David Brock on June 12th, 2014

Everyone I encounter is very busy.  Virtually everyone I meet works long hours.  Their schedules are filled with meetings, calls, all sorts of things.  Many people seem to wear their “busyness” as a badge of honor, as if “real business people do a dozen meetings a day, handle 300 emails and make a dozen phone calls.”  They seem to look down on those that don’t.

But then you start looking at the results of those activities.  What outcomes are they producing–whether it’s meeting their quotas, whether it’s developing their people/providing the right leadership and coaching, or anything else.

When we align the activities with the results being produced there’s often a tremendous gap.

As sales people and managers start assessing the gap, usually what happens is they crank up the activity levels–they double the prospecting emails, they double the calls, meetings with the thinking, “More activity produces more results.”  So what happens, who are already crazy busy become hopelessly busy—but still fail to produce results.

I see it all the time, very smart/capable people, hopelessly consumed in activities that don’t produce the desired outcomes.  The issue is activity–but are we doing the right volume of the right activities?

If, according to Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results; then the most insane behaviors must be doing them at higher volumes and greater intensity.

Underlying this problem is that people don’t really understand the structure of their business or what produces the desired results/outcomes.  They don’t understand the cause/effect relationships, consequently, they don’t have a basis for evaluating what the right activities are.

From a sales person’s point of view, the fundamental cause/effect determinant is the sales process.  It’s the understanding that if we execute these things, aligned with the customer executing their buying activities, we produce these results.  Once you have a strong process in place, you have the fundamentals for developing strong deal strategies, a strong pipeline.

Understanding these cause/effect relationships provides the basis for a sales person to close their own performance gaps.  Are we chasing the wrong customers and wrong deals?  Are our close rates too low?  Are our average transaction values too low?  Can we compress our sales cycle?  Are we opportunity starved, do we need to do more prospecting?  Do we need different marketing/demand gen programs?  How do we improve the quality of our execution of the sales process?

Without a strong, relevant sales process, we have no basis for analyzing whether we are doing the right activities in the right volume to produce the desired results.

The same issue goes through the entire organization.  Are first line sales managers investing in the right volume of the right activities?  Do more internal meetings produce better results?  How do we improve the performance of our sales people?  How do we improve the quality of our coaching?  What barriers do we have to helping them improve performance?

At a senior executive level, there are similar issues.  Have our markets/customers changed — or changed the way they buy?  Do we have the right GoToCustomer strategies?  Do we need to reprioritize solution focus?  Do we have the right people, processes, metrics, systems, tools?  Are we investing in the areas that represent the highest potential/profitability–or are we just doing what we’ve already done?  Are we relevant to our customers?  Are we retaining/growing the relationships?  Are we acquiring the right new customers?  Do we have the right business models in place?

Too often, we get so caught up in activities, doing what we’ve always done, but doing it in greater volume, even though it doesn’t produce the results we need.  Momentum and “the way we’ve always done things,” often become the limiters to our success and growth.

Often, all we need to do is hit “Pause,” then take the time to reflect, analyze, reset, re-engage.

  1. This is so true. When I worked as an inside sales rep at HP, shortly after Meg Whitman took the helm, the ‘increase the activity’ mentality was prevalent in the sales force. Despite the fact that few understood the underlying cause/effect relationship at a customer level, lower-level management would simply push for more of the same activity when numbers would come in a bit low. Meg definitely had her work cut out for her. As an outsider looking in now, it seems that perhaps she understands well the common sense approach you’ve written about in this article. Thanks again for yet another excellent reminder.

    • Thanks for the observation Daniel. I think the challenge you outlined at HP is one that I see in too many organizations (and sometimes–shamefully—in my own activity). We all get into “activity” mode. The important thing is to catch ourselves in the act and to correct it. Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation Daniel!

  2. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave, thank you again for an excellent post on stopping the insanity.
    An excellent tool to stop the insanity is the OODA Loop Concept developed by John Boyd, a fighter pilot –
    It is a philosophy developed by a fighter pilot that uses Observation, Orient, Deciding and Acting as a means to understand commercial operations, processes, tactics, strategies and learning processes. The US Marines have incorporated Boyd’s philosophy in their war fighting strategies.

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