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“Playing The Game,” Measuring The Right Things, Measuring Things Right

by David Brock on March 12th, 2020

A great client and I were having a conversation about sales performance. He’s the manager of a high performing sales team–but it hasn’t always been that way.

We were discussing the “before” and “after.”

He characterized the “before” as heavily activity oriented. Each sales person had activity metrics–numbers of prospecting calls, numbers of customer meetings, numbers of proposals, numbers of bathroom breaks—OK, just seeing if you are paying attention.

Everything was measured, coaching focused on making the numbers–the activity numbers, not the goals/outcomes.

For a while that approach was OK, they were making their goals. As goals increased, as the inevitably do, activity levels went up. As it became more difficult to achieve the goals, the need for more activity became the focus of managers and sales people.

Ironically, the sales people became pretty good at meeting their activity goals. Whatever number managers established, sales people would make. They would hit their daily call goals, they would hit their meeting goals, they would hit their monthly proposal goals. But results were declining or becoming much more difficult to achieve.

As my client started diving into the “numbers” and understanding what was happening, he discovered the sales people were playing the game–but not focusing on why the were doing these things or what outcomes they were producing in their activities.

They focused on hitting their daily call number–they were having the right number of conversations, but the conversations weren’t with the right people or establishing need. They were hitting their monthly proposal number, but many of the opportunities were marginally qualified, or opportunities they shouldn’t have been chasing in the first place.

This was a breakthrough finding for my client. He realized they were focusing on the wrong things–or maybe the right things but in the wrong way.

He realized the goals had become doing the activities, not doing the activities in the right way. The subtle difference in perspective became the key to driving the outcomes/results they needed produced.

He shifted his coaching, rather than focusing on the quantity of activities, he focused on what the activities produced. The behaviors of the sales team changed. They focused on the “why” they were doing the activity and “what” they and the customer wanted to achieve.

As you would guess, they started accomplishing a lot more with each activity, and the number of activities needed to achieve their goals dropped tremendously. They still needed to make prospecting calls, they still needed to make a certain number of calls, but that number was based on calls producing an outcome. They still needed to produce a certain number of proposals a month, but that number focused on proposals producing a certain outcome.

Within three months, the dynamics and performance of the sales team changed profoundly. Win rates skyrocketed, average deal size increased by over 30%, sales cycles started reducing. More people were hitting their numbers and achieving quota.

Activity is important for all sales people and managers. But too often, we focus on activity for activity sake, not the results/outcomes these activities are producing. As a result, we drive behaviors focused on the activity and not what the activity produces.

Our people will always “play the game.” We just have to make sure we are asking them to play the game we want them to play.

Afterword: The process we put in place with my client was based on the implementation of our Sales Execution Framework (SEF). For a white paper on the SEF, just reach out.

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample
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  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    Hi Dave, a Gold Standard Post, thanks.

    I have to declare a full 25% of my MBA was spent on Performance Measurement and Management. Like many in Sales management from the 1970’s and 1980’s I was ACTIVITY focussed.
    More sales calls=More sales,
    More Proposals=More Sales.

    However, introduced to Portfolio Measurement and Management, Think Kaplan [but he was one of many] I realised I was attempting to fly using only my altimeter, which explained why we sometimes landed at the wrong airport!

    Since then I have taken thousands of hours refining a portfolio of Measures [sometimes an indicator or a proxy] to Measure and therefore Manage Sales Performance.

    “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” the paraphrase of the saying of Lord Kelvin, a fellow Glaswegian who invented the refrigerator, and degrees absolute.

    I have concluded that Sales Performance has 5 dimensions, thankfully ACTIVITY, and two other CORE measures of SKILLS and KNOWLEDGE. Initially A.S.K. will identify where you have to manage to improve performance.

    Later the secondary dimensions of STRATEGY and ATTITUDE, will become the determining factors.
    Which, leads to the SIXTH Dimension, the Manager.

    How well does the Manager LEAD, direct, coach, support and delegate?

    How much Management Control do they use,
    with whom, how, when and where?

    It will come as no surprise that the same Five Dimensions, but DIFFERENT measures, apply to Sales Managers Activity, Skill, Knowledge, Strategy and Attitude.

    Some thoughts here:

    • As always, well stated Brian! Your comments are always far more profound than the original post.

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