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What The Numbers Mean, Hints For Coaching!

by David Brock on April 9th, 2012

As sales professionals, we’re all very goal directed and measurement oriented.  Managers leverage numbers heavily in managing and coaching performance.  But there’s a fine line in using the numbers appropriately in coaching.  Too often, coaching becomes about the numbers and not about what they mean.  The real secret to effective coaching is understanding is causing the results, getting underneath the numbers.

Most of the time the number are just symptoms of something else–an underlying problem of challenge..  None of us would feel comfortable if a doctor just treated our symptoms, rather than examining and trying to understand what creates those symptoms.  Yet too often, we totally ignore this in coaching our people.

The numbers are just symptoms or alerts.  They tell us that something’s happening, they draw our attention to a potential issue.  As managers and coaches, it’s our responsibility, with our people, to drill down understanding what they mean—what underlies them and what do we need to do about it.

Too often, the coaching goes something like this:

Manager:  “You aren’t hitting you numbers for prospecting calls, what are you going to do to fix that?”

Sales person:  “Make more calls????”

Manager:  “Absolutely, you need to hit your numbers!  Make sure you are making the calls!”

What an enormous waste of time!  What has the sales manager learned in this exchange? What has the sales person learned?  Absolutely nothing, yet the manager can “check the box,” having coached the person.  Too many coaching sessions look like this, with the discussion focusing on the wrong issues.  The manager takes no time to understand what’s going on, why the sales person might not be achieving the goals, what it means, or how to improve the ability of the sales person to meet the goal.  There’s no problem solving with the sales person, no conversation about what might be done, no skills building.  It ends up being a lost opportunity.

It is worse, the manager may not understand why the goal, in this case a certain number prospecting calls, was established in the first place.  The number was established for a reason, presumably a certain number of calls result in a certain number of qualified leads which result in more opportunities in the pipeline, which ……….  But too often,managers and sales people lose this connection, so the number becomes an end in itself, disconnected from why it was established in the first place.

Soon we have sales people and sales managers going through the motions, with no idea about what they mean and why there were established in the first place.

Metrics are important, they help us understand whether we are on target to achieve our goals or not.  For the most part, the numbers aren’t the end–they are indicators of whether we are likely to achieve our goals or not.

For managers, make sure you understand what you are trying to achieve with each metric that you are putting in place.  Understand how they contribute to the numbers that do count, understand how they link and impact each other.  Make sure you can explain explain all of this to your team.  Give them a context to understand what it means and how it fits into the attainment of their overall goals.  Make sure you can understand and diagnose the problems your people might be having in achieving the goals.  It’s important that sales people understand how everything they do contributes to achieving their goals.

In coaching, think of the actual attainment of the metric as in and indicator or alert.  If a person isn’t achieving the metric, it alerts you to looking at what’s happening and why.  You may need to take corrective action.  All of this is a terrific opportunity for coaching and problem solving with your sales people.  Engage the sales person in looking at the issues and diagnosing them.  Make them a part of the process so they understand and own their role in taking the corrective actions.

This process is very powerful–it not only enables you to identify performance issues with your sales people, developing strategies to improve performance, but the process of working with your people in understanding what the numbers mean, gives sales people greater ability to diagnoze and address issues by themselves.

Do you know what the numbers mean?  Are you managing to the number or are you leveraging these alerts in identifying performance issues and working with your people to develop solutions.



  1. Randall Tabor permalink

    Dave: Nice commentary. It seems that all to frequently sales people are saddled with all of the responsibility and managers have all the authority, but no one acts to facillitate the process. It is a useless demand circle. Sales does not exist in a bubble – its own world where they may or may not be effective without regard for anything else. As you mentioned, we all know of the connection of prospecting to leads to opportunities to proposals to closes, etc. What has management or marketing done to identify what an ideal prospect profile is? Is there a list of these prospects as a suspect list somewhere? What is the value proposition for the business type or personality type that is being targeted? Is the sales person (people) alone responsible for innovating all things but without the authority to implement it? If there is no target (list), how can even the best marksman hit the target? A travel map requires not just an ending point (target numbers), but a starting point as well.
    If “people are our most important asset” is really true as many companies write in their values statement, what is being done to maximize the value of that asset across the organization to include sales? Isn’t selling the product or service (closing) just the culmination of all of a company’s activity from the moment the doors open?
    Dave, thanks for your thought leadership.

    • Randall, you’re about to get me onto one of my other soap boxes! Too often, organizations think sales are the sale’s organization’s problem. But withouth the help/support/engagement of the rest of the organization, sales cannot be effective. Identifying our sweet spots, ideal prospects, creating offerings that drive great value, creating and driving rich customer experiences are critical to sales success and engage the entire company.

      Your points illustrate the issues really well. Thanks for the comment and your thought leadership, I really appreciate it.

  2. Cheers David
    Very good point, one would add that the EFFECTIVE numbers may result in measurements, there to analyze and change the strategy if necessary all the time. The sales manager only base on its strategy numbers rather than the impact caused by their strategy on the client or how it can help together with the value you bring in your product or service, then it is a manager who will only have numbers but no results. We need to analyze and adapt the strategy as well as continuously innovate our products.

    Franklin Pena Beras
    HMM 2.0

    • Great ponts Franklin. Too often we done’t drill down and really understand what the numbers mean and their impact on our strategies!

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