Friday, September 18, 2015

Measuring Salespeople – Output or Input?

Pardon me while I rant.


One of the original
self-proclaimed experts
I just finished reading an article by a fresh faced, newly minted and self-proclaimed sales expert. Quite frankly, I don’t remember if she called herself a business coach, sales trainer, consultant or something similar, but her message stressed the point of helping salespeople in two ways:

1) Avoid measuring selling activities as these metrics frustrate new salespeople who struggle to get into the rhythm of setting appointments, making follow-up calls and learning about customers.

2) Measure sales output. Things like numbers of orders generated, gross margin and incoming requests for quotes.


I couldn’t believe my eyes. Terrible advice, possibly the worst advice since the neighbor told Noah to
expect a drought. And, the whole thing was prominently published in an online distribution magazine.

Let me explain why I this frustrates me. Coaching salespeople based on their output doesn’t work. Allow me to make a couple of analogies. 

 



If measuring outcomes worked for driving results:

  • Football coaches would simply flash the score of last week’s game and say, “This week let’s score a few more points.” They don’t take that approach. Instead, the coach works on blocking, tackling, passing, play execution and a dozen other activities designed to produce a favorable outcome. The point is, they are focusing on the input to influence the final score.

  • We wouldn’t need to talk to people about diet and exercise. Instead, we would issue them a scale and by weighing themselves enough times they would lose weight. Obviously, you can’t simply wish yourself thin by measuring your weight. Instead, weight loss is driven by input activities. Increase exercise and decrease calories for long enough and the scale’s output will show results.

Sales Managers can stack the deck for success
Focus salespeople on the activities you know will drive longer term success. These activities vary by industry, length of sales cycle and competitive elements in the market.  Most revolve around gathering customer information, interacting with the right customers, positioning for more business in the future and a half dozen other points. Along the way, minor actions become important; things like making appointments, writing proposals and touching the customer build to impact previously mentioned major activities.

Scorecarding
After you’ve thought through the activities key for success, it is crucial to prioritize them. Make sure the sellers know which activities are most important in a time crunch situation. Build a scorecard which allows the salesperson to objectively gage their own work and periodically help them tweak their skills by looking for areas that need fine tuning.

Even experienced salespeople can benefit
Experience often comes
with a pouty face
Experienced sales guys will be very convincing when asked if their manager should measure activities. I often hear a litany of excuses/reasons to leave them alone. Just for giggles, I have included a few common ones:

I have been doing this since the Carter Administration. I know what I am doing, why should I measure and report my activities?
The only issue with this gem is that the world has changed so much many of the things they learned back when Lincoln was a lad are obsolete. The point is it’s not about their experience, it’s about the customer, the rest of the selling team and improving sales process.

Do you want me selling or keeping track of activities?
Another good one. Why are the two mutually exclusive? Many of the activities prescribed will make selling for effective, efficient and profitable.

I should be teaching others my techniques not following yours…
Some sales people rebel against their sales managers. Sometimes this is complete insubordination, other times it is well deserved criticism. If you are a sales manager and you run into this issue, get some objective feedback. And, if you’re requests are justified – stand your ground.

Ah, ranting is good for the soul. I feel better already.


4 comments:

Fred M said...

Frank,

Interesting "rant" and I 100% agree with you on your take about the new "experts" and the evolving style needed by salespeople. Here is a bit of salesperson retort/explanation to your viewpoint. Sometimes a sales managers new better style is not better, or it has been used and dis-guarded many seasons ago and it didn't work than. What us veterans are trying to say is "we know what were doing we will make you millions so don't tinker with me" That scowl on our faces is not a scowl it is a stare. The stare of competition. Salespeople get paid by winning not finishing second. That stare is deep thought on what our competitors will be doing with the next bid and what it will take to win.

I feel better now as well

Fred

Fred M said...

Frank,

Interesting "rant" and I 100% agree with you on your take about the new "experts" and the evolving style needed by salespeople. Here is a bit of salesperson retort/explanation to your viewpoint. Sometimes a sales managers new better style is not better, or it has been used and dis-guarded many seasons ago and it didn't work than. What us veterans are trying to say is "we know what were doing we will make you millions so don't tinker with me" That scowl on our faces is not a scowl it is a stare. The stare of competition. Salespeople get paid by winning not finishing second. That stare is deep thought on what our competitors will be doing with the next bid and what it will take to win.

I feel better now as well

Fred

The Distributor Specialist said...

Fred,
You bring up some great points. I would hope that sales managers would be open to feedback from their teams. However, I am coming off of a meeting with a distributor who has implemented pricing processes and the salespeople were not happy with the whole process. Yet, at the end of a six month start up, the gross margins (and commission levels paid out to the salespeople) were up from 21 to 23 percent. This approach was originally panned by the sales team who felt they knew the market price. It turns out they did not.

Rslaugh said...

By definition you have to have input before you can get meaningful output. Only measuring output is like driving by looking in the rear view mirror to make sure you stayed between the lines.