What can sales managers learn from the Olympics?

The Olympics are over, but will your sales managers help their team strive for gold?

When I say sales managers I mean anyone who manages; account managers, new business sales people or desk based telephone sales people.  You may be the owner of a business to whom the sales people report; you are still their sales manager.

So, what can you learn from the Olympics?  In a word: COACHING; a steady, constant, cumulative process that progressively builds performance.

Whenever Olympic competitors are interviewed about their success they rarely say “I” but they do always talk about; the coach and/or the coaching team.  Perhaps it seems odd; a top athlete who has already won Olympic medals looks to someone else to help them perform at the top, but it is a tried and trusted approach.  The same approach can be seen in almost any sport and also other disciplines such as the armed forces that train and practise constantly and the arts where actors, dancers, singers and others also practise and rehearse constantly.  All of this practising, rehearsing, training, etc., is done under the watchful eye of someone who will coach as a means of maximising performance.

Sales people need to be considered in the list those who benefit from structured, regular coaching.  It is not enough to recruit experienced people and assume they will just get on with it.  It is not enough to put people on a training course and assume when they return to the office they will by magic be a different person suddenly able to do things they couldn’t even spell before the course.

The received wisdom from 1,000s of successful sales managers is that their primary role is coaching; working one-on-one and also with the whole team where the sole purpose is to get each individual sales person and the team as a whole to perform better and to be more productive.  Time spent in unnecessary management meetings or pouring over a spreadsheet of last month’s figures is a wasted opportunity.  You owe it to the sales people you employ and the company as a whole to ensure sales management time is proactively focused on performance and productivity as its top priority.

Some things to consider:

  • Allocate 5 hours per month for one-on-one coaching with each individual.  Spend some of this time accompanying your sales people on prospect and customer meetings but also some time across the desk.  The 5 hours per month figure is supported by some independent research conducted in 2014.
  • When managing telephone based sales people spend time sitting at the next desk and/or reviewing recorded calls.  Even with field based staff you should monitor their telephone techniques as well as their face-to-face activities.
  • Allocate a further 5 hours per month for group sessions delivering bite sized training sessions focused on single topics. In your group discussion include reviews of pipeline opportunities and win strategies as well as loss reviews.
  • Create and agree performance measures. Monitor progress towards these and use the results as the basis for coaching to improve future performance.  Every meaningful activity that forms a part of the sales person’s regular work should be a topic for review and coaching; you can get the group to model success for the benefit of the whole team,
  • Do not waste your time, and everyone else’s, by measuring low level activity such as total calls made – the only things that really matter are outputs such as qualified meetings and outcomes such as bids submitted and deals won; these are the meaningful activities that will act as indicators of future performance.
  • So that everyone takes this seriously, work with your HR people to formalise the coaching programme and incorporate it into your regular appraisal process.

Why not use the remains of the summer preparing a new regime to support your sales people through a programme of structured coaching?  Plan a meeting 1st or 2nd September with the whole team to launch the programme so you can really maximise the selling season running up to the end of the year.

First published on LinkedIn Pulse


How can the Sales Manager truly drive business performance?

A good starting point might be a definition of management.  My own simplistic view is that there are broadly three disciplines to consider; leadership, management and supervision.  While leadership and supervision are disciplines that act upon people and can influence their performance I feel strongly that you cannot manage people and that this discipline should be reserved for processes.  Lead your people, manage the processes and if required supervise your people but be aware that reverting to supervision typically means there is a failure in leadership and/or the processes are poorly designed hence they fail to drive the desired behaviours.

Sales management is simply a blend of leadership of the people and management of the processes.  The purpose will be to ensure the company achieves whatever goals and objectives it has set for itself.  In most cases the purpose will be to gain more revenue and probably at an improved margin, but at different times in a company’s life the sales operation may be required to support the achievement of other goals; accessing new markets (business sectors, geographic locations, company size …), introduction of new products or services, or working with new partners being common examples.

The basic model is; the board defines the strategy and the sales manager creates and delivers a plan to realise that strategy.

I have observed many sales managers, through our work helping companies to improve sales & selling performance, and a common behaviour that I see is attempts to ‘manage’ people descending into supervision.  For example, a frequent management tool is to count the number of telephone calls being made hoping it will provide an indicator as to the level of deals that might be done.  Unfortunately, measuring low level activity is rarely a good indicator of performance in terms of what really matters to the business; appointments attended, opportunities identified, bids submitted and the biggy – deals done.

I am a huge fan of Peter Drucker and one of his many observations is worth considering here is :
“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

So what should the sales manager be doing?

There are four things that need to be in place to maximise the chances of a sales operation being successful and the sales manager should ensure they all happen and ideally be fully involved in all of them.  Don’t be tempted to leave most of this to HR as this is abdication and dereliction not delegation.

  • Rigorous recruitment where the purpose is to take only those people who meet the pre-determined criteria for the role.  Don’t just take the best from the people that actually applied; if they are not good enough don’t take them!  Better to have the right person join you a couple of months later than planned than take someone simply to meet an arbitrary date.
  • Thorough on-boarding and induction ensuring the new recruits really understand the business and how it helps your customers; what you do, your value proposition and USPs, objectives & goals, market and competitors.
  • Training to ensure the whole sales team has; a consistent level of selling skills, a thorough understanding of your methods and processes so they can follow them without the need to be supervised plus product & proposition training.
  • Leadership and coaching based on understanding how to help people perform effectively and consistently to meet the company’s targets.

The first three steps should only be required infrequently and will typically be completed over a period of two to four months but step four is at the heart of the role as an on-going process of continual development for the team.  Think sports person; to stay at the top of their game all sports people train continually under the watchful eye of a dedicated coach; this is the primary role of sales management -trainer and coach.

leadership and coaching should account for at least 70% of the sales manager’s time

To make sure the new recruits stand the best chance of being successful it is very important to ensure consistency across all four steps.  Don’t be tempted to paint an inaccurate rosy picture during recruitment as this can lead to new recruits quickly becoming disillusioned when they eventually join and the reality does not match the hype of the interview.  During the interview process ensure the candidates understand what will happen if they join.  The key here is; no surprises!

The answer to the question; what should the sales manager be doing, is laid out in the four steps above and of these leadership and coaching should account for at least 70% of the sales manager’s time.  Sitting in offices pouring over spread sheets, attending interminable internal meetings will not help the sales people sell more.  Time spent crying over last month’s poor results would be better spent in the office or the field helping the sales people to close more deals for this month and further into the future.

I have heard it argued that sales managers have to spend time on their role as part of the senior management team or, if they have been given the title of sales director, in the board room.  This won’t make me popular but I feel strongly that sales should be led by managers not directors so there is no need to spend time in the boardroom.  As for senior management meetings; I would have thought a couple of hours per month would be perfectly adequate so that shouldn’t distract the sales manager too much either.

The purpose of employing a sales manager should be laser focused on ensuring sales people sell more and if they do not, then it could be argued that the sales manager is just an overhead.

I would summarise the role of the sales manager as follows:

  • Develop a sales and selling plan to deliver company strategy
  • Put in place metrics based on KPIs, that are totally relevant to achieving the strategy, which provide a simple performance dash board indicating progress of the team as a whole and the individual team members.  A CRM will help with this but make sure the system is a slave to the sales process not the other way around
  • Set relevant achievable targets and compensation plans to match
  • When new people are joining the sales team to take a full and active part in the recruitment, induction and on-boarding of new people
  • At all times lead the people
  • At all times focus on developing the capabilities of the people through training and coaching
  • Hold regular sales meetings where the primary focus is contacts and opportunities and identifying obstacles to overcome and strategies to apply, and sharing success stories; another approach to developing the skills
  • Meet all sales people 1-to-1 at least every month.  Ensure the meetings are genuinely 1-to-1 as it is only too easy to slip into a 1-to-0 where the sales manger does all the talking and telling and the sales person receives a ritual telling off rather than something constructive that they can learn from
  • Accompany all sales people on sales calls at all stages of the sales cycle over a period of time.  The purpose is to observe live situations which provides real opportunities to coach and may also identify areas where additional training may be required.  A typical pattern with an established sales team might involve a day a month with each sales person with the objective of attending two or three appointments
  • Manage the process not the people; coach the people in the process as necessary

Sales Manager should be a dedicated role but if the team is small it may have to be a part-time role.  This is not ideal but if it is necessary then it must be done properly and the key thing is to ensure sales management is the primary not the secondary activity.  Also be aware that the prime discipline of the person undertaking the part-time sales manager role will leak into their sales management approach.  For example, an accountant will focus on historical numbers and at certain times; month end, year end, vat return time; the accountant role will dominate – they will be of little value in training or coaching the sales people who will also only get sporadic management.

The founder/owner/MD as sales manager

In many ways this is simply a special case of the part-time manager but it comes with additional issues.  It is not unusual that the person at the head of the company has previously been the selling resource for the organisation.  This is especially true for smaller companies, or where the founder is still active in a larger business.  I would be very rich if I had £10 for every time I have been told something along the lines of “I am the greatest sales person and if only they were half as good as me …”.  This is well described as Founder Syndrome or even better the more comical version is Founderitis.

The problem is that as the founder or MD you engage in sales activities as the founder or MD not as a bag carrying sales person.  You come with all sorts of advantages arising from your position and title that gives you unfair advantage over the sales people.  Try getting some visiting cards printed with the title Sales Representative, rather than MD, and walk in the shoes of a sales person for a month – let me know how you get on 🙂 BTW, when I say walk in their shoes I mean the whole job; cold calling on the phone to make appointments, wrestling with the CRM, suffering lack of resource from the technical team, marketing or pre-sales support, etc.

Consider different selling roles

There are two primary selling roles to consider; hunters and farmers.  Typically the hunters , will be professional new business sales people whereas the farmers will be account managers who may have a professional selling background but may also come from a different discipline such as accountant, architect, project management or customer services.  It is also quite common these days that a single person could perform both roles; hunter/farmer.

While the overall philosophy of managing people will apply in all scenarios it is important for the manager to appreciate the potential for different needs and motivations of the different people.  While hunters will generally be totally focused on finding and winning new business, account managers may have additional responsibilities so managing them will need to take account of their multiple responsibilities and a balance must be struck between different objectives.

If sales management has to be part-time do it properly.

If you have such a small team that you cannot sustain the overhead of a full time sales manager and part-time seems to be your only option then consider employing a part-time manager from outside rather than resource sharing internally.

This option means you will get a fully experienced sales manager who comes with all the essential skills and experience outlined above so you get 100% effective sales management during the time they are focused on the role; more than you could expect from the accountant or MD.

I can guess you may be thinking at this point; Shipperlee is a consultant, so this is a case of the butcher saying buy more meat.  Think that if you wish but then think about all the other business functions that you outsource either because you don’t have a full time need or because you want to time share a larger pool of skills and knowledge.


Target setting aligned to business objectives

Setting sales targets – a view from management and from the sales team

Sales targets are expressed in a variety of ways with common examples being; revenue, margin or number of units sold.  Targets may be set at the point that an order is taken, when the product has been delivered or the service has commenced or even when the customer pays.

Targets should be set taking account of any factors that could distort actual performance such as seasonality.  The setting of targets should also allow for anomalies such as special offers that may be made after the targets have been set.  We look at both issues in the accompanying article on compensation schemes.

Simplistically, the sum of the sales targets held by individual sales people should equal the amount of business the company wants to acquire through sales in a particular period and typically a trading year.  In a business where customers have an ongoing relationship and pay fees on a regular basis such as for an outsourced service, the target will often be in two main parts; business from continuing contracts and business from new contracts.  The role of maintaining existing relationships and finding new customers may be undertaken by separate teams or it may be a shared role and in the latter case the sales person will normally carry two targets for; continuing business and new.  Where continuing business is part of the mix targets may be applied to maintaining the level of existing business or it may require the sales person to grow it.

Approaches to setting targets

Let’s consider a simple example of a sales team of four people working for a company that wants to grow from current revenue of £3m to £4m over a 12 month period.  If the company has no annuity revenue, as it only supplies products, the whole £4m will have to come from new orders won by the sales people in the 12 month period.  If on the other hand the company does have annuity revenue and of the £3m revenue, £2m is ongoing maintenance contracts then the task for this year is to find £2m extra revenue.  In both cases consideration must be given to whether the sales team have the capacity to find and sell either the £2m or £4m and whether all the support facilities are in place; marketing, lead generation, pre-sales support, technical support, manufacturing & delivery capacity, etc.

Making targets meaningful

I work with a lot of sales teams and a common feeling is that targets are set arbitrarily, by taking the overall target the board has set for the business and dividing that by the number of sales people.  In the simple example above, the company has four sales people who achieved revenue of £3m last year and the same four people will now be required to achieve £4m.  Unless there has been some significant change e.g. better products, it is difficult to see how the fixed sales capacity can achieve an increase of 33%.

This approach invariably leaves sales people demotivated as they feel they are likely to be blamed for any failure to achieve the new target.

There is no point setting unachievable targets, in fact it is dangerous.  The target will usually be the bottom line of the budget so there will be other dependencies within the budget on achievement of the target and in particular expenditure commitments.  So, for example, if a business is planning to take on additional space to cope with the additional work the cost of the space will be committed and incurred before the company knows whether the sales team can achieve the target.

A safer and more meaningful approach to target creation is to work it bottom up, so continuing with our example:

  • Last year the four sales people achieved £3m and the company thinks they can achieve the same this year plus 3% from an already agreed price increase = £90,000
  • A new product will be launched that will increase the value of some orders resulting in an uplift of £120,000. This will feed into the KPIs around which targets can be set.
  • A new re-seller partner has been recruited who is forecasting to sell £250,000

So the above suggests the existing sales team plus the new re-seller partner will produce £3.46m of sales in the year, of which £3.21m  will be down to the in-house sales team.  So logic suggests the budget and targets should be built bottom up from the projected revenue and reflect where emphasis needs to be given, e.g. new product sales to existing customers, contract renewals, …  If the individual sales targets are now determined from this logical approach the company is more likely to achieve its goals and the sales people will understand their individual targets so they are more likely to feel committed and motivated to pursue them.  Rational target setting also supports the sales manager as they work with the sales people in their efforts to achieve them.

If the example company really wants to grow to £4.0m they need to carefully consider how they can achieve it, e.g. budget for additional sales resource, but if they are only just thinking about this as the year is starting they need to allow for the time required to recruit and get the person up to operational speed.  They would also need to consider the fact that the new re-seller is an unknown quantity so may not produce what they have forecast to do.

Having set targets, we now need to consider how to incentivise the sales team to achieve and exceed those targets.

Radar screen

Are subtle changes slipping under your radar?

Are you like the frog in boiling water?

It is said that a frog in water, that is slowly heated, will not notice the effect of the warming and will get to a point where the heat makes it impossible for it to escape from the water.  On the other hand if you drop the frog into the already heated water, it will react immediately and do everything it can to climb out.  We quote this idea as it is commonly used by business commentators and observers rather than as an exact reference to actual medical experimentation done in the 1800s.

The point of our little story is to draw a parallel with what can happen in a business where small changes increase the “temperature” progressively making things too hot.

Common things that can happen in any business to “make the water feel hotter” are:

  • Costs slowly increasing over time tend not to be noticed
  • Revenue growing more slowly than planned
  • Margins slipping over time as discounting is used to bolster flagging revenue
  • New competitors arrive shrinking the appeal of your established solutions
  • Bad publicity damaging public perception of your industry

This slow and insidious process eventually makes the water so hot that it becomes increasingly difficult for the business (the frog in our story) to climb out.  Where ever you look there seems to be a source of heat making it difficult to decide where to start to dampen the fires.

One way to go about tackling this problem is to look back at changes you have made in recent years to see if there may be clues to the cause of current issues.  Many businesses were forced into actions by the economic turmoil that commenced in 2008 so that might be a good place to start looking.

To assist this journey of exploration we have shared a few of the typical heat sources that we see in businesses that we work with:

  • If you had cut investment in marketing and selling, but have yet to return to your pre-recession levels, this could contribute to slow revenue growth.  Also the focus of the investment may need to change so explore both the level of spend and where the money is going.
  • If, as many businesses did, you cut recruitment budgets you may now be missing some skills that the business needs to address the 2014/15 business environment which is quite different to that which prevailed in 2008.
  • A lot of companies have outsourced HR and recruitment and while that might have been the correct decision then, and it may still be correct now, you should investigate how much is now controlled outside the business.  Outsourcing the administrative areas of these functions is probably still a good thing but you should still own your staffing strategy in-house.  The subject of bringing services back on-shore and/or back in-house has received growing media coverage in recent years and just this week the BBC News had an item on “Re-shoring”.
  • Training is another area where budget cuts are often used as a survival mechanism but this can evolve into an entrenched habit of spending little or nothing on training and development.  Investing in the continual development of your staff is a sure way to keep the business sharp and strong.
  • If you have flattened your hierarchy and cut back on management headcount, if those that remain no longer have time to develop and coach their direct reports it will almost certainly be having a negative impact on the overall performance of the business.

It will not have slipped your notice that some of these steps will involve additional expenditure. Many businesses used cost cutting to survive the early ravages of the recession but cost cutting is just a survival strategy so to thrive, the business will need to return to spending on key areas that can leverage healthy growth.

While we would not recommend chasing the latest business fad or fashion we would also suggest that putting faith in if it ain’t broke don’t fix it is not a great formula for success either; after all, the steam engine ain’t broke, but it ain’t competitive neither.  Consider a mix of; keeping what is working well and is relevant, repair & overhaul where required, and upgrade or add new where there are gaps.

So; how do you decide what to change in your business?

All business functions and practices benefit from a regular review and if required overhaul; not as a reaction to an external force but as a calculated assessment of the return being gained from the activity and how that might be changing over time.

This process of review and assessment should be applied both at project level and at least once per year for the business as a whole.  In a recent article we talked about a zero based approach  where you question everything you are doing and ask; is this still necessary and if it is then can it be done more effectively?  If there are factors in your business “making the water too hot” then by zero basing everything it will help you to identify what needs to be changed and how.

Two areas where there have been significant changes since 2008 are marketing and selling.

  • The world of marketing now provides many new options to raise awareness and pique interest in the minds of those who might one day become a customer for you.  While this is of course good, the wealth of marketing choice available today makes careful planning all the more important.
  • The world of selling has been impacted by two opposing forces.
    • Firstly, courtesy of the Internet and Social Media, potential customers apparently have access to a plethora of information leading some to believe that they will make much of the journey to a buying decision without directly engaging with potential suppliers.  So, this means sales people need to be savvier about the prospects’ business issues and they need to be more courageous ensuring they proactively engage with prospects early in the buying cycle.  To do this they need to be able to focus on true prospects, understanding why customers really buy from them.
    • The second and opposing force is that the availability of fully qualified professional sales people has been dwindling for many years and this has been compounded by savage cuts in training and development budgets since 2008.  Gone are the days when it was a sellers’ market, the skills of a true sales professional are once more essential if the supplier is to succeed with the discerning buyer.

One of the things you may need to do differently is to put in place the means to grow your own sales and selling talent.

Through the quality manager’s eyes

When I write an article or a blog or make a comment on a LinkedIn discussion I always come at it from my area of expertise which is sales, selling and marketing.  So we thought it might be refreshing to provide a different perspective to the issue.

SPC Control Chart

Identifying Randomness

Di Woodcock, co-founder of Performative, was attending a recent meeting of the Chartered Quality Institute in which the subject of decision making was looked at through the eyes of sales management.  One very important conclusion drawn was that when actions don’t always produce the desired effect, maybe the basis for the decision was flawed, especially if the choice of action misconstrued fluctuations in results and outcomes as something more than a one-off.  Statistical Process Control is not just for manufacturing, it can be valuable for all aspects of business; the use of visual trend analysis based on what actually happens in the business helps you to avoid reacting to randomness by providing statistical evidence of your KPIs to support your decision making.

BTW No frogs were injured in the making of this blog!

Sales Performance Improvement

When something is not right, the pain points we recognise first and seek to address are often only symptoms.

  • Are the sales team are struggling to meet their targets?
  • In the search for new customers are marketing initiatives generating the response you need?
  • Do you find sales training effects are short-lived or negligible?
  • Do the new sales people you recruited live up to their promise?
  • Are you losing more deals to your competitors?

Individual symptoms, addressed in isolation can give short term relief but rarely provide a lasting result.

Performative recognises that while a remedy for the immediate pain is a priority, a holistic approach, diagnosing the root causes of under-performance would enable them to be addressed in the most appropriate sequence to assure sustainable improvement.

So how will it feel once we have completed a programme for you …

  • Customers will be happy and communicative at multiple levels, giving you advance warning of upcoming opportunities.
  • Your senior management will be able to identify and focus on strategic activities.
  • Sales management will have the tools to be in control, avoiding unpleasant surprises.
  • The sales team will be motivated and operating in harmony with the business goals.

arising from …

  • Your proposition, target markets, routes to market and collateral will be consistent and your outbound sales and marketing activities will be sharply focused.
  • You will have a defined end-to-end process from the initial identification of targets through the evolutionary cycle from suspect to prospect and eventually to customer, resulting in more closed deals.
  • Contacts and opportunities with least potential will be weeded out early; sales activity will be focused on contacts with the greatest potential.
  • Your staff will be fully familiar with the process and supporting tools, and understand the methodology sufficiently to immediately adapt to varying scenarios and customer needs.
  • Key customer account and new business activities will be balanced to achieve your business goals.
  • Your pipeline will be a known quantity, providing objective measures of business potential.
  • The pipeline will provide meaningful KPIs giving advance warnings of problems.

“Performative have unquestionably helped us to become better focused and more structured in all aspects of our selling activities. This has enabled us to accelerate the growth of the company with certainty which is a great foundation for planning and investing in our future.  Throughout the period of involvement with Performative we have found them very supportive and responsive and they have provided advice on a diverse range of topics. They are a great partner to have. “

If this is how you’d like your organisation to be, contact us now!

time allocation to team members

Challenges of the Sales Leader

The Executive as Sales Manager:

This is specifically focused on the executive, who does not have a sales background but who does have to manage the sales and selling functions of the business. This is a typical scenario for many owner managers but is also the position when someone from a different discipline, for example the FD, assumes responsibility for the sales and selling operations. One obvious thing to observe about this person is that as well as managing sales they will also have another job to do as well; CEO, MD, FD, etc.

A principle that we have long subscribed to is that you can lead or supervise people but you can only manage processes. Attempts to “manage” people typically descend into supervision and this in turn tends to focus on monitoring the quantity of activity whereas what matters is the quality and value of the outcomes achieved by the activity. Good sales managers know this and spend most of their time training and coaching their sales people to achieve better outcomes rather than supervising them to produce higher volumes of activity.

The key to effective leadership of any sales operation, regardless of whether the leader is experienced in sales and selling, is to have in place a well-defined sales methodology and a complete set of associated selling processes. The methodology represents the go-to-market strategy while the processes are the tactics used to implement that strategy.


allocate time to each

Make time for coaching individuals and the whole team

The processes define the stages and gates that need to be followed throughout the lifecycle which sees a suspect become a prospect, then a customer, then a user and eventually an advocate. The processes ensure there are standard outputs from the mundane routine parts of the job. Those outputs must benefit both the company and the sales person. The sales people need to be trained in the use of the processes and progress is then easily monitored by observing how potential deals move through the stages of the process.  Such movement should be driven by adherence to the “rules” of the processes. This removes the need for the executive to try to manage (in fact supervise) every individual action and item of activity by every sales person – now, management can focus on exploring the exceptions.

Because the executive will be wearing a number of hats, it is important to allocate regular time slots throughout the week which are reserved exclusively for managing the sales and selling functions.

Here are a few tips to guide the executive as sales manager:

  • Design the commission plan to encourage the behaviour and results required to meet the business goals.
  • Create a sales methodology and associated selling processes.
  • Communicate these to the sales people ensuring they understand why they are expected to follow them.  The objective is to create an environment which permits intelligent adaptation within a defined environment.
  • Induct new people and train existing people into the methodology and processes
  • Reinforce this by managing people via the processes – make your expectations clear and consistent, e.g. if you ask for weekly reports, ensure you read them and respond.  Be alert to anomalies which may indicate coaching is needed.
  • Monitor progress through a dash board consisting of a few KPIs, pay attention to the exceptions and act on them.
  • Set aside regular times when you are in sales manager mode and publish these
  • Make time to coach individual sales people
  • Make time to visit prospects and customers with sales people, not on your own
  • Have a sales meeting with the whole team at least once per month – discussing account issues and tactics helps everyone learn
  • Speak to each individual sales person regularly and if they are remote do this by phone
  • If you feel you cannot do any of the previous points then bring in help, either a dedicated sales manager or part-time interim assistance to cover specific areas for you.

Sales Force Effectiveness

In a recent survey “60% of Chief Sales Officers (CSOs) reported that, their number one priority was to improve Sales Effectiveness” according to Alinean.com and in a recent report by Deloitte “In 2012, only 50 per cent of respondents indicated they were happy with sales productivity”.

The cost of field sales is rising as is the overall competitive landscape so companies whose business model is reliant on face to face selling are now looking to move from what has been historically viewed as an ‘art’ form, reliant on intuition and personality, into a process where the inputs and outcomes are understood and reproducible, this approach is commonly known as ‘Sales Force Effectiveness’ (SFE). In the world of acronyms, other terms often used in the same sentence as SFE are Sales Performance Management (SPM) and Sales Force Automation (SFA); an overview of these terms is given below before exploring SFE.

Gartner describes SFE as ‘The focus on the tasks and processes of selling’ – the individual tasks and activities a salesperson uses to develop opportunities which are supported through SFE applications and tools. SFE tools should help both managers and sales people optimise and improve the impact of their behaviours on the outcomes in the sales cycle. SPM and SFA form part of the SFE tools.

SPM is the marrying of activity data with business improvement processes in order to drive sales effectiveness. At its core, and the focus of most tools, is the practice of incentive compensation management. SPM is often combined with other tools/approaches, such as activity management, customer focus, territory & quota management, analytics, and coaching.

SFA is used interchangeably with CRM; however, CRM does not necessarily imply automation/focus on sales tasks. In reality there are few if any SFA vendors left and SFA has been consumed within CRM offerings.

Other tools/ areas which should be included within SFE include: Pricing, Territory Management, Sales Training/Coaching, Reporting/Analytics and CRM.

One of the biggest historical challenges in sales management is that many decisions and actions, including investing in tools and training, are made without a clear understanding of their expected impact and how the tools will help achieve this.

Remember you cannot manage the outcome only the input.

SFE Framework: a suggested methodology to start an SFA project

SFE Framework: a suggested methodology to start an SFA project


It is the author’s experience that despite the move towards the appliance of science, many organisations miss out a diagnostic phase either because of a lack of data or because historically frameworks and methodologies were not readily available, yet undertaking a fact based diagnosis is crucial to the overall success of any SFE project. By example, if you do not know current customer coverage and the impact of that coverage how can you determine if this is important and if so at what level.

Example: A bank’s Mortgage Sales team calling on ‘introducers’; the introducers were graded A-F based on revenue. We compared contact rate against revenue and the results showed that if the introducer was not seen at least 6 times in a 12 month period the probability of down trading rose by 50%, however if they were seen more than 15 times there was no probability of up trading. Before the insight, contact with introducers ranged from 0-60 times per annum. Based on this the strategy and KPIs became easy to identify and action.


After analysing the inputs and outcomes from 11 million field sales visits across 9 countries and many industries including Financial Services, FMCG and Pharma we have only seen 6 basic strategy choices/levers (6 Ps) that managers can execute:

  • Productivity
  • Performance
  • Prioritisation
  • Product
  • Place
  • Process

Which choices you focus on is based on which underlying challenge your organisation is trying to address, identified from the diagnosis.

A basic formula which breaks the key behaviours into drivers of sales revenue

A basic formula which breaks the key behaviours into drivers of sales revenue

Metrics/Behavioural KPIs


Many sales leaders do sales forecasts based on last year’s performance, plus the growth rate envisaged by the CEO, the reality is as directors and managers the only things we can manage is the activity, focus and behaviours of our field sales teams, and it is these activities and behaviours that will ultimately lead to revenue.

The chosen KPIs should let us know how we are doing in managing the chosen inputs in a time frame that lets managers manage, influence and change. We have identified 36 main KPIs which relate to the 6Ps.

The validity and timing of the KPIs are also crucial and where many organisations fail, the input data from the field needs to be quantitative and in real time, if you are measuring prospect calls, if you get the number on a Friday you cannot get the week back to try again! Choosing the right tool for sales management is critical, often companies try to repurpose CRM but this focusses on qualitative data and with a significant time lag.

Below are 2 examples within SFE which use data/information to drive performance improvements.

Example 1: Company 1 used to take 6 months to identify sales people who were failing, and often at this point they had ‘gone native’ so had to be let go, losing 6 months of sales effort plus salary and recruitment costs. Analysis showed that the best predictor of sales success was behavioural KPIs i.e. what and how much they did, and these behaviours were set in the first 10 days if not challenged. By using real time field reporting to diagnose failing sales people, the company could and did intervene and reduced failure rates and increased sales.

Example 2: Company 2 identified that typical account coverage of allocated customers was <50% and the customers that had not been contacted were key customer groups. It was decided to allocate sales resources as follows across each 12 week cycle: Top 20% customers by value, Top 20% customers by growth, Top 20% customer fallers, 20% equivalent of prospect calls and 20% equivalent of free choice by the salesman. Each salesman used a field reporting tool and each night they were provided with summary metrics and details of outstanding customer calls. Within one cycle, coverage had exceeded 90% and revenues grew by >20%.Example 1: Company 1 used to take 6 months to identify sales people who were failing, and often at this point they had ‘gone native’ so had to be let go, losing 6 months of sales effort plus salary and recruitment costs. Analysis showed that the best predictor of sales success was behavioural KPIs i.e. what and how much they did, and these behaviours were set in the first 10 days if not challenged. By using real time field reporting to diagnose failing sales people, the company could and did intervene and reduced failure rates and increased sales.


The actions that can be taken within an SFE framework draw from the range of existing interventions such as training/coaching, territory planning to name a few of the more popular ones, the difference comes from application of the diagnostic phase and the definition of success and associated KPIs. Using the old adage, what gets measured gets done!

Data from i-snapshot shows a high correlation between the use of i-snapshot, as measured by system access time and frequency by a sales manager, and the improvement in the performance of his team.


The choice of tools should be the final decision in implementing SFE, the tool should be selected against a clear understanding of the data they can/will produce and how managers will use that data to drive performance. There is not one single tool in SFE but a range of tools depending on the outcome of the investigation process, key areas and sample tools for those areas include:

Alan Timothy; focuses on the science of sales

Alan Timothy; focuses on the science of sales


Article kindly provided by guest author Alan Timothy of  i-snapshot for our February 2013 newsletter.

Choosing metrics to manage performance

If you cannot measure you cannot manage but if you measure the wrong things you will manage the wrong things.

In a previous newsletter we wrote an article “Pipeline or a pipedream – they may be in your pipeline, but are you in theirs?”  Distilling this to our key message is; when measuring progress in selling situations, what matters is where you are in the prospect’s buying cycle not where you are in your selling cycle.  Sorry to be blunt but; it does not matter where you think you are, only the prospect’s view matters in this regard – they actually KNOW where they are which is of course also where you need to be!  A key role therefore for sales people is influencing the prospect’s buying process but this is a topic for another day.

Meaningful, not just available

Meaningful, not just available

If you accept the premise that position within the prospect’s buying cycle is what matters then you must build your performance measurement system around it.  You must measure the progress being made by your company and your proposal as the prospect moves towards the point of decision.  Once you are using metrics that tell you where you are in the prospect’s buying cycle you have the means to proactively change the outcome and manage your performance.

I have seen many useless metrics in my time but by applying the following three simple rules you will avoid the trap of meaningless metrics:

  • They must measure progress (forward movement) not just activity
  • Rather than just measuring how busy people are they must measure productivity
  • If you consider a sales process has; inputs, outputs and outcomes, your metrics should mainly focus on measuring the outcomes if you really want to know where you are positioned.

Consider some examples of common metrics:

  • The number of times a tele-sales person picks up the phone.  Were they able to gather useful business information, or were they chatting with a mate (because they think you want to see them on the phone)?  This is just measuring activity and is only an input to the process – it tells us little of any value.  Consider instead measuring how many meetings resulted from the calling that then led to a follow up action – you are now measuring; productivity, progress and position.
  • The number of meetings attended.  Again, this is still just measuring activity so for it to become useful you need to measure the outcomes from the meetings rather than how many there were; e.g. how many led to a follow up action.  Also ask yourself; how much time and expense did the trip consume and did the prospect gain a positive impression of us and our capabilities? If the meeting leaves the prospect underwhelmed, it has probably done more harm than good.
  • The number of proposals sent out.  This is very useful if the prospects wanted the proposals but if they were triggered by an arbitrary stage in your selling cycle it is usually a waste of time and will probably do more harm than good.  You need to ask yourself “Does the proposal address a time-bound need that the prospect has and does it present a value-based solution which would trigger them to act?”

You will observe an emerging trend here that for metrics to be of value they must shine a light on where you are going rather than just providing a dialogue on where you have been.  Consider the simple test that good metrics will inform you about your; productivity, progress and position.

Feel free to contact us for a more detailed discussion.

Characteristics of useful metrics

They must:

  • Be qualitative not just quantitative e.g. the number of calls made should be replaced by the number of qualified appointments (that meet pre-determined criteria for an appointment) created from the calling activity.
  • Inform you as to the likely outcome from the current event
  • Provide a contiguous journey through the prospect’s buying cycle
  • Deliver accurate information about timings such as; when the decision will be made
  • Provide you with a reliable forecast of future business
  • Provide information on useful conversion ratios e.g. meetings leading to a next action, or conversations : appointments : proposals : orders (CAPO)
  • Be based on a company designated system rather than the whim of an individual sales person
  • Inform you about your; productivity, progress and position
  • Give you early indication when things are not going to plan.

If your current approach to metrics isn’t helping you to manage performance why not try some of these ideas for a fresh approach.  Happy to talk on the phone if you have anything specific to discuss.

Sales Management – do you lead, manage or supervise?

Leadership, management and supervision; each has its place, in controlling and driving the selling function in a business.  We have observed many real world situations and our high level view is that you can lead or supervision people but management is only really suited to controlling processes.  For an example we have considered a typical sales department.

Consider a “manager” who, for example, monitors the number of telephone calls that are made by sales people.  This is supervision and the measure of success is simply the volume of effort (inputs).  The team will ensure they are seen to be on the phone, even if the call is irrelevant to the job at hand.  Also, in such a regime people are typically disinclined to use their initiative or move away from the prescribed way of doing the job.

Are you getting the best out of your team? Call us to discuss how it might be even better

Are you getting the best out of your team? Call us to discuss how it might be even better

Now consider a sales manager, who monitors performance by observing the results of the team’s processes e.g. a sales pipeline through which the manager can monitor (outputs) such as; conversion ratios, or the accuracy of forecasts for when a deal will close, its value and the probability of winning.  The team’s behaviour will now be more aligned to the needs of the business.

A good sales manager will also be a leader who shows trust and demonstrates their standards and values, leading by example.  They will get the best out of their people through coaching and mentoring, allowing them put their own interpretation on their role within the wider context of the overall job.  They get their own rewards through the success of those they lead.  When people are motivated by a good leader they are more likely to think beyond the inputs and outputs to the outcomes – they are more likely to care that the company succeeds rather than just themselves.

  • Ensure you use the right mix of leadership, management and supervision and that each discipline is applied at the right time and in the right place, to achieve the required outcome.
  • When you recruit people to do a job where you expect them to use their judgement, don’t de-motivate them by supervising their every move. If you cannot trust them you should not have recruited them.
  • It is important to recognise that monitoring at the activity level, such as sales calls made, is only measuring inputs and outputs to the process when it’s the outcomes in the form of orders which are really required.
  • Measurement needs to occur across the whole spectrum of the selling operation and the output from one measurement point should provide input to the next.  What you measure will also influence behaviour, so you need to ensure you choose your measurements wisely and they deliver leading indicators to the business, so that corrective action can be taken in a timely fashion.
  • Daily monitoring of the business is best achieved through good management information gathered from well-designed processes, whose outcomes address the Critical Success Factors of the business.

If You Always Do What You Always Did …

There is an old saying that goes “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got”.  Do you agree?  Well, we disagree.  In our experience, you will actually get progressively less because the world constantly changes and moves forward, potentially leaving you behind.  The great Albert Einstein agreed with us; his definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Enjoy this clip from Jabberwocky with Michael Palin

Enjoy this clip from Jabberwocky with Michael Palin

However, we also observe that the unspoken assumption “change = progress” is not always so.  Today’s fast-moving world offers many opportunities to change, but not all changes are appropriate.  Hype is everywhere these days and it is easy to get swamped and carried along in the current.  Social media and Cloud computing are excellent examples of potential benefits, but they do not cure all ills; and wrong choices can cause worry and wasted time.

Of course you must change what’s not working, but leave well alone where you have a winning formula.  Our advice is to stay cool and collected; keep focused on your goals and objectives.  Set a clear and realistic plan, then look carefully at the methods, processes, techniques and tools that each function of the business will deploy to meet the plan.  Be open-minded about new possibilities; review and assess the latest trend to assure it will truly benefit you.  If you think something new will help, get expert advice and do a pilot exercise to check potential before full adoption and integration.  And remember to measure—you will need baseline metrics and an improvement target.