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Promoted! The Importance of Sales Force Evaluation

As a new manager, you have one distinct advantage. But you won’t have it for long! Coming into this role, you have a fresh perspective. You’re not yet swayed by seller justifications regarding revenue performance, use (or disuse) of enablement tools, and daily practices and priorities. You can use that fresh perspective to objectively conduct a thorough sales force evaluation. 

 Sales force evaluation is a comprehensive study that looks at all the ways sales productivity and performance could be improved. Sales managers should routinely evaluate these factors. When an organization is missing its numbers, a company-wide evaluation is in order. This can be done by an outside consultant or by the full sales management team (if time allows and objectivity is possible).

 What a Sales Force Evaluation Will Tell You 

  • What your sellers’ strengths and weaknesses are
  • How your company culture and sales culture are influencing sales productivity
  • Where sales are stalling and why
  • The impact of your incentive structure
  • How realistic your sales quotas are
  • If your territory alignment and market pressure are sufficient
  • Why sellers are not using enablement tools, processes, or resources as directed
  • If you have any barriers to increasing revenue generation
  • How your company’s brand and products are being represented by sellers in the marketplace
  • What mixed messages you might be sending to sellers
  • What’s misaligned and not operating efficiently or effectively
  • What competencies you should be hiring for on your sales team
  • Why your forecasting and flash reporting is not as accurate as you’d like
  • What metrics and KPIs you need to drive sales behaviors that lead to success
  • What the priorities for training and coaching the sales team should be

 These are all questions you should be asking every day as a sales manager. Be vigilant in always looking for ways to incrementally improve sales productivity. The comprehensive study is an occasional event. Your evaluation, by contrast, should be a constant.Graphic Showing Observing the One Typing and Writing Down Observations

 Evaluating members of your team is one of the most important aspects of your job. There’s a lot more to it than looking at revenue-to-goal performance. That’s only one indicator of a seller’s success. You’re building for the long-term, not focusing exclusively on numbers or short-term performance.  What you evaluate influence what people do, so you’ll want to be thoughtful and deliberate in measuring what matters.  


What Should a Sales Manager Measure?

There’s more to it than revenue attainment! But you don’t want to over-complicate this and put a bunch of meaningless metrics in place. To determine what you should measure, follow these steps: 

  1. Spend time analyzing what top sellers do so you can determine what activities drive the desired results. Make sure you’re looking at cause-and-effect and not picking arbitrary activities that seem like a good idea.

  2. Once you know which activities definitely produce results, set standards regarding quality and quantity of those activities. Again, don’t make this arbitrary. If the top seller makes 5 cold calls a day to pre-qualified, well-researched prospects, that’s your starting point. Don’t bump up the number because you’ll compromise quality for quantity. You’ll get a different result than your top seller produces because you changed the proven practice.

  3. Provide training and coaching on the standards you set for activities. Don’t merely announce that 5 cold calls a day are required. Define what the seller says and does during a good cold call, what preparation makes the call effective, and how to select quality prospects. Talk about where these leads come from and what criteria defines a good prospect. Work with sellers to coach them as they replicate every part of this process.

  4. Allow ramp up time. Instead of going from zero to 5 overnight, be sure they’re getting 1 right each day. Then nudge it up to 3 and then 

  5. Communicate clearly about your expectations for tracking. What, exactly, do you want to see entered into the CRM and how? When? What will you do with the information?

  6. Pre-determine what happens if someone is not meeting the standards you’ve set. Communicate this, too, so there are no surprises.

  7. Continue working with sellers to help them succeed. The expectation – if it’s proven to produce results – won’t change. Your job is to help sellers shift so they are fully able to meet the standards set.

  8. Introduce a reasonable number of standards or shifts at one time. You may have multiple shifts to make after observing and tracking what your top sellers do. Take it slow so it’s not overwhelming for others. Let them learn, practice and master one thing at a time.

Sales activities are important to identify and measure because they are a leading indicator that predicts what sales performance will be. Activities also set up more than the short-term results. For example, you need to be sure the pipeline stays healthy. That requires enough prospecting to fill the funnel. If sellers choose, instead, to spend all their time serving established customers, there will come a time when you come up short. A customer will go out of business or choose another vendor. If you aren’t already close to closing on another new piece of business, it will take time to recover. Getting and staying ahead of those situations is always better!

 In addition to activities, you may want to measure other leading indicators. Here are some to consider. They all look ahead and give you an opportunity to proactively address any gaps before it’s too late.

 Progression through the pipeline

You can break this down in many ways, depending on what your CRM and reporting allow, what your boss is looking at, and what your sales cycle is. Knowing the averages for amount of time it takes to move from one deal stage to the next gives you the ability to predict where deals will be in the near future. Knowing the average volume in each deal stage and the average percentage that progresses will help you track where you’ll be plus identify issues if something lags. 

 Number of appointments of demos set

Looking at sellers’ calendars gives you information about what is most likely to progress. The more meetings and demos, the better the chances of advancing more prospects to the next deal stage. Best practice, incidentally, it to get sellers in the habit of doing this themselves.

 Client satisfaction

Measuring client satisfaction gives you an idea of how stable your recurring revenue is, how likely contracts are to renew, and how likely you are to get upsells and cross-sells. You can measure with a formal survey or by getting the Net Promoter Score (NPS). You can – and should -- also do this informally by checking in with clients and asking what’s working and what’s not working. That will keep you from being blindsided and give you a fighting change of maintaining business even if a customer is disgruntled.

 Client referral rate

Tracking referrals gives you an idea of how loyal your clients are. If you incentivize referrals as a customer retention strategy, you should consider setting targets so sellers are reminding clients and offering suggestions about who to refer into you.

 Employee engagement

Highly engaged employees apply additional discretionary effort. They are more likely to stay with your company. They produce higher volumes of work at superior quality. They also have customers who are more satisfied. Higher levels of engagement are directly linked to more top line revenue and improved profit margins. If sales employees are less engaged, sales will suffer. Stay on top of this metric, formally or informally!

 There are also a myriad of metrics you could use to report on performance. But don’t spend too much time with these lagging indicators. These look backwards, and the past can’t be changed. If there are patterns, use them to diagnose the gap and address it.

 Sometimes, sales managers get this backwards. They look mostly at lagging indicators because that’s what sellers get paid and evaluated on – Did they make the goal? Did they increase market share? Did they convert target accounts? While necessary, these can’t be the focus for a manager who wants to build long-term success and proactively influence future sales.

 To impact what happens tomorrow and next week, focus mostly on leading indicators and the activities that drive results. But don’t stop there.


There’s More to Evaluate than Results and Activities


Before they were sales people, members of your team were simply people. They formed their own beliefs as a result of the experiences they had in the past.

 Those beliefs are what ultimately determine what they do in their day-to-day selling. You can set standards, provide coaching, put them on a performance plan, and still not get them to change their activities. That’s because people only do what they, personally, believe is the best and right thing to do.

 If you have a seller who has always thrived by developing deep relationships with customers and believes the best way to succeed is by providing superior service, you’ll have a tough time getting that seller to spend more time on cold calling. You have a farmer who is entrenched in their own farming experience and the beliefs shaped by those experiences. You can’t morph that farmer into a hunter instantly just because you required new activities.

 The only way to get people to do what you want them to, even when you’re not looking, is to provide experiences that shape useful beliefs. For this farmer, you’ll need to create experiences that disprove the notion that farming is the only path to success. You’ll need to build their competence and confidence in hunting. Once they experience success, they will begin to believe there is merit in the hunting activities you’re requiring.

 At this point, you might be thinking that a faster solution would be to incentivize sellers to do what you want them to do. Just add a bonus or create a competition because, you’re thinking, all sellers are money motivated and like to win.

 It’s a myth. Not all sellers are money motivated. Even top sellers are not always money motivated or competitive. People are best directed by their own intrinsic motivators. Getting to know each member of your sales team and what makes them tick will help you as a coach. Those intrinsic motivators are also linked to those deeply held beliefs that influence the actions sellers take.

 So that’s something else to evaluate – the individual seller. What motivates them, what experiences and beliefs influence their choices, what do they need to embrace different beliefs that will cause them to choose the activities that produce sales results? This is where soft skills are going to come in handy. Be sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Soft Skills for Managers as a companion to this resource.


Using Metrics to Motivate and Drive Results


Commissions, incentives, and metrics are the typical “go to” answer for sales managers who want to motivate sellers. These are all extrinsic motivators. They work, but only to a point.

 Extrinsic motivators come from outside the individual (intrinsic comes from within). The problem with extrinsic is that it isn’t individually sustained. You have to keep it out there and often have to increase it to get more impact. Whether positive or negative, extrinsic motivators are not as strong as intrinsic ones.

 Ideally, you’ll link the two. You’ll know each individual seller so well that you’ll be able to talk about metrics alongside what makes that seller tick. Instead of saying “We require all sellers to make 5 cold calls per day,” you’ll say “I remember that feeling secure is something that matters a lot to you. Making 5 cold calls per day keeps the funnel filled and provides an extra measure of security so you won’t have to worry as much about losing an account.”

 In some sales cultures, extrinsic rewards are hyped. Contests, leaderboards, President’s Clubs, and other rewards are constantly talked about. This works for some organizations and some sellers. When you talk to the individual sellers, they usually say “I take pride being on top of the leaderboard. Being a top achiever is really important to me.” Notice that the extrinsic rewards happen to match this seller’s intrinsic motivation and value of being a high achiever. This works for this seller. This organization probably attracts and retains sellers who are similarly motivated.

 Likewise, this organization probably loses some sellers who could be superstars, too. They just aren’t motivated by the same things. They could, for instance, be motivated by the feeling that they’ve made a difference in the lives of their customers. Where’s the extrinsic reward for that? It isn’t there, and it isn’t talked about in that sales culture.

 As you think about what to evaluate and how to motivate sellers to reach those standards, don’t overlook the importance of linking what you’re asking to what matters to them. Spend time evaluating sales productivity drivers AND the drivers that are personal and individual for each member of the team.

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