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When I first worked in sales, I was employed by a large, high street chain of employment agencies.  It was all about talking; no mention of sales data. We were given a day’s introductory telephone sales training, covering the rudiments of cold calling and listening to endless tapes of attempts.   Then, it was straight out and get to it.  They had a strict policy of survival of the fittest.  They mercilessly culled newbies at six and twelve weeks, till only about 15% survived.

Today’s employment tribunals might have something to say about it.   After that initial day, you were dumped into a branch, to join a continually new team as the staff turnover was ferocious.   Thus at 12 weeks in, I found myself acting manager of a Knightsbridge branch.  Training increased marginally and I remember being whisked off to my first-ever national conference.  At 19, listening to a speaker who was actually on the TV, (Michael Aspel I recall)  I felt my career had hit unexpected highs.

But sales data? I remember a weekly report form I had to fill in which gave the most basic sales data but we were never taught to understand it. And training such as offered to members of the Sales and Marketing Institute or the Institute of Sales Management was unheard of.

Back then, performance management came down to one thing:  looking at how much money were you making the company.  If you made enough, you kept your job and if you didn’t you were fired.  A very direct and simple form of carrot and stick.

Now we dig deep in our pockets for complex CRM systems that cough up every nuance of our sales funnel.  Even if they have them, not all SME’s measure and analyze the performance of their salespeople at all.  Of those, a large majority of them use the information to “judge” and “control”.   The result is that their sales staff live in constant fear, not benefitting their performance.

Sales data

Now, sales data includes not just the revenue but each aspect of each individual’s performance, their call, appointment, meeting, and winning numbers.  When we start to do this, the focus immediately goes on the wrong things.   Take the volume of appointments; if this is to be one of the aspects they are judged on, salespeople, notoriously weak at qualifying prospects, will simply fill up their diary with an impressive number of meetings which have little or no chance of success.  

Boasting of a full-funnel, when in fact there is little hope of a sale is another example of what looks good on paper and in reality is simply a waste of everyone’s time.  Successful sales rely on every step being done to the optimum quality.  Volume at earlier stages is simply another way of reducing the qualifying.

Sales data is only as good as the parameters you use.  One achievement is only as good when it relates to another.  We love historical comparisons, but they do not factor in other drivers, a recession, an interest rate rise, a variation in an exchange rate. 

These are things that can make a market totally different and data unreliable.  Sales “velocity”, the time it takes to close a deal, is a pointless measurement if comparing different economic times. 

Sales data used the right way:

By looking at the comparative performance of every individual on your team, you will be able to see their strengths and weaknesses and start to have sales data that is of genuine use.  At least at that point in time, each will be working in the same market conditions.

All that said, overall measurements of a pipeline are crucial to support your team, plan sales expectations and by controlling the flow, control your cash flow.  It is the way you look at it with your team that ensures the make or break difference.  Using the figures to look at what is (or isn’t) good enough, can only ever be destructive.    

If you use it the sales data with a clear aim to encourage and improve, it is a whole different matter.  Because the great sales team is always focussed on what is good for the team overall, and all work together to continually improve.   They will use the information to help themselves improve and to help each other, to understand what is working and what is not.

The measurements are needed, but only as part of a way of understanding how to improve.   Brainstorming positively on them then allows for all the current complexities of the market being discussed, way outside the capabilities of a CRM.  

The team can look at how meetings went and how successful the outcomes were and why; if the goal was reached and if so what worked as much as what did not.   They can discuss and all learn from each other’s experiences in order to do better.  They can even look at the losses but in a positive way, to continually add to their customer profile and qualify better, or spot what stopped a potential sale, to ensure a different approach is taken another time.

The focus of sales data should always be looking forward, to getting better and on that excitement that continuous development can generate.   This measuring and using sales data to improve is just as important for one-man bands to do it as large companies.  If you do not measure your own performance, you will never know how to improve.  The best companies, big and small, know-how striving continually to improve is at the heart of being great.

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