I knew it was broken as soon as I hit the ground. My shoulder had shifted nearly two inches on impact and now, sitting by the side of the road, I could feel my collarbone poking up from just beneath my skin and the pain was considerable. Just a few years earlier I had begun riding as a knee problem was keeping me from my normal release of running. By now I had become a full on cycling enthusiast; or, according to my wife, addict. As a cyclist you learn very quickly that you fall into one of two groups – those who have crashed and this who will. I had just graduated from the latter to the former and for the next 8 weeks I would be in a sling as the metal plate held the two disjointed pieces of what had been a single clavicle into place.
What’s crazy about the wreck is how much clarity I had afterword about WHY I crashed. Looking back, I could see all the signs as if everything had happened in super slow motion. As I recalled the events in great detail, I began to reflect on the past two decades and the many conversations I have had with sales managers just after their team had crashed and missed their sales target. Like me, they always seemed clear about what had happened after the fact, even though they had been unable to avoid the wreck before it happened.
So what is it that causes sales teams to miss their targets and suffer the painful consequences of their crash?
No Shortage of Data
When I had my accident (a pseudonym really, since it was my negligence that caused the wreck, not a chance occurrence) I had no lack of information that could have helped me avoid the crash. I knew the conditions, had good visibility, and was even provided adequate signals from other riders in my pace line about road hazards. Similarly, for most sales organizations the root cause of their failure is NOT a shortage of data. While there are certainly useful analytics and supplemental reports that can extend the value of the information available through the company’s CRM/SFA tools, lack of this data is almost never the underlying cause of the team’s failure. Thus, while better information can facilitate improved management, it will not in and of itself prevent performance gaps.
Don’t Fixate on the Wheel
If lack of data isn’t to blame, what is? Looking back on my crash, it is easy to see that I was simply too focused on the wrong information. Every rider knows that there are certain axioms governing safe riding in a pace line. For example, don’t look behind you; keep focused on what’s happening in front of you. This one is probably obvious to even the most novice rider. Less obvious however, is the importance of avoiding the trap of fixating on the wheel of the bike in front of you – and this particular problem is also far more difficult to avoid. Even seasoned riders can become “entranced” by the rear wheel of the bike in front of them, especially when it is just inches away and you are cruising along at 20+ MPH. And that is exactly what happened to me. Instead of looking ahead, I got caught looking down and when the pace line slowed…ouch!
Fixating on the wrong information can be equally devastating for sales leaders. Managers often “fixate” on certain metrics such as funnel activity only to find the team increasing the value of their pipeline while still missing sales targets. In one particular case we had a team that was required to keep 7 times their quota in the pipeline at all times, and so every person did exactly that. Unfortunately, at the end of the year this team only achieved 60% of their sales target – clearly something was missing and this excessive focus on a single metric wasn’t allowing the sales leader or people on the team to properly diagnose the problem.
The Predictive Metrics for Selling
So what should be the focus of sales people and their managers? Much like cycling, sales leaders must force themselves to look forward and consider a COMBINATION of metrics that will predict success or failure. While pipeline activity is certainly one of these things, it should not be the sole focus of a manager’s analysis to the exclusion of other key metrics. We recommend every sales person on the team have a mathematically valid sales success plan that defines targets for:
- New Opportunities
- New Proposals
- Average Sale Value
- Proposal Ratio
- Closing Ratio
By regularly reviewing each seller’s performance relative to target for these predictive metrics, sales leaders can identify gaps BEFORE there is a crash in sales results. Further investigation into the behavioral issue producing the gap, and the underlying skill or knowledge gap that is the root cause, will allow both manager and seller to define corrective action that will minimize the pain of the miss and perhaps help them avoid the sales crash altogether. And take it from me; avoiding a crash is a far better outcome than explaining it after the fact!