Managing Sales Activity for Success
Now that we have our sales force in place, it’s time to manage them. To be blunt, most company owners (and/or sales managers) do this incorrectly.
Too often in sales, the only feedback given to salespeople ties to their results. Certainly, results are important, and they are ultimately the measurement of achievement. Unfortunately, results are not something that can be managed. Results are history – they have already happened. Activity is what is happening, or what is about to happen. Clearly, then, activity becomes the manageable part of the sales force.
In most industries, sales activity can be broken down into a few categories:
Prospects are researched, gathered, and qualified.
Initial contacts are made to qualified prospects, in person or by phone.
Discovery is conducted to assess the prospect’s needs.
Recommendations of product or service are made in order to address the needs.
Proposals are offered to place a value (price) on the recommended service.
Closing is the process of getting a decision from the prospect.
Follow Up processes are conducted, after each won or lost sale.
Most businesses have a need for each of these activities to be performed by salespeople in a given amount of time (day/week/month/year). In order to get the most out of your team, it’s essential that target quantities of each of these activities are put on paper for each given amount of time, and each salesperson’s quantities of activities reviewed against the target.
To decide on targets, you first have to gain an understanding of the time taken by each activity (or group of activities). Begin with an expected amount of hours to be worked each week by your salespeople. Although you can create jobs that take 60 or more hours to perform, it’s probably not realistic to expect salespeople to do this week in and week out. For business-to-business salespeople, there are about 40 hours of selling time available each week. The key is to create activity standards that are strong enough to keep salespeople busy and focused, but are achievable. Here are some guidelines to various activities:
A salesperson who is focused and on-task can typically perform between 12 and 15 appointment setting phone calls per hour – this includes messages, no-contacts, and voice mails. Expect salespeople to contact decision makers once out of every 3 or 4 calls.
A face-to-face appointment (depending on the industry) will take between 30 minutes and an hour. To figure the total amount of time spent on appointments, make sure to include windshield time.
Salespeople will also have preparation time for appointments. Figure about half the time spent in appointments to be spent preparing for them.
Make sure to assign time to each type of appointment that salespeople will perform; also, time should be divided as necessary between current-customer appointments and new-customer selling.
Once you have activity expectations set down on paper, it’s important to share them with salespeople and make sure that they understand that they will be held accountable for both the activity and the results. Results, then, become a product of both quality and quantity of activity. Knowing this, the successful sales manager can more easily troubleshoot poor sales performance. Look first toward quantities of activities; if they are not being met, this is your primary cause. If the activities are being performed, you have a qualitative problem that may require joint calls and after-action coaching.
This is a process that must be done on a consistent basis, and can serve as the platform for trouble-shooting sales underachievement (is the salesperson performing too low a quantity of activity, or is there a particular phase of the selling process that is causing trouble?), or as a way to identify best practices for overachieving salespeople (in what part of the process does this person excel?).
A solid activity management program also forms the basis for real, meaningful performance evaluations of salespeople that get beyond “I like him and customers seem to like him” and “making numbers.” Salespeople, like everyone else, appreciate feedback – and activity management allows us to more accurately correct poor performers and reward top performers. More importantly, it allows us to maximize our sales dollar – which is one of the most important investments in small business.