Imagine you are the coach of a basketball team. Your team is down by four points at the half. Your assistant gives you a sheet of paper that says that your team is making 35% of the shots you are taking – way below what you’ve been averaging all season. You also see that a couple of your players are in foul trouble. What do you do? How do you fix the situation so you can come back and win the game in the second half? I guess you could try to give them a pep talk, but that will probably have marginal impact. Here is the reality of the situation – you don’t know how to make adjustments or fix anything because you are only watching the scoreboard and looking at numbers. That does not give you enough information to make intelligent decisions. You need to watch the game and see what players are actually doing and why they are not getting the results you want. You need to observe the kinds of shots they are taking. You need to see how the defense is guarding your best players. Then you can give them feedback and make adjustments.
So what does this have to do with sales management? I see the same thing happen with sales leaders all the time. They look at sales numbers (the scoreboard). They look at activity like number of calls or meetings or proposals (shooting percentage). They may even be doing one-on-ones to talk about these things (kind of like team huddles each quarter of the game). Then they try to coach the sales rep without actually watching them in action (the game). They say things like “I need you to up your activity level” or “You are not converting enough of your demos into deals.” Guess what? The sales person knows that. They can look at the scoreboard also. The sales leader could be creating some awareness if the sales person isn’t looking at the numbers, but they are not being as helpful as they could be because they are not observing what is happening in the field which leads to the numbers.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am a big believer in tracking the activity rate, conversion rates, deal sizes, etc. I wholeheartedly believe that these things are essential to good sales management. But they are only a piece to the puzzle. The metrics can and should be used as a diagnostic so you know how to help your team members. If Billy’s scorecard says he is not closing at a high enough rate, that’s merely an indicator. You should go watch Billy in action to see what he is doing. Is he getting to the right decision makers? Is he asking enough good questions on the front end? Is he building value in the solution? You’ll never know that by looking at numbers or your CRM system. If you ask Billy, he may or may not give you an accurate report of how he is doing. Most sales people struggle to accurately self-report because they can’t see the things they are missing. If they could, they would fix them on their own. You need to observe. There is nothing more powerful (and sometimes shocking) than watching one of your sales people in action. You will watch some of your sales people do great things that you can learn from and then leverage across the group, and sometimes you will merely shake your head when you see a sales person totally botch a call. In either case, you can take action. But you will never learn those things by looking at the scoreboard. You need to watch the game.