Measurement is pivotal to growing a sales team. The key to measurement is looking into what truly matters. In sales, the sales metrics that you choose could determine profit or loss, driving individual performance or employees feeling engaged at work.
This article is targeted towards every sales leader that wants to make a significant impact to their team members and the organisation. As a sales leader, if driving results, generating sustainable growth and building a high performing team are your objectives for the mid and long term, this proposed approach is something that you can explore.
First let’s define what sales metrics is. Mark Thacker, President of Sales Xceleration, in an article in Forbes, defines sales metrics as follows: “Sales metrics are the key performance indicators, or KPIs, that empower a salesperson, team or organization to assess performance against goals and objectives, monitor progress and make necessary adjustments for continued sales success. When the right sales metrics are in place, the organization and its contributors know where they stand at the individual customer, territorial and companywide levels.”
The ‘one size fits all’ approach is a common approach used when designing sales metrics. This metric system is what many organisations use to measure and motivate team performance. The underlying issue with this generic approach is – most often top performers get away by not meeting their KPIs since they meet their quotas. Now, let us pause for a moment and give this some thought. If top performers (in generating revenue) are not meeting their KPIs, how can we expect the other sales reps in the team to hit their KPIs (assuming lack of effort is not the case)? Something does not make sense to me in this equation and yet this issue is seldom given the attention it deserves. In most cases, the metric system has been passed down from one manager to another, and both have different objectives and goals. When you do not stress-test your metric system, this broad-based approach could eventually be applied to new hires. Even if the new hire is managed carefully, but measured via a system that is flawed, these hires are not going to be meeting the desired expectations. The sales rep starts lacking faith in the current metric system and if this continues, I expect the sales rep to become disengaged at work, and might even make an exit – which could be costly for the organisation.
Sales metrics should be pertinent to the way customers’ buy in this age and time. In order to stay relevant to customers, evaluating this foundational aspect from time to time is necessary. However, this would only solve part of the issue. The bigger part is – how can a metric system drive individual performance to generate outstanding results within the team? Using a strength-based sales metric will help here.
A strength-based sales metric approach is designed and aligned to each sales rep based on their strengths and areas of development. When you get this approach right, you drive superior performance which gets you superior results. You have developed a group of motivated employees, playing to their strengths, contributing their best efforts in different shapes and sizes which will fuel the ship with an accelerated velocity towards its destination. In addition, a strong team culture is being formed, increased loyalty and the team plays to win – pushing boundaries for maximum growth. Of course, this system can be viewed as complex but beyond its complexities, once you get the equation right, the yield is far greater.
Having interacted with many sales leaders before writing this article, the 5 steps outlined below will help you align your sales metrics to reach maximum team performance. I see a common thread among sales leaders that manage high performing teams. All have applied up to 70% of these steps rigorously. Let us deep dive into what is making these leaders stand out, when other leaders seem to be struggling to drive performance within their teams.
1. Get to know your team at a deeper level, not only your top performers
Investing time with your team will reap you much return. Apart from the formal cadence catch-ups, be authentic and vulnerable in getting to know your team and have the genuine desire of building trusted relationships. This creates a safe environment between you and the team. Simon Sinek says, “Only when we feel we are in a ‘Circle of Safety’ will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.” Use this opportunity to seek what motivates each sales rep to come to work. Is it a sense of purpose, or towards a transactional benefit? Work with them to identify their strengths first-hand and what makes each person stand out. Identify ways to get each person to collaborate in the most effective way for maximum yield. Seek potential areas of growth. If you spot a red flag, do not ignore it, but also do not obsess over it. Address the issue if it conflicts with the teams’ shared purpose and objectives. The application of this principle is simple but rarely practised to perfection. Leaders tend to assume they know the strengths of their team but end up designing sales metrics that do not motivate.
2. Have an open discussion on a good way to measure performance for best results
Often sales metrics are designed in the boardroom with no involvement from the team. These models depict a strategic approach of a leader striving to meet organisational goals, and drive shareholder value but fail to motivate employees on the ground to drive superior performance. This is usually due to the sales leader’s lack of knowledge of the customer buying behaviour. On the other hand, leaders that are more engaged with customers and yet fail to take the inputs of the team when designing sales metrics, tend to do better in the short term but still fall short of bringing out the best from their teams – despite their best efforts. When you get the team’s input in designing the right sales metrics to measure performance, you win on both sides. First you get their feedback on the relevancy of the system. Second you get their buy-in for the system at play. This creates momentum for everyone to pull together and work as a team, all because each person believes in the system. I have seen sales leaders shy away from this approach as they feel it might compromise performance. These are often leaders that only know their teams at a superficial level, thus not having the confidence and trust in their team’s input.
3. Be authentic, lead without bias, and be credible in all your dealings
As a leader your credibility is decided by your actions. I have come across many leaders who despite years in management, have got this the other way round. They believe they could gain their credibility through the use of words, dressing up their performance, or relying on what they have achieved in the past, which is a slippery slope. As the strength-based sales metric suggests, each salesperson is measured using a set of variables that depict their strength. So, it is even more important for sales leaders to demonstrate attributes of being transparent, fair and operate with a high-level of integrity at all times. Quoting from an HBR article, “Leaders who are fair — without bias — are leaders who employees can trust, and a trusting manager-employee relationship defines the best workplaces, improves performance, and is good for revenue.” Also, be transparent and direct in your approach, showcase empathy when required. Leaders who are able to apply this approach successfully also exhibit a high level of emotional intelligence.
4. Get feedback from stakeholders and the customer
As a sales leader driving the sales team, you want to be making sure the strengths you have identified for your winning team is as accurate as it can be. One way to cross reference your scorecard is by seeking feedback from critical stakeholders you closely work with. Specific and goal oriented feedback is what you want to be in search of. In addition, seek feedback from customers. I know a handful of sales leaders that make it a point to engage their customers every time they win or lose a deal to the competition. However, in this case, you want to be seeking feedback on the individual sales rep’s contribution. What did this individual do well that made the customer choose your services when compared to your competition? This feedback is not only valuable to you, but moreover, to the individual sales rep. It produces confidence and a desire to do better in the next engagement.
5. Evaluate, Improve and Innovate from time to time
Since no system is flawless and perfect, the aim is to move close to perfection. Sales leaders should evaluate the strength-based sales metric system from time to time. Beware that you do not keep moving the goal post aimlessly! Celebrate the wins, be aware of the areas that need improvement and have a mindset that seeks to better the system, for greater results. This is an iterative process that will need fine tuning over time. To execute this well, communication is key. Some sales reps could get comfortable with their performance metrics thus not pushing themselves to achieve more. In my experience, one of the best ways to manage this situation is to develop a balanced relationship between the increase of productivity and its reward. The reward system should motivate the sales rep to achieve even more.
How do we bring this all together?
I am aware that a few sales leaders might dismiss this approach as not viable. Leaders that do so are more comfortable with the ‘one size fits all approach’ as they assume this generic metric system is easier to apply on a group of individuals, despite not reaping all the results they desire. The question for sales leaders is – what do you want to achieve with your team? Do you want results? A great team? Good performance? Loyalty? Developing your people? If it’s all of the above, the strength-based sales metric system would be a better way to help you achieve these goals for the mid and long term.
A leader that is able to tap into the strengths of his people is likely to get the best out of the team. As quoted by Simon Sinek, when we focus on our strengths and lean into the strengths of others, we can make the impossible possible.