Sales Managers, Beware the Numbers Trap

Sales Managers, Beware the Numbers Trap

Everywhere you look – from sports to predicted purchasing decisions – big data and analytics dominate. As a society, we’ve become addicted to numbers due to their objectivity. And the factual existence of figures and metrics can’t be denied.

But data fixation can also be a tunnel-vision trap. We previously discussed why sales managers need to look outside the numbers. Today, we’re going to talk about another, perhaps even more dangerous side to focusing on the math.

If you’re too concerned about the numbers, you may be missing the most important part of being a sales manager – managing and developing your sales reps. If your sales reps don’t grow in abilities and expertise, your organization’s revenue won’t grow either.

Fortunately, there’s ways of breaking free – even if your sales leadership is also riding the data train and using it as a measuring stick for your own success or failure.

  1. Imagine the numbers don’t exist.

    The first step to getting out of the mindset is to pretend you don’t have any data to look at. This forces you to evaluate your sales reps from a qualitative perspective rather than a quantitative one. Is it more difficult? Yes. But it’ll make you a better sales manager – one that pays attention to the way that your team members are doing things and identify their particular strengths and areas for improvement.

  2. Think about how you can maximize your team through its strengths.

    As humans, we can sometimes get in the habit of focusing on what can be improved rather than what’s working well – and data analysis can reinforce that trend. It’s easier to zero in on deficits (no pun intended) rather than highlight the areas of excellence.

    So once you’ve taken Step 1 and determined the strengths of both your individual reps and the team as a whole, explore that further. Would rearranging the deck through role changes or territory reassignments, for example, translate into maximizing potential revenue gains by playing to the strengths of specific reps? Or perhaps this makes apparent the skill development opportunities for your sales professionals?

  3. Map out career development and arcs for your team members and discuss them.

    To shift from numbers to a holistic perspective, look at each of your team members. Where there are now in their careers? What skills do they have that could be made even better? Where are their knowledge and skill gaps? How do you project them doing in the next 1 -2 years? 5? What are their personal goals, objectives, and ambitions? When do they plan to accomplish them? Once you’ve sketched out an approximate draft of a career roadmap, meet with each rep individually and talk to them about what you’ve drawn up. Ask them how that resonates with their own thinking and dreams. Doing this accomplishes several things:

    • It makes employees feel heard by seeking their opinions
    • Should they not have a plan for their own careers, this provides them things to consider
    • Benchmarks and signposts provide clear markers for you and them to measure progress (ironically, this might involve some data, but then it becomes data in service of a qualitative whole rather than an end-all, be-all)
    • By demonstrating caring and imagining future career growth and personal development with the company, it reduces the risk of turnover – particularly important for high-performing reps
  4. In coaching meetings, discuss behaviors and scenarios rather than reviewing numbers.

    As literate people, your team members can read numbers. If you’re making coaching sessions merely a recap and discussion of numbers, you’re wasting everyone’s time – including your own.

    Instead, discuss behaviors (both those that align with your sales process and those that need to be brought into alignment) and situations you think it’d be valuable to talk about. Whether it’s improving a rep’s way of opening a sales call or exploring the strategies they used to close a deal with a major client, focus on the qualitative aspects of coaching and reinforcement so your team can experience growth and development and become better.

Numbers and data do have their place and value in a sales organization and in managing a team. But they should be used to inform the total picture and not be the end all, be all. Doing the latter stunts sales rep development and could handcuff your revenue potential. Focus on your direct reports as people and how you can help them become better, more successful sales professionals.