Why Sales Managers Need to Look at More Than the Numbers

From professional sports to retail marketing research, our society is one increasingly driven by data. Numbers and analytics through data mining and mass market research can project when someone is likely to buy a car or seek various types of insurance. From a sales team management perspective, analyzing data sends up red flags of potential issues with a rep’s performance. All of this, in general, has helped to make sales teams more efficient. What it hasn’t done, as the widespread evidence of fewer sales reps attaining quota demonstrates, is made them more effective (And yes, we ruefully acknowledge the inherent irony in that statement).

What Numbers Tell You
The primary benefit to statistics analytics is that they provide objective measurements that can be compared and tracked over time – whether it’s a raw counting number such as revenue, or a slightly more involved computation, such as a KPI of ratio of listening to talking during a sales call. Thus, one can see the overall direction a given measurement is trending, whether positive or negative.

The numbers can also help diagnose that a problem exists or conversely that something is going well – for example, a sales development rate’s qualification rate this quarter is much lower than last quarter, or a rep’s month over month quota attainment has improved significantly and consistently in the last six months.

What Numbers Can’t Tell You
Here’s where the biggest problem with addiction to the numbers lies – while data can tell you the story of changing trends over a given timeline, it doesn’t explain *why* the shifts are happening. And this is where sales leaders can go astray – they know the numbers and the movements, and try to remedy issues they see happening, but do so without taking the time to find the real root cause of the malady they’re trying to cure.

For example, a sales manager could, after meeting with reps, assess that their team’s revenues have fallen in recent months (the numbers) due to a poor climate for the industry. The manager tells the team to reach out to more leads under the belief that a tough environment means a numbers game. But then the company’s sales leadership later discovers that’s only part of the story. What’s really going on is that the team isn’t helping reluctant buyers to see the value the company’s products offer in filling clients’ needs – an important factor in any selling environment, but even more so when customers are especially wary of spending.

Solving the Equation
The answer to this dilemma, much like in the sports world, where in-person scouting and coaching works in tandem with growing adoption of analytics, is to use both in synergy. When the statistics tell you something’s awry, probe deeply to find out why it’s happening.

In the case of a sales rep, much like discovery with a prospect, it means asking a mix of open-ended and close-ended questions to try and uncover the real problem. And in cases where a meeting isn’t enough to find the source, hop on sales calls with the rep or review previous recordings, emails, etc. Then, once the cause is identified, coach to the solution.

For issues that aren’t isolated to a single rep, take a similar questing approach – study if it’s something amiss with your sales process (loss interviews with business you missed out on can help there) or perhaps with your company culture – are the organizational leaders leading by example and demonstrating the business’s core values, or are they saying one thing and doing another?

The reality is that in today’s marketplace, one can neither rely wholly on data nor on intuitive soft skills. Both need to be utilized in a complementary, cohesive manner to not only make your sales team more efficient, but more effective. Failure to do so will result in problems going unresolved and opportunities lost – both on an individual level and organization-wide.