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Why Typical Sales Reports Don’t Work & What Report to Use Instead

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Nov 17, 2016 4:40:00 PM

What’s the purpose of a sales activity report anyway?

Generally speaking, sales activity reports are meant to guide managers in tracking and understanding the productivity and progress of their sales team.

These reports enable managers to visualize how much time salespeople are spending on different sales activities, if they are meeting their productivity goals, and whether their efforts are translating into real sales.

But when your sales reps put together their report, are they really telling you an accurate story? If they are using a typical sales activity report, then don’t count on it and here’s why.

There are 3 reasons to avoid traditional activity reports and why you need to replace it with the 1 report that will truly paint a realistic sales picture.

sales activity report for managers

Motivation to Mislead

If I am a salesperson and I know that every week my boss is going to read my activity report, then I will end up writing a biased report for reasons that are intentional and unintentional.  Managers should consider this before asking their teams to submit activity reports. 

Intentional: Obviously, I would prefer that my boss concluded from my report that they should continue paying me and maybe even consider giving me a raise.  To the degree that I can persuade with a report, I will attempt to do so.  Often, I will use the quantity of activity as proof of how busy I am - and therefore doing my job!

Unintentional: If you believe that certain activities are valuable to your sales success (or you think your boss believes in those activities), then your weekly activity report to your boss will likely be biased by highlighting those activities.  Even if those activities can’t be linked to closing sales they will be described in a way that exaggerates their contribution to overall sales success.  Common activities like “following up” will be made to look like critical strategies instead of what it really is: calling people /sending emails to unengaged prospects who remained unengaged despite the activity of the salesperson.

Both forms of bias create a positive sounding but misleading picture of activity. And worse, all the activity is described as if happening in a vacuum; not influenced by current and forecasted sales. 

As a manager, I want to see my people choose activities that are specifically informed by the latest developments in their sales pipeline. 

Activity Reports Only Answer: Was There Activity? 

Even the most underperforming sales rep can usually boast of at least a little activity – usually exaggerating how long each “necessary” step took them to accomplish.  Most salespeople however, regardless of how badly they miss their goals, can make themselves very busy and their activity reports can mask real opportunities to improve. 

The activity report, which managers really want, is not an activity report at all. 

As a manager, I’m less concerned if my salespeople are busy and more concerned with making sure they are focused on the right sales coming in and delivering exceptional customer service. But what activities truly result in closing the right number of deals and maintaining customer satisfaction?

You could list every reasonable selling activity like prospecting, meeting preparation, customer service, you name it. The only activities managers really care about are the activities that will move the needle on sales for that week.

While understanding the gory details of various opportunities that didn’t progress through the sales process is important, that’s not the purpose of an activity report.

If your sellers are eager to give you a blow by blow account of their deals that didn’t close, then make sure you have that on your agenda for your next one-on-one coaching session. You can help each rep analyze their findings and then make recommendations for adjustments.

Activity Reports Glorify Activity

Glorifying activity just for the sake of it only confirms what underperforming reps think: as long as I show activity, I’m doing my job.

I beg to differ. While trying really hard is appreciated, it’s not effectively doing the job at hand. The job is selling, building relationships, adding value to the life of your buyer, and so much more.

As a manager, I’m interested in seeing the result of activity report. In other words, managers want to see what new sales are moving forward, are any existing clients up for renewal, and how much more will they be investing?

In fact, by looking at that report, I can more accurately determine what activities are necessary to optimize performance and scale results.

So, that brings us to the one report you need. But what would a “results-of-activity” report look like?

The Result-of-Activity Report

This reports identifies the activities that specifically contribute to sales in both the short term and long term. So, let’s take a look at the 4 kinds of activities that managers should want their salespeople to report on.

First Appointments

The first activity that managers should know about are First Appointments, that is:

  • New sales conversations with new leads
  • Restarted opportunities that were stalled
  • Existing account renewals
  • Account penetration sales

No matter how many types of activities a salesperson wants to describe in a conventional activity report, questions about first appointments get to the heart of the matter. And managers want to answer these questions:

  • How many new business conversations were scheduled?
  • How many were conducted?
  • Based on my (the sales rep’s) goals and YTD sales ratios, what is my target number of First Appointments?
  • Compared to last week, did I create more or fewer First Appointments?

As a manager, nothing makes me surer of future sales than First Appointments made this week. Why? Because First Appointments close at the end of your sales cycle. Therefore, if no First Appointments were conducted this week then we can’t forecast or expect to close any sales in the corresponding week at the end of the sales cycle.  

From a sales coaching and diagnostic stand point, do you know who needs more first appointments? Successful salespeople that just closed a deal as well as salespeople in a slump who need to make something happen. Only if a salesperson can continue to make First Appointments every week are they practicing effective time management principles. Because the definition of time management for salespeople is their ability to keep making first appointments even when they are busy.

Qualifying

The second activity that managers should know about is qualifying, and here’s what to consider:

  • What type of activity and how much effort went toward moving recent First Appointments forward and keeping them as viable prospects?
  • How many first sales conversations as well as ongoing sales conversations resulted in a scheduled next step?

These considerations reveal critical insight about a salesperson’s ability to engage, qualify, and strategize solutions with prospects.

The importance of activities within this category is the fact that some of these prospects will refill the other prospects that fall off or fall back. When you have a constant flow of leads, you can avoid the ups and downs of selling.

Questioning sellers about this category of activity will help managers identify if their reps are spending too much time, or too little time, working with prospects at this stage. Good things take time, so remember that time spent developing prospects is time well spent.

Expected Decisions

The third activity that managers should know about has to do with expected decisions.

The questions managers want salespeople to answer each week are:

  • How many total decisions are we now expecting?
  • What was the number of decisions expected last week? Has that number changed?
  • Are we waiting for the same decisions that we were waiting for last week?

As a manager, you need to know how many prospects have advanced to the decision point where we now know we can expect a yes or no decision within the next one to eight weeks. This will depends on your normal sales cycle and could be more or less than eight weeks.

Getting to this point in the sales cycle can be challenging. If sales reps are having trouble reaching this stage, then perhaps it’s time to rethink and reframe their activity. It can be as simple as making sure they are aligned with your qualifying criteria and how to identify the right decision maker, or it might take a more in-depth assessment of their selling skills and techniques.

Changes: Last Week vs. This Week

The fourth activity that salespeople should report on may be the only one a busy manager really needs to understand: What has changed since last week?

Managers want to know:

  • How many closes (contracts) are expected in the next 1-8 weeks?
  • What was that number last week? Has the number changed?
  • Are we waiting for the same number of contracts from the same prospects?

Every contract is either closer or further from closing or aging out. Either way, these pending opportunities need to be replaced before we lose them. We either lose a prospect because the deal closes, or because they don’t move forward with the deal.

For this reason, salespeople need to re-evaluate their list of prospects every week with an eye toward replacing those that are aging out with newly developed deals from this week’s activities.

Conclusion

The goal in sales is to produce. Since sales come from prospects, the real goal becomes building a path to the goal with the right prospects.  It’s this path and not the underlying activity that matters most to managers.  They know the longer a sale or prospect goes beyond the normal sales cycle, then the less likely they are to advance to the next sales stage. The best reports help the manager quickly determine how they can help their salespeople build a stronger path.

Traditional activity reports are like a good novel: entertaining reading about something the author just made up. So I encourage you to start getting real and keep track of the four key activities mentioned above to truly understand the performance of your sales team and how to help them improve.

The Manager's Guide to Increasing Sales through Existing Customers

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Topics: sales manager, sales activity, sales reports, sales performance

4 Sales Activities To Do Today

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Aug 24, 2016 8:42:00 AM

Do you want to make sure you end the year on a positive sales note?  Are you ready to get a head start on next year?

Sales Activities to do Today

Here are 4 things you need to do today to ensure your future success:

1. Get Ready to Sell Again

Most of the salespeople I know believe the summer is a hard time of year to reach people and as a result they don’t prospect that much in the summer. If that is the way you think, then what is the day we should begin prospecting again?  When is it safe?

On that day we’ll wish we spent these last few lazy August days preparing so we don’t have to lose time during the frantic “back-from-vaca” sales season, which is already in progress beginning in September. 

Now is the time to do some research in advance of our next meeting or initial outreach, apart from the obvious activities like checking out the customer’s website or if there were any recent press releases. Let’s learn something new about their industry, their market share, and their competitors so we can connect the dots to determine hot issues, budgets, and timetables.

Come out of this “get ready” stage with a plan to test a customized approach to your market broken down by thinly sliced audience segments. The more segmented and personalized, the better. You will need to get started now to be ready for September meetings.

2. Polish Your Presentations

By this point in the year, you have delivered your standard presentation template enough times to be able to do it in your sleep. But when was the last time you really looked at your own material with a critical eye?  Have you seen what the competition is doing?

No? Well, first it's time to give your presentation another look and make adjustments. What reaction are you trying to get from the audience when you present your material? To give yourself better insight, practice delivering the presentation in front of a co-worker or your manager. This way, you're rehearsing before you go live with a real, potentially paying customer.

It would also serve you well to do a little investigative work into what your competitors are doing and how they are positioning their solution. 

Take advantage of this time to optimize and practice your presentation. You'll be in good shape before the selling season starts. 

3. Get Ready to Defend Yourself

Your competitors are just as determined as you to win more sales. Even if you think you are selling the better solution for your customers and prospects, have you thought about the best way to position your solution against competitors? 

Practice answering these questions to give yourself a competitive advantage:

  • What is your solution?
  • How is your solution different?
  • Why would someone choose your solution?
  • What is the ROI of your solution?

Can you answer how your offering is different? Better? Better ROI?  Can you explain to a customer loyal to your competitor why they should consider your offering? Would you be able to close that deal? 

Between now and Labor Day, assume your competitors are practicing answering these very same questions and working on refining their sales “arguments.” To be safe, you should too.

4. Make January Easier on Yourself

So many salespeople work so hard to close out the 4th Quarter that they walk into the first quarter with nothing. It is much easier to get a head start and find January opportunities now than it will be if you wait till December or January. 

Right now, many customers are set or getting set for the remainder of 2016. But, the opportunity to look at something new in the new year is smart for the savvy customer and easy to agree to. 

Start reaching out now asking people about 2017 – you will have much more pleasant conversations because they will not be rushed like 2016 conversations will be.  In January, you will be glad you began that long process of finding those savvy customers in August.

Tune-Up Your Sales with Steve

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Topics: sales, sales activity, sales improvement

4 Ways Coaching Your Sellers Improves Sales Activities

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Aug 16, 2016 3:45:00 PM

As a sales trainer I believe that every salesperson, including myself, benefits from sales training. I believe most salespeople generally know training is helpful, but, like exercise, not at this moment.coaching_solution-1.jpg

However, even those sellers appreciate the advantage of coaching, especially 1-on-1 time focused on their unique needs. Today’s sellers aren’t getting enough training to support their ever-changing and increasingly competitive world.

So, without a coach how can today’s sellers improve these vital activities?

#1 - Emails

Today, most sellers prospect by email. But has a coach critiqued what you’ve written in order to improve your response rate? When I coach sellers, we look at the emails they send. What we learn together is their opportunity to be less frustrated and more successful.  Most of the “first” emails are not personalized, the word choice too rambling, the benefits too one-sided toward the seller when they should be focused on explaining what’s in it for the prospect or customer. However, it is the 2nd and 3rd follow-up emails that benefit most from an analysis and rewriting.  My coaching uncovers opportunities to redefine customer profiles, customize new email templates, and re-strategize timing and testing while strategically layering in phone calls. During coaching sessions, I help sellers leverage personal marketing via networking and social media adapted for their unique sales role and territory.  The result is that sellers can measure improvement immediately, especially an improved number of first conversations with prospects.

#2 - Presentations

Most everyone has created and delivered a presentation in a variety of live and virtual settings, but have you ever had a coach who helped you analyze how to handle each situation or how to improve your closing ratio? When I coach sellers, we look at both their delivery skills and their presentation. This exercise helps to uncover how most sellers deliver a one-size-fits-all approach to presenting their offering whether it's a live demonstration to a committee of people or a 1-on-1 through video conference. Oftentimes, PowerPoint can make it difficult to illustrate your point because you may have too many pages with too many words, which doesn't help direct the sales conversation. Coaching shows sellers how to adjust both the content of the presentation and how they lead the conversation in order to advance the sale beyond the presentation.

#3 - Prospecting and Selling with Confidence

Every seller gets stuck when they encounter certain objections or issues. Have you ever worked with a coach to give you new strategies or ideas to solve these challenges? When I coach sellers, we dissect each stubborn obstacle that blocks that salesperson from building a path to their goal. I find the best way to increase energy levels and confidence is to help them overcome objections by inventing new ways of addressing customer issues and concerns.  As a coach, I work with each salesperson to understand what they are really trying to say and together we find a better way to say it.

#4 - Getting Back on Track

We are all assigned goals to hit, but have you ever had a coach help you get focused on achieving big goals or refocused after missing goals?  In my role as a coach, I have observed countless occasions where salespeople are uncommitted to their goals or unclear about what they are really trying to accomplish. In other cases, they are simply too beat-up from past failures to have the strength or courage to dream big.  Some sellers stop themselves from stretching to reach big goals because of personal fears, while others are boldly going off without a solid plan. When I take a salesperson through my coaching process, we begin by getting very specific about both short term and long term goals. I help them create a plan with benchmarks that enables them to track the little wins needed in order to be properly motivated to take each next step of their journey toward success.

Tune-Up Your Sales with Steve

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Topics: sales activity, coaching, sales coaching

Getting the Most Mileage from Your CRM

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on May 28, 2015 1:47:00 PM

Most salespeople use a CRM, but many use it reluctantly. The best salespeople, who invariably are also the most organized people, love their CRM. Why? Because they appreciate it for its two functions.

A CRM is a project management system. It is the official archive of every sale you ever worked on, each of which can be thought of as a project. But a CRM is also a pipeline management tool, revealing the small percentage of the total archive that can realistically be counted on to close in the next 30/60/90 days. Those sales are your path to the goal. Viewed in that way, your CRM works like a “sales target GPS” always pointing you in the right direction.

Consider these 4 principles:

1) Filing System vs. Finding System

GPS-navigation

Have you ever lost something you filed? Most people think the goal of filing is to put everything in its own file. But the real goal is to be able to find it. If I treat every sales project as if it were a viable prospect, I will end up with so many records that I’ll be unable to find “the real” prospects. However if I’m honest with myself about the likelihood of any prospect closing, then I’d realize how few real prospects I may actually have at any given moment. If I am only closing 10% of my CRM opportunities, then I need to find those 10% (the ones that are most likely to close) as early as possible so I can maximize time with them and minimize time spent with the others.

2) Catching vs. Fishing

If fishing were called catching, fishermen would sit on a boat with a bucket at their feet and fish would jump out of the water into the bucket. That’s not the case, so it’s called fishing for a reason. We first need insight into: Where is the right place to fish? What is the right bait? The right strategy to land a big fish? What strategies have worked in the past? What are the patterns of those successes? What are the patterns of opportunities that didn’t work out? By using the right data points found in the CRM we can find the right patterns. I recommend looking at conversion rates (First appointments>proposals>closes), negotiation efficiency (value of proposals vs. value of contracts), and sales cycle (opportunity creation to closed date).

3) Forecasting vs. Hoping

Your path is your forecast. That path should be conservative and low-risk with a total value equaling 1.5x-3x the value of the goal. Once you have more than 3x the value of your goal in your path you may be less critical about each opportunity. To be sure, only count on sales within the normal sales cycle that have a scheduled next step in place.

4) Confident vs. Desperate

When you have the right view of the path to goal, then you know how to manage your own time and prioritize your activities. You feel confident enough to fully qualify each potential opportunity and you end up working with more qualified clients. Those are the ones more likely to renew and upsell.

Companies with a fully utilized CRM system will undoubtedly increase sales. But remember, any system is only as valuable as the information that goes into it.

Are you getting the most mileage from your CRM?

4 Steps for Improving Your Time Management & Sales Skills - Download eBook Now

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Topics: sales activity, CRM

Sales Managers: What Should You be Measuring?

Posted by Anna Adamczyk on Apr 13, 2015 7:37:00 AM

It’s amazing that despite how many CRMs exist, we still don’t really take full advantage of them. Some of us don’t use them at all, or simply pile in “data” after the fact. Some of us use them what seems like constantly, but it all simply turns into a big black hole of a database that no one’s really looking at or analyzing properly. As a sales manager, conducting a sales meeting with your sellers should be about the actual numbers. The bottom line is something you’re probably intensely aware of, but what else should you be keeping track of?

Prospecting

How many calls are your sellers making? How many emails are they sending out? What’s the strategy behind what they’re doing? How many of these initial points of contact turn into actual leads? Making sure your sellers are keeping track of these numbers and noticing any trends that occur will help them manage their time efficiently. When you stay on top of what’s going on with your sellers’ prospecting, you’ll be able to better spot warning signs and help guide them before their pipeline goes awry.

Measuring and analyzing dataFirst Appointments

How many first appointments do your sellers have each week? How many of these first appointments were generated through the seller’s own prospecting? How many of the leads for first appointments came in through marketing? How many of these first appointments have a follow-up scheduled? The more quality first appointments your sellers have, the higher their potential for closing actual deals. Determining an average number of first appointments a seller should have each week, will help establish a range of what they should be striving for, as well as ensuring they’re on track to effectively close as many deals as possible.

Sales Cycle

How is your company’s sales cycle set up? How many opportunities does each seller have in every stage of their pipeline at any given time? Ensuring each sellers’ pipeline is filled with the right proportion of opportunities in each stage is vital in helping to guarantee deals will be closing on a regular basis with no dry spells in between.

Time to Close

What is the time frame for each sale? How many days from a first appointment does an average deal take to close? If sellers only focus on first appointments, but not on other stages of their pipeline, the time to close can get infinitely drawn-out. When they learn to stay on top of how long an average deal takes to close and aim to reduce it, they become better equipped to rule out deals that have gone beyond the acceptable date range and are far less likely to close.

Forecasting Accuracy

Being mindful of all of the above measurements will naturally help increase forecasting accuracy. When your sellers, and you as their manager, are more aware of the numbers behind each opportunity, instead of relying on anecdotes or gut-feelings, forecasting sales will become a bit more intuitive and systematic. Read up on Four Principles for Great Sales Forecasts and 7 Tips for Improving Your Sales Forecasting.

Ratios

In addition to having solid data on prospecting, first appointments, the overall sales cycle, and time to close - sellers should know their ratios. For example, what’s the average number of calls or emails it would take to get a first appointment that would then get a next step? What’s the ratio of first appointments to actual deals closed? Keeping your sellers focused on their numbers will help them improve and allow you to manage them with clearer direction.

Whatever method you’re using to track your sales team’s activities - be it an intricate CRM or a more basic spreadsheet - make sure you’re measuring more than just the bottom line. Keeping your salespeople accountable for all their numbers will make them more effective, as well as help you guide them more conclusively.

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Topics: sales activity, sales managers, measuring

How to Gain a Competitive Advantage through Prospect Management

Posted by Steve Bookbinder on Jan 13, 2014 5:15:00 PM

Do you find yourself constantly searching for new ideas and strategies about how to gain a competitive edge or advantage over your competitors? You are not alone. But search no more, we’ve got a sales system that will help make you achieve sales success all year long.compete_arm_wrestle

Prospect Management is planning tool for salespeople and sales managers. This is a competitive sales management system that teaches essential sales strategies, tactics and habits to support your ideal sales pipeline.

Let’s break this down into 4 parts:

Competitive Advantage
Set Points
Sales Culture
Focus

 

Competitive Advantage

When I talk about prospect management, the majority of sales people and most sales managers stop me and say, “Steve, we already know that. We already know about managing our pipeline.” Now, sure they may know about it but what’s happening is they are actually confusing monitoring a pipeline with managing a prospect base. There is a difference.

For example:
A warning sign that you’re merely monitoring your pipeline rather than managing it is when a salesperson looks at their pipeline and the only take-away they get is “oh, wait a minute, now I remember I am supposed to call the XYZ company. I’m glad I spotted them in my pipeline.” If that’s the only take away they have, that’s a clear sign they are monitoring their pipeline.

Managing your prospect base is a completely different thing. Managing your prospect base is about organizing your work life in order to create the right prospect base needed for you to hit your goals. If you’re not managing your sales activity, your prospecting, your sales strategies and tactics, everything associated with selling that gives you that prospect base you need to hit those goals, you’re not really managing anything. What you’re supposed to do is look at your pipeline and immediately think “what is my ideal pipeline supposed to look like?” And then by comparing the ideal picture to my actual pipeline allows us to make changes to make my real pipeline come closer to the ideal. That's managing a pipeline.

 

Set Points

Now, if we really want to manage our sales pipeline efficiently, then we must manage four points. These are four specific set points that managers, as well as sellers, need to keep a close eye on. What are those points?

First Appointment
A first appointment to begin the sales process is set! This could be either the first meeting with a new or revived lead or it is the first meeting with an existing customer to discuss renewing or upselling. At this stage, we should know the percentage of scheduled First Appointments that result in qualified “prospects” as well as have enough scheduled first appointments to meet selling needs, specifically backfilling the 25% column, which is our next set point.

25%
We have a mutually agreed upon scheduled next step! They are interested in hearing more of what we’ve got to say. At this stage, we’ve already had our first appointment and now we are working on information gathering and advancing the sale to the next stage. Remember, prospects will either advance or fallback, we must have enough prospects at this 25% stage to backfill both our 50% and 90% column.

50%
We are about to get a decision soon! At this stage of the game, there is a 50% chance the decision will go our way. We can help our chances by confirming that we’ve gathered the correct information. There are four pieces of information that need to be confirmed, which are: Person (or People), Proposal, Budget, and Timetable. It’s important for us to have this information so that if the sale moves forward, we have a clear picture of who is involved, what deliverables are needed, and the timeline for implementation.

90%
We’ve received a verbal agreement from the prospect! Now, we can expect the contract or purchase order to come in soon. And keep in mind, this stage should always have enough prospects to assure “deal flow” that’s needed to hit sales goals.

These four set points are guidelines to help us properly prepare and accurately diagnose/assess our current sales pipeline, which ultimately helps us respond accordingly and take the steps necessary to meet our ideal pipeline picture and goals. Remember, the goal of each salesperson is to become self-correcting.

 

Sales Culture

Successful sales cultures have two important qualities. They have a shared sense of mission and they have a shared language. Instituting the prospect management system will help you achieve these two qualities and establish the right sales culture you need to stay ahead of the competition. For example, each salesperson should share the same meaning when it comes to the inspection methodology and overall sales process. If we’ve all agreed upon a shared sales process and language then it will be easier to make sure we are on track to hit our goals. Think of the Prospect Management System as your sales GPS, always making sure you stay on course.


Focus

After implementing the Prospect Management System, one of the first things that will be obvious is a new found visibility into sales activity. How? Why? Because this system forces sellers to think about their own sales activity and the overall impact their activity has on the bottom line. It helps the seller think about and focus on things like: how they prepare for meetings, whether they are properly qualifying, if they are gaining the right information, as well as their approach to presenting, negotiating, and closing. And finally, for all the sales managers out there, this system isn’t just for sellers but it will help you coach your team more effectively because you will know exactly where they need help and how you can have the greatest impact. That’s prospect management.

 

 

Prospect Management System
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Topics: sales, prospecting, sales manager, prospecting for new business, sales activity, prospect management