Why Typical Sales Reports Don’t Work & What Report to Use Instead
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
About Steve Bookbinder
Steve Bookbinder is the CEO and sales expert at DMTraining. He has delivered more than 5,000 workshops and speeches to clients all over the world and has trained, coached, and managed more than 50,000 salespeople and managers. Steve continuously refreshes his training content to reflect his latest first-hand observations of salespeople across industries and regions. Through him, participants in his workshops and coaching sessions learn the best practices of today’s most successful sellers and managers across industries. Steve understands that sales is a competitive game. To outperform competitors and our own personal best results, we need to out-prospect, out-qualify, out-present and out-negotiate everyone else, not merely know how to sell. Through his specialty programs in Pipeline Management, Personal Marketing, Great First Meetings, 2nd-level Questioning, Sales Negotiating, and Sales Coaching, Steve trains sales teams to master the skills they need to overcome the challenges they face in today’s world… and keep improving results year over year.