How to manage sales activity

How to Manage Sales Activity

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How to Manage Sales Activity – the short answer

How to manage sales activity

The best way to manage sales activity is to set a vision for the sales team and then align all your sales teams activity with that vision.  Separate the activities of finding, closing and growing customer accounts and then use a crm system or sales management software to record, track and manage the activities of your sales team.

Managing your sales teams activity

Sales more than any other function in a business is reliant on the activity of your sales team.  Specifically, it’s reliant on activity that generate certain outcomes that we are looking for. 

Those outcomes might be an appointment, a presentation or a purchase order but each of them starts with some form of activity.  Many people make the mistake of believing that a new software or CRM system will solve all their problems. 

The reality is that any software is only as good as the data inside and the users of the software.  It’s easy to waste time and money on a software solution to what might be a people problem.

Managing the sales activity of your team is essential for any organisation looking to reach or surpass their sales targets. 

With that said, managing sales activity is an area that most people take for granted, but in reality, it is so important it deserves much more thought and the dedication of your time, than most people acknowledge. 

If you are looking for some form of software or crm solution to manage your sales activity please contact us for a no obligation conversation. 

We are not tied to any company and only advise what we believe to be the most appropriate solution for you, your team and your business. 

When managing sales activity goes wrong?

There are many reasons arguably more important than missed sales targets and revenue for investing the time and energy to manage the sales activity of your team.

a) Culture and staff morale

There are two extremes of management that have a hugely negative impact on staff morale and the culture of your business.  The first is a hands off approach where the sales team are largely held unaccountable to their activity targets and are in effect coasting.  This creates a culture of what we call “satisfactory underperformance” where everyone thinks “why should I care”, “I get paid no matter what”, “Fred gets away with murder so I can too”. 

The second is micro-management where the sales team are held back as management simply don’t trust them both in the way they execute the activity and their ability or motivation to complete the activity.  The lack of trust manifests itself with management spending all their time checking up on the sales teams activity and after a short period of this the salespeople quickly respond by doing nothing without first asking for permission from their sales manager. 

Neither of these scenarios are positive and create a culture and team morale that breeds success.  In fact in most cases these management styles are the start of a ever decreasing downward spiral that requires wholesale changes to stop the decline.

b) Longevity of tenure

Salespeople want to be successful, they want to sell and hit their targets and when this isn’t happening the best sales reps will leave for pastures new. 

What cripples the business is not just that the best sales reps leave, and the revenue that they have been generating dries up, it’s that the under-performing reps all stay. 

For obvious reasons, this is exactly the opposite of what any sales leadership team would be hoping for and sets the company back even further. 

Furthermore, finding and hiring new salespeople becomes more difficult as word quickly spreads in any industry and the best sales reps will simply be more difficult and expensive to attract. 

c) Data & Insights

Someone described data as the new oil.  Perhaps what’s more valuable than the data is the insights that can come from being able to understand and interpret the data and then execute on it. 

Unfortunately if you are poorly managing the data and cannot understand what the data is telling you, then you will at best simply carry on blindly, and at worse, take action on the wrong things. 

Managing sales activity is not just a science, you also need a deep understanding of human behaviour.  By focusing and managing on one positive activity you can often create a negative activity. 

The simplest example of this is by managing reps on the number of quotations or proposals they generate. You will then find the qualification criteria for anyone receiving a proposal will drop and subsequently sales will be negatively impacted.

14 Essentials of Sales Activity Management

From a big picture perspective what we have found to work best and deliver the biggest impact is to separate the sales activities into the following four areas:

  1. Finding more sales opportunities
  2. Closing more sales opportunities
  3. Growing existing sales opportunities
  4. Developing your sales team

This helps us understand where the focus of the teams activity needs to be and this can change from one month to the next.  Additionally, we add metrics to each quadrant with a simple Red, Amber, Green reporting system that allows us to tell at a glance if we are on track from a one page document.  Once we have done this we recommend addressing each of the areas below:

How to manage sales activity

1.      Sales Vision
The best sales leaders have a vision of what their sales division will look like in 3-5 years and they are working through a plan on how to reach that vision.  The vision may include things like, strategy, planning, customer account structure, data, technology, people, process, channels and leadership.  What’s equally important is that the Vision is shared with the team and the buy into the vision.  The vision becomes a shared goal that everyone is working towards and then more likely to be achieved.

2.      Leadership skills
Sales Leaders can be the architects of success, but equally they are often the barriers to the success they crave.  Sales Management requires numerous skills and none more important than people management.  People management itself would be easier if everyone was the same and responded in the same way.  Unfortunately the management style that what works for one sales rep can sometimes have the opposite effect on others.  The best sales leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence and use this to support their sales teams through the inevitable ups and downs of a sales reps life. 

3.      Scorecards
In sales like no other function in a business it‘s very easy to stay busy and achieve nothing.  Busy does not equal productive and in many cases Salespeople are carrying out activities that are simply not aligned with the organisations sales vision and goals.  Scorecards are a simple yet effective way to ensure that the salespeople are each carrying out sales activities in line with the expectations of the sales managers.  Scorecards are not as some would suggest a simple way for selecting who gets fired.  Moreover, they are a great way of helping the team hold themselves accountable to what has been agreed.  Like every tool when used incorrectly it is open to abuse but we have had so much success with scorecards we know they work when implemented and used in the correct way.

4.      Coaching
Unless you have a sales team who are all 10/10 every month of the year in terms of performance, coaching is simply the best way to raise the bar in terms of performance.
Coaching provides real context and practical support to salespeople who want to improve but need the mentoring and guidance of a more senior sales professional to get there.  Sales Coaching is the single greatest way of turning your B performers into A performers and next years revenue stars. 

5.      Sales organisation structure
One of the most important steps to take when overhauling your sales activity management processes is to determine your key selling activities and lay out your sales organisation structure. Make a note of each of your selling roles and identify which part of your sales process they fit into. Do your reps generate leads and deal with them until the deal is closed, or do they pass them onto another member of your team once the lead is generated? This is the kind of information you need to include when laying out your structure. You then need to make a note of the primary activities for each of your roles. For instance, your sales development reps may focus on meetings and conversations, whilst an account manager may be focussed on reducing churn and increasing renewals.
6.      Healthy competition
By nature, salespeople are competitive and thrive on competition.  Sales activity management enables leaders to create healthy competition between salespeople and where necessary provide a focus on certain types of sales behaviours.   The best competitions aren’t just focussed on revenue.  They can be used for rewarding salespeople for different targets that are important to the organisation.  Some examples could include competitions on data completion and accuracy, prospecting behaviours, pipeline management, customer satisfaction scores, reducing churn or increasing margins.  Where possible the competitions should include intrinsic motivators and not just extrinsic motivators like

7.      Sales Strategies
Sales managers must be able to clarify which activities are actively contributing to the growth of the business. The activities that deliver the most success are the ones that should be prioritised moving forward. You may find that certain contact methods are more effective than others, and that specific activities are preventing deals from being closed. By using some form of sales activity management software you can identify the exact point when progress grounds to a halt.  What techniques were used to overcome this issue, whether they were successful and then are they worth sharing with the rest of the sales team? Sales management software can tell you which leads weren’t interested so you can decide when to re-engage them, flag potential customers as future prospects and be used to reassigns leads from one rep to another.

8.      Sales Pipeline Reviews
Your sales pipeline lets you know how many deals you expect your salespeople to close over a specific period such as a week, month or year and how near to or far from their target they are. Research suggests more than two-thirds of sales managers book sales pipeline review meetings with their salespeople several times each month. The managers can then confirm and support any sales activities required by the sales rep to move the deal forward through the sales funnel. Sales pipeline analysis can help you improve your pipelines accuracy and improve the conversation rates from leads to prospects and prospects to customers.  A Harvard Business Review study found that companies with formal sales processes were around 18% more successful than those without them. Formal sales processes allow you to use different sales strategies across your business to build growth, continually review your progress and allocate resources to close deals.

9.      High Value Deals
Part of sales management is deciding where and when to provide a focus of the resources you have available.  Identifying high value deals in the sales pipeline is often the trigger point for both additional and often different types of sales activity.  This may include bringing in other team members and even additional support from other departments such as marketing or finance to support the bid.  These deals often require more bespoke activities and may even follow a different sales process than normal.  Simple examples of this would be when reps who traditionally sell to SMEs then uncover an Enterprise deal which will require more resources than normal to convert. 

10.   Rotten deals
Rotten deals are those that have gone passed the average sales cycle and by nature are then less likely to close and just sit rotting, hence the name.  These deals can give a false value to your sales pipeline and an artificial confidence that you are on track to hit your sales targets.  It’s important to coach salespeople on the activity of requalifying these deals and where appropriate removing them from the sales funnel.  Focussing on your best leads can help you avoid wasting valuable resources and allow you time to focus on your most engaged leads, rather than chasing prospects that aren’t as interested in what you have to offer. Focussing on dead leads can be a huge waste of resources and if you have spoken to a lead several times and their interest isn’t growing or you’re struggling to contact them, part of the being effective is having the confidence to close these deals down. 
11.   Follow up
Following-up is incredibly important in today’s ultra-competitive market. Buyers rarely respond to one message and it’s said that it now takes at least 8 sales calls to close the average deal.  This is more than twice the number needed around a decade ago. This is why following-up is so vital for generating new sales leads, all the way through to closing deals.  With most salespeople still giving up after just three or four calls often persistence is what wins many deals. It can be all too easy to forget to follow-up with prospects, but by using a modern crm software system you can ensure nothing is missed, especially when team members are not available due to sickness or holidays. The process can even be automated to some degree at different stages of your sales process, however, much as we love technology we still believe that people buy from people.

12.   Sales Process
A well defined sales process is a vital part of any successful sales operation, however, there may be times when the sales process either no longer fits or needs to be adjusted.  For example many companies included site visits as part of their sales process before the lockdowns on 2020/21.  The lockdowns forced these companies to change their sales process and move online to tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  By pro-actively managing the sales activity it’s possible to see what’s working and what’s not.  You can then test new processes to see where improvements can be made.  Your pipeline processes may need to be amended from time-to-time. What works one year can be totally ineffective the next. Successful sales teams tend to review their pipelines regularly to ensure they’re generating as much success as possible. You may need to review your initial pitching processes and follow-ups to ensure your strategy remains relevant.
13.   Sales cycle
Where possible you should always look for ways that your sales activity can reduce your sales cycles. Selling to an Enterprise business can be a much more drawn-out process than selling to an SME or Mid Market organisation.   Around three-quarters of all B2B deals take a minimum of four months to close, yet the longer a lead is in your pipeline, the bigger the chances of them heading elsewhere become. It’s also worth reinforcing the importance of cash flow in every organisation and cash flow can only improve when you reduce your sales cycles.  A simple example of this is that many sales professionals are unaware of how to navigate a complex sale and by not carrying out the right types of sales activities they are unknowingly extending the sales cycle. Where applicable you should always invite more than one person from the customers decision making unit to any meeting.  Consider reducing the amount of time between follow-ups or providing more information when you first contact them to help them reach a decision quicker.

14.   Developing
The last but arguably most important sales activity we recommend that you pro-actively manage is developing your sales team.  This is more than just coaching, it’s training, setting new stretch goals and consistently getting salespeople out of their comfort zones.  Training should never be about box ticking, it should always be relevant and be attached to tangible business outcomes that are aligned with the sales vision and strategy. 

Common sales language

Sales excellence starts from the top

Managing the activities of a sales team can be a thankless and unpopular activity, however, sales leaders and sales managers set the bar in terms of sales performance and therefore must hold people accountable. 

Sales revolves around activity and it’s therefore an essential part of modern sales management.   

This means that the sales manager is often the most important player in the team but needs training, coaching and support in the same way as every other member of your sales team

Sales Management is not a skill anyone is born with, but it is a skill that anyone can learn.

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Author Bio

Iain Swanston has spent over 30 years in B2B sales selling, training and leading teams both domestically and internationally.  In addition he serves as an Associate at Strathclyde University Business School where he has delivered the sales content for the Masters in Entrepreneurship since 2015.

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