Why are you just guessing?

I was talking to Dennis, a client, last week. “We want to work on reducing the length of our sales cycle.” “What is the length of your sales cycle now?” “12-18 months.” “You’re sure?” “Absolutely.” Dennis was emphatic on this point. “So, which one is it? 12 months? Or 18 months?” “Umm…”

Umm, indeed. There is a non-trivial difference between the two. It makes a crucial difference in terms of evaluating sales productivity and analyzing the use of your available inventory of sales time.

Like too many sales teams, Dennis and his managers make important decisions about how to structure their sales process, how they allocate management attention and sales resources, and how well they serve their prospects and customers based on assumptions that are built on hearsay and anecdote.

In my experience I have seen that sales managers too often rely on those few gross quantifiable measures of sales performance that provide precious little insight into the effectiveness of the underlying sales processes: sales rep performance against quota, revenues by product, size of the pipeline. Everything else is largely guesswork.

I asked Dennis: “What percentage of your sales leads are followed up by your sales team?” “All of them? Honestly, I don’t know.” “How long does it take distribute sales leads for follow-up?” “I’m not sure. A couple of days, I think.”

Before you undertake changes to your sales processes, it is imperative to ask yourself: What do you really know about your sales processes? And what data do you have about their effectiveness? What hard facts, not assumptions or anecdotes, do you actually possess about how your sales processes function?

  • How many sales hours did your sales reps spend on each deal they worked?
  • Did the sales hours invested correlate to your win ratio?
  • Did the sales hours spent correlate to the size of the order?
  • How many sales support hours were consumed on each deal?
  • Do the number of sales support hours vary by salesperson?

And so on.

As important as the data on the deals you win is to have hard data about the deals you lost. The typical lost sales analysis is consumed with answering the question “why.” It is also crucial to understand the facts about lost sales. How much sales time was invested in lost sales opportunities?

It is critical to stay on top of your key sales metrics. Just make sure that they are actual measures and not estimates, assumptions or folklore. Metrics have no meaningful utility if they are not factual and accurate. The beauty of technology is that everyone has access to tools that can track your sales data.

If you’re ready to move beyond anecdotes, start by measuring one hard number that measures a process that is directly relevant to getting an order. Don’t guess. Then experiment with the process. Make changes to improve it and measure the outcome to ensure it has the desired result. Then keep measuring and refining.


Andy Paul is author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. A frequent speaker, Andy conducts workshops and consults with B2B sales teams of all sizes and shapes to teach them how to sell more by selling faster. Visit www.zerotimeselling.com.

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