Given the choice between buying activity management systems and implementing a true performance coaching system to bring out the best in salespeople, my unfortunate experience is that many senior sales management teams will inevitably choose activity management. The reason? It’s easy. Granted it works in the short term, and there’s even a place for it during field induction and as a mechanism for performers to appraise themselves, but as a sales coaching tool it is a non-starter.
You teach salespeople about activity, not force it on them. The danger with the latter is that you will have your salespeople deliver the activity without a corresponding increase in business. I have seen numerous examples of salespeople forging activity levels simply to keep the manager happy. In the meantime, the manager sinks into a quicksand of statistics trying to work out where it is going wrong.
I recently visited an area sales manager who was having problems with a non-performing salesperson. The manager showed me the charts he had put together showing the pattern of calls and results. It must have taken him quite some time. The problem was that the salesperson had falsified 80% of their activity. It wasn’t his fault. He was responsible, but it wasn’t entirely his fault.
You may produce a ratio which show that from a particular level of activity that a particular financial outcome is being achieved within the sales force. You may choose to ignore the fact that top salespeople see fewer customers than their lower performing colleagues. But you need to ask yourself the question – what is it you want from the salesperson? Activity or results? Forget the relationship between activity and performance – what is you want – activity or results? If it’s results then forget activity. If it’s activity, then perhaps you have lost the plot.
You teach people about working hard by going out on calls with them. It is the only way to find out what’s going on – with them and with customers. There isn’t a professional coach alive that doesn’t sit on the touchline; stand in the wings; sit in the auditorium; watch the actual performance as part of their coaching responsibilities.
You should accompany new salespeople for five days after foundation training. You will come up with all sorts of excuses why this can’t happen but these excuses will compromise the successful outcome of both training and coaching. Unless you meet people on day one in the field; unless you test that they have acquired the levels of knowledge, skills, and attitudes required; unless you accompany them immediately on live sales calls; unless you stay with them for their first five days in the field; you’ll have to rely on luck as to whether new salespeople make it or not. It’s during these first five days in the field that you teach new starters the activity game. Ideally you will have already arranged a number of sales appointments to go on in the first week.
In the first five days you will learn more about the new starter and they will learn more about you and your company then any other mechanism I know. You must know within those first five days whether the new starter will make it or not. If after five days you still don’t know, then chances are they won’t make it – and you need to think long and hard about your recruitment and selection processes. Or perhaps set them an activity target – that will sort it!
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