Each time I begin my writing process, I write down a list of questions around challenges I am trying to solve looking through the lens of my current role running a sales operations team. One consistent challenge I have seen throughout my career is the “productivity” conundrum. How do sales reps' behaviors impact their achievements? And what can the leadership do to amplify or change those behaviors?
As always, we start with the data. Below are the questions I wrote down to frame out my thoughts on analyzing productivity and how to make the data we come up with actionable.
The first and most important part of this exercise is determining the data set we need to see and in what context (time frames, ramp frames, pre and post training/process changes). I chose to focus on the following data sets:
Once this data has been extrapolated from Salesforce, it will go into dashboards as well as a productivity matrix. The productivity matrix is a quadrant map of the data ranking reps from low to high on two axis at a time to understand where the challenges lie for individuals as well as trends for the whole team.
We look at things like activities versus closing ratios, sales cycles versus discounts/upsells and pipeline flow versus percent to quota. Once that data is built out into a visual representation, it can be presented to the leadership along with a plan.
All of the data comes from our system of record and is detailed in our sales process. Everyone on the team uses Salesforce and has explicit directions when it comes to how to capture and communicate data.
Activities are logged, opportunities in the pipeline have a stage flow with exit criteria for each stage and relevant fields are built out to capture all pertinent data. The reason we go into such deep detail in our Salesforce instance is to understand how we win business at the rep level and as a team, and more importantly, why we lose business.
Having a deep understanding of the behaviors of our reps and how those behaviors contribute to either success or failure sets up the leadership team with deep insights into the challenges.
Those insights help us determine a plan of action at the rep level as we focus on building onto the strengths of each team member. It also shows us what to focus on in team meetings and trainings.
Because we have built out reports, dashboards and the productivity matrix, now we can track the impact of any actions we take to improve the data sets we are tracking. Seeing an increase in closing ratio and more people attaining or exceeding quota shows that the actions we have taken through tracking, training and coaching are improving our sales team (and sales process).
The productivity matrix has four quadrants: performance action plan, train, empower and amplify. Team members who fall into the lowest categories may not be great fits for the role, and reps who have the aptitude to do the work but lack the success need more training.
On the other side of the matrix there are reps who are doing the right things in some areas but just
need to be empowered to do more. At the top of the rankings, the high-performing reps' behaviors need to be amplified. The matrix also highlights things like skill versus work ethic and highlights who the leaders on the team should be. Having this information gives us a detailed map of the sales landscape where we can begin the process of improving productivity.
Several months back, as the leadership team was tackling the question of improving our selling process, we decided to create a role to bridge the gap between the data side and the action side. We needed a new member on the operations team who could build and understand the productivity reports, and then build an action plan against those results, in addition to a plan to measure their own productivity against their efforts.
It took us a long time to find the right candidate who fit the role. We needed someone with a background in sales who could train from a place of experience, but who also can look at data and see and interpret trends in behaviors.
Most of the candidates we saw had training or learning and development backgrounds. While they had strong backgrounds and great ideas, there was a challenge around the buy-in they received from the team during the interview process (we had them present a training session to a group of senior reps and team leaders).
Finally, we perfected our search by looking for someone with a strong sales background who also spent a lot of time and energy on understanding the successes and challenges around the sales process of their team. We needed someone who led from a place of experience and of understanding. When we found the right person for the role, we extended the offer and put together the ramping plan.
Our Productivity Manager came in and had an immediate impact. She spent the first 30 days listening, learning and asking questions as she built out all of the productivity reporting above and then laid out a specific plan with fast wins, necessary trainings and ongoing projects.
This hire was able to make an immediate impact by focusing on every part of our sales team and sales process and giving the leadership team an outside (and new) perspective on the behaviors and challenges of the team.
Now that we have a Productivity Manager on staff, we have to track her performance. This is a good bit easier than we first thought because now we have all of the productivity reporting built out. As we run these reports looking at current trends against previous results, we can see the immediate impact and measure how many people are actually growing in their roles and achieving their goals versus reps who seem to adapt to the new methodology but do not fall back into old habits over time.
The big win with this reporting process and the Productivity Manager keeping a constant eye on it is that when a rep does backslide, we can see the impact and use data to inspire them to move back in the right direction.
Now that we have the information we need and the plan to act on it, we have to think about scaling it as we grow. Having this infrastructure in place to support the sales team perform at maximum productivity means we have the ability to grow faster.
In a startup environment that traditionally doubles both in size and revenue every year, having a documented plan of action around productivity allows us to ramp new reps faster and give them the tools for immediate success as they start their journey with the company.
Conversely, there will always be challenges. As a company, we want to move deeper into the enterprise market. We have expanded our product offering creating a more complex sale. We promote development reps with little sales experience in small business account executive roles and have to train and ramp them. In addition to all of the data around the sales team, we also have to look at the team leadership and hold them accountable to overcome the challenges on the team.
The road ahead seems bright with the plan we have in place. With the Productivity Manager focusing on what we are doing right and what we can do better, there will always be opportunities to learn and grow as a team.
As we scale this process and have more data and results to share, I look forward to writing more about how this process impacts our sales organization in the future.