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Toss the Bad Habits: Metrics that Drive Bad Sales Behavior

| 12 min read


One of the greatest difficulties in addressing the concept of poor sales metrics is the complexity and diversity of sales roles across various organizations. There is an increasing number of practices that winning reps should be doing – whether it’s being active on the right channels, utilizing the right tools, or measuring the right areas of impact, the list goes on.

While there are a number of general best practices that provide organizations direction, sellers must consider how to apply those practices and integrate them tailored to their individual selling processes. Since no company has the same combination of seller activity, it is impossible to measure performance with a standard set of metrics.

Every organization has different buyer personas, methods of selling, and modes of transaction, so how does one differentiate good metrics from bad? When developing a sales process for reps, it can be challenging to know where to start or areas of focus to prioritize. The first step is to look out for inefficiencies among reps in order to uncover some of the metrics that are driving them in the wrong direction. Once identified, organizations can work on replacing them with “good” metrics, those that really drive top selling performance and overall productivity.

What is Bad Sales Behavior?

Bad behaviors generally evolve out of a status-quo mentality, where sellers do not think to change their approach because they’re comfortable with what they’ve always done. One commonality that organizations have historically suffered from is the misalignment of reps’ prioritization. Oftentimes, sellers optimize one part of their job to either make a sale or hit a deadline by detracting from another equally valuable part of their job. While the short-term gain is attractive, the long-term effects can diminish seller success as a whole.

Another pitfall is when sellers lack necessary preparation for customer engagements. Sometimes reps are thrown into selling situations without proper training or background research in an effort to touch as many points of contact as possible, as soon as possible. When reps get stuck in this numbers game it can drastically reduce the quality of engagements, and the value of outreach is lost altogether.

It’s much easier to continue with business practices that are established and routine within a company and it can be especially difficult to even recognize bad habits after they’ve become commonplace. However, it is necessary for businesses to constantly evaluate their seller’s behaviors and not revert to traditional methods. Part of this evaluation process means tracing behavior back to the root cause and understanding how metrics are involved.

For example, so many traditional sales leaders believe in the way it’s always been done because they assume it still works; if sellers dial 150 numbers, they will get x-amount of conversions. However, this numbers game is changing as selling activity becomes more complex. Maybe sellers are working harder in the discovery phase to get to that number, but are lacking the skills to actually propose the solution effectively and book appointments.

Nowadays, it takes the personalization of quality touches to make it to the closing stage, meaning sales teams need to consider the entirety of the sales cycle on a per-rep basis. By redesigning metrics and applying them effectively, organizations can support fresh selling behaviors that put individual sellers back on track.

Where Do Metrics Become Dangerous?

Oftentimes organizations gravitate towards vanity metrics because they are easy to measure and addictive. It’s tempting to just glance at a dashboard, segment it by team or individual, and easily get a read on quantitative levels of performance. This practice becomes risky when managers throw out specific figures and reps base their activity on the number of contacts touched rather than the quality of those engagements.

Salespeople are all familiar with the phrase “hitting your number”, but looking at metrics in singularity does not work. Sometimes they are good for team morale and showing that sellers are on the right track, but this practice limits reps to a specific quota without personalizing standards to the key strengths and potential of the individual rep.

“When you’re thinking about enablement or business strategy, it has to be outcome driven,” said Nikki Curtis, head of sales enablement at Slack.

Vanity metrics prioritize data over quality standards without considering the ultimate goal of each engagement, which is buyer commitment.

Another problematic area is stagnant metrics that are not adjusted to changing company goals. For example, benchmarks set for an early stage company can rapidly evolve as the business gains traction. Instead of focusing sales efforts on high levels of prospecting, more energy may be directed towards the hyper-personalization of more targeted, specialized accounts. As organizations change over time, alignment across every department is key to maintaining consistency. Therefore, metrics that evolve with changing company goals are essential.

Other times it’s not necessarily the metric design that is driving bad behavior, but the disorganization of a metrics system. When reps don’t believe their performance is being reflected through their sales numbers, it’s much easier for them to blame the tool instead of reevaluating their own selling practices. In an attempt to boost productivity and support sellers, organizations end up buying more products, creating multiple layers of data collection. By spreading data across various platforms, it only increases the complexity and difficulty of uncovering trends.

The consequences of vanity metrics, stagnant metrics, and metric systems that are not clearly organized for everyone in an organization is that the entire value of measuring behavior is underutilized. Uncovering these pain points is critical for redefining a metric system that produces more effective salespeople.

What are “Good” Metrics

The overarching theme in defining good metrics is understanding what the ultimate goal is and working backward. With the end in mind, organizations can drive strategy and develop their metric system with consistency towards a common objective. In order to reach a specific company goal, organizations can be broken up into a few main areas that make up successful selling processes: stages, activities, skills, and resources.

“If you want outcomes, then you need stages,” said Gabe Villamizar, global sales evangelist at Lucidchart. “Then stages are made up of activities, activities of skills, and skills of resources.”

Breaking this down further, stages consist of activities that move the deal forward, and those activities require a certain set of skills. Once those are understood, organizations can then look within to identify the appropriate resources that support those skills and help execute activities. With a clear picture of those four areas, the path to attaining a specific outcome can be set against the right metrics for each stage, activity, skill, and resource.

It is important that reps not only understand what it is they need to do but how they should prioritize it. Managers cannot just throw several different metrics out and expect their salespeople to know where to focus. Instead, pick top metrics that are believed to have the most amount of impact and reevaluate them each quarter based on data analytics, finetuning areas of focus along the way.

“The data you have is only going to be useful in the context of where it’s implemented,” said Gregory McBeth, head of revenue at Node.io.

This means that in conjunction with analyzing numerical data, organizations must have clearly defined benchmarks for the type of behavior expected of their reps. For example, say reps are told to make 20 touches per day, but they go about it in the lowest quality manner. In this scenario, they don’t end up getting the results they wanted while also potentially hurting the company’s brand and hindering others also working on that account.

Managers should set expectations and quality bars with their teams so that they can guide what excellence looks like alongside the data. If these standards are not set, an arbitrary number does not actually mean anything in the context of measuring success and generating revenue. In addition to defining those benchmarks, managers must also allow sellers a certain level of autonomy so that each rep can have their own voice, art, and style of selling.

“True success is a balance between the human, the touch, the art of selling, plus what the data is telling us,” said Curtis.

This balance is only achieved once every seller is explicitly aware of what it is they are working toward and that mentality is aligned across all parts of a company.

“Finding that common language is vital to figuring out how those different metrics interact in order to actually deliver revenue,” said Villazimar.

Toss the Bad Habits

To design the most effective metric system that drives good behavior, it’s critical for the entire organization step back and consider the bigger picture; each department must question their end goal, understand what it takes to get there and ensure that greater goals are aligned across the organization. It then takes creativity to come up with a strategy to get to that outcome, testing out different methods at every point in the sales cycle. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, meaning each company must create their own version of excellence and find the system that best compliments it.

Tackling metrics within an organization can be a daunting process due to its incredible variance. A good first step is to envision the most ideal level of success this month, this year, and in the next five years for both the individual parts of a company and the organization at large. By establishing what to work toward, organizations can create actionable steps and define what good behaviors are necessary to get there.

Ultimately, the implementation of metrics that encourage good behaviors is the final piece to achieving those end goals. There is no better time than now to toss the bad habits of traditional metrics and reevaluate the strategy with outcomes in mind.