Giving Your Sales Force a Checkup

Are you getting the results you want from your sales force? If not, maybe it’s time to give yourself a checkup. You do that for your own health – why not do it for your sales health, too? Of course, the biggest obstacle to the checkup is knowing what to check. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Being a sales manager (or VP-Sales, or a CEO) can be a challenge. There are potentially a lot of moving parts to your job. The good news is that, when we’re talking about positioning ourselves for growth, there really aren’t that many things to consider. As a manager, you only have two variables to work with in order to generate results, and only two methods by which to maximize those variables.

salesforceThe two variables are quantity of sales activity and quality of sales activity. The basic equation looks like this: (Quantity of sales activity) x (Quality of sales activity) = Results. In other words, the more you do of something, and the better you do it, the better your results will be. Your job, as sales manager, is to maximize the number of activities performed in your sales funnel, as well as the quality of those activities.

To do this, you have two things to work with – your people and your processes. Your people should be working at the maximum reasonable effort, thus generating a high quantity of calls, appointments, proposals, and sales. They should also be skilled enough so that those calls are well done sales calls, thus maximizing your opportunities for prospects to proceed through the sales funnel and become customers.

Evaluating Your People

The first thing to ask yourself, as part of your checkup, is: “How many of my people are capable of achieving my goals?” I like to rate my salespeople in three categories: Green, Yellow, and Red. This may be obvious, but let me explain:

Green salespeople are salespeople who either are currently meeting goals and that we expect to continue to do so, or who are properly ramping up to meet goals (in the case of new salespeople or salespeople who have been on a performance improvement plan). These are the ones that you’re not worried about; you’d still like to work with them to improve their performance, but you’re not losing sleep over whether or not they’re going to be with you. Your main task with these salespeople is to continue to develop their skills and work to retain them.

Yellow salespeople are in doubt. Their performance is not meeting goal, and you’re unsure if they are capable of meeting goal. You should be troubleshooting these people; in fact, any salesperson who is Yellow should currently be on a Performance Improvement (or Probationary) Plan. These could also be salespeople who are new enough that they don’t have an established performance pattern yet.

Red salespeople aren’t going to make it. You’ve been working with them, and you realize that it’s simply not going to work out. Projecting their achievement out into the future, they simply don’t have a moment where they will reach goal. If you have any of these people, you should be in the process of releasing them.

Ideally, your sales force will be at least 60% Green. At most, you’ll have 20% Yellow and 20% Red.   When a salesperson crosses from Yellow into Red, they shouldn’t be employed for much longer.

Now that you’ve done the big picture categorization, it’s time to look at each one of your sales reps individually. Are you doing a formal evaluation on your sales reps annually? If not, this is as good a time as any to implement that process. If your company doesn’t have an evaluation form that they use, there are several available on the Internet for a free download; get one and tailor it to your needs.

In looking at each of your salespeople, it’s time to evaluate their performance with our two variables – Quantity of activity and Quality of activity. You should have sales activity metrics in place; if not, I’ll discuss those momentarily when we talk about sales Processes.

Start with Quantity of activity. For each of your people, compare their activity numbers from the past year (use the entire year if possible; that levels out spikes from big weeks and small weeks) with your activity metrics. Are they doing enough prospecting calls? Initial Appointments? Proposals? If not, you know that there is untapped potential available simply by getting them up to standard. Don’t neglect this with your top performers. Instinct is to leave your top people alone. Remember, however, that every call your top performers make is more valuable than your average performers, simply because it has a higher likelihood of turning into a sale. That’s what makes them your top performers. If they’re not maximizing their time, you are losing potential sales.

Evaluating their Quality of activity is tougher and more subjective, and it requires you to have put in your time in making joint calls with your reps. For each rep, create a strength and weakness matrix. What are they especially good at? What do they struggle with? What can you do to alter and improve their Quality of activity?

Again, don’t neglect strengths. Sometimes it can be more beneficial and profitable to build on a strength than to fix a weakness, especially if the weaknesses aren’t preventing them from hitting your goals. For Yellow salespeople, it’s a bit different; you’ll want to focus on fixing whatever weaknesses create a barrier to results.

Create a Professional Development Plan for each Green and Yellow rep (remember, the plan for Red reps is termination). Make it part of the evaluation we discussed earlier and work toward achieving those goals on a consistent basis. Yellow reps should have a deadline for hitting goal and making the transition to Green.

Now, let’s take a look at your Processes. You should be re-evaluating and validating your sales metrics at least once a year. If you don’t have these, the simple version is that sales metrics are the amounts of each activity that your sales rep performs in a given time period (I prefer to manage by the week). I like to keep it simple by using: Calls for Appointments; Initial Appointments; Proposals; and Sales (sold deals). These are the major junctures in the sales process. Work backwards from number of Sales needed in a given time period and then use your expected ratios to get your numbers.

For instance, if you need one Sale per week, figure up your closing ratio from Proposals to Sales. If it’s 50%, then you need two Proposals per week. How many Initial Appointments yield a Proposal? How many Calls get you an Appointment? It’s not tough to get these numbers with a little bit of study. This creates a road map for sales achievement, as performed by a competent salesperson who can use these numbers to achieve your goals.

For those of you that have these numbers, you should be re-validating them annually. Your metrics are only as good as your ratios are accurate. Ratios can change over time; for instance, when voice mail became prevalent, it took more calls to get an appointment because salespeople were able to get ahold of fewer prospects by phone. Similarly, when the economic downturn happened, closing ratios on Proposals changed downward.

Once again, take the activity results of your Green salespeople only to re-validate the ratios and numbers. Are you seeing big changes in the ratios? It might be time to revise your metrics. Don’t use Yellow or Red salespeople in this; this will skew your ratios downward. What we want is to mirror and match the results of your successful people.

One other word here – don’t revise your metrics down, instead revise your goals up. For instance, if you’re finding that your closing ratio is improving, the idea isn’t to allow your salespeople to perform less sales activity. That means that your results (sold deals) should get better.

After you’ve terminated Red salespeople, don’t worry about “the best time to hire.” The “best time” to hire is always NOW. Get your hiring processes started.

Finally, this is also a good time to think about any other needs you might have from management, or even programs (such as lead development programs) you’d like to set up with other departments. Get those on the agenda as soon as possible.

We all wish that we could hit the ground running with 100% Green salespeople who are ready, willing, and able to knock it out of the park. For many of you, that won’t be possible – but now is a good time to take a look and see where you really are and put the right steps in motion.

Troy Harrison is “The Sales Navigator” and the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting, or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call 913-645-3603, e-mail or visit

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