4 Steps to Choose Your Sales Team’s Main KPIs

Metrics are what modern sales teams are made of. But at a time when technology grants us access to everything from our reps’ number of monthly connects, to talk time, to email opens, to conversation, to social selling activity and everything in between, how are we supposed to identify what’s most important for us as sales leaders, and for our reps, to focus on?

It sounds cliche, but it’s especially true in this case: The answer’s different for everyone. It all comes down to figuring out which of your sales team’s activities are most meaningful -- in other words, have the greatest impact on winning more business. We all know the salesperson who always looks busy, but never seems to close anything. Because they're focusing their time and energy in the wrong places.

All that it takes is a bit of discovery to figure out what really matters. Here’s an outline of the approach we've seen work, as we've spent time with hundreds of sales leaders to find those needles in the haystack of sales activity:

 

1. Establish a “Leading vs. Lagging” Mindset.

Most of us sales leaders traditionally have looked at THE number, which really is a lagging indicator. The sale is the result of everything that came before it. The leading indicators -- like meetings with VP's, demos booked or proposals sent -- are examples of the activities that get us to that outcome. Of course, we’ll all always look at revenue (that is how salespeople are paid), but know that focusing day-to-day on those controllable activities, or leading indicators, will get that revenue number to your goal. (Read more on leading vs. lagging indicators.)

2. Come up with a theory.

In our next steps, we’ll gather insight from reps. You need to go into this with your own theory, though. Come up with an idea of what the 3-4 main sales KPIs for your team might be. (More than 4 waters down your metrics and spreads your team’s focus too thin.)

Asking these questions can help:

  • Who is our buyer?
  • What do that persona’s buying preferences and processes look like?
  • What are the day-to-day activities we can perform to align with those preferences and processes?

3. Interview Your Reps.

Don’t settle on any KPI decision until you ask the people on the frontlines -- your reps. Identify which activities they perceive as leading to success in your environment.

Here are some examples of the types of questions to ask across performance levels:

  • Top Performers: You’re a top performer — why do you think that is? What do you focus on that your peers don’t?
  • Middle Performers: What are you doing that is most important? How do you keep track of it? Think about team members who perform really well -- why do you think they perform so well? What do they focus on?
  • Bottom Performers: What do you think your peers are doing that you should be doing? What would you like to learn more about?

Don’t let it surprise you if your reps don’t have answers to all of these questions right away.  Oftentimes, even high-performing reps just “get it done,” without really knowing how they do that. Again, dig in as much as you can to understand what those key behaviors are that correlate to high performance.

4. Polish Your Theory

Once your team interviews are complete, first take a look at the responses and see whether you can identify any trends. Did one metric or activity come up repeatedly?

Then return to your theory. Does what you learned validate the 3-4 main KPIs you came up with, or does it tell you that some do not align with success and need to be crossed off the list?

For more insight, and to practice strong team alignment in general, it’s a good next step to run these KPIs by other leaders in the company. They’ll offer a whole new perspective for you to consider.

Ultimately, you’re the leader of your team for a reason, and you should be the one to make the final decision here. Pulling in these other perspectives just helps to refine it and gain buy-in.

It can be overwhelming to choose KPIs, especially when trying to settle on 3 or 4 as primary. Just remember that this is only your starting point. You can, and should, continuously refine your KPIs from here.

About the author:

Bob Marsh is the Founder & CEO of LevelEleven. LevelEleven helps VPs of Sales improve the performance of their team, by keeping salespeople focused on the daily behaviors that drive revenue. Founded in October 2012, LevelEleven rapidly secured hundreds of customers including Comcast, Ford, Forrester Research and ReadyTalk. LevelEleven is headquartered in Detroit and backed by Detroit Venture Partners and Salesforce.com.

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