Two Metrics Most Sales Leaders Miss

When you’re a sales leader and you’re behind on the number, it can become a downward spiral. A Chief Revenue Officer we work with summarizes his weekly meeting saying, “Eight months ago our dashboard was a mix of green and yellow. Today, every single item is red. When my team sees themselves in the red week after week, it starts to feel futile and they become demoralized.”

A demoralized sale team isn’t well positioned to win business. A sales team (and people in general) respond to what is being measured. The metrics tell the team what’s important right now.

As sales leaders think about metrics, particularly the metrics they broadcast to their teams, it’s important to remember that revenue, and even weekly win rates, are lagging indicators. They’re a reflection of what’s happened in the past.

When the dashboard’s screaming red, it’s tempting to double down on these traditional metrics. It’s a dangerous trap for revenue leaders, because it points the sales team in the wrong direction. Instead of thinking about how they can win future business, they’re thinking about past losses.

Leaders can prevent (or reverse) a downward spiral by adding metrics that assess today’s performance and attitudes. Here are two measurements that provide a real time look at your sales team’s effectiveness. Bringing these to the fore of your sales conversations will improve morale, and get your salespeople moving in the right direction.

1. Measure how customers are benefiting from your offering.

To sustain momentum, especially in the face of challenge, a sales team needs concrete evidence that they’re capable of winning, i.e. customer success. Prioritizing this metric improves morale internally and effectiveness externally. Assessing customer success, provides evidence of wins, which fuels confidence. It also identifies gaps, so you can shore them up quickly, before your team meets with new prospects.

You can approach this in a high-tech, or a low-tech way.

For example, Salesforce is known for their rigor in measuring customers success. They track how customers are engaging with their products, and the impact their solutions have on the customer’s productivity, and sales results. Measuring the impact your sales have on customers tells you whether or not you’re winning (in the eyes of your customers) and where you might need to change your approach. It also tells the team, customer success is a priority for us.

If your firm doesn’t have access to this kind of data, a low-tech anecdotal approach can still be effective. One of our clients, a mid-size kitchen and bath retailer, gets live time feedback on customer impact by starting their weekly sales meeting, asking:  How did we make a difference to a customer this week? Starting with examples of how they positively impact customers, even if it’s just one customer, provides the sales team a narrative they can carry forward to other customers. They then ask: What could we do to make it even better? This quick one-two assessment (how did a customer benefit? and where can we improve?) jumpstarts morale, and it gives leadership a live time read on the likelihood of future business.

 2. Assess employee pride and meaningfulness.

With the importance of meaningfulness in the workplace rising, sales leaders have a unique opportunity. Sales teams whose ethos is rooted solely in sales targets and commission are more likely to disengage during times of challenge. If they’re not getting immediate wins, it feels like a personal failure.

A sales team that takes pride in their ability to improve life for customers can tether themselves to a longer view. This will sustain them during times of economic challenge. Similarly to assessing customer benefit, sales leaders must assess job meaningfulness formally or informally.

Simply setting aside 15 minutes in the next meeting to ask the sales team: Why does our work matter? provides quick anecdotal information. A team that believes they make a difference has a powerful story to carry to the market. A team that does not see any meaning in their work is a leading indicator that revenue is going to decline. If you’ve ever been called on by a salesperson who was simply going through the motions with no pride or enthusiasm, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

To dig deeper, consider doing an anonymous survey to assess whether the sales team feels their work is meaningful, and their sense of pride in your offering. For one of our clients, this was as simple as a one question survey asking: Do you feel your work makes a difference to our team and customers? When over 50% of the sales team answered no, they knew there was a problem, one that we had to solve quickly. And even the act of asking the question made the team feel appreciated, like someone cared about more than their revenue to date.

Numbers tell a story, but it’s yesterday’s story. When the story is bad it can be demoralizing. When you start to assess leading indicators like customer impact and employee pride, you create a more accurate picture of what is happening today and what is likely to happen in the future. You also, in the process, create a more compelling (and motivating) story for your sales team.

Need more ideas on how you can evolve your dashboard? Check out this piece I wrote for HBR, 3 Ways to Improve Sales Forecasts When the Future is Unclear.