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Five Sales Performance Metrics Key to Successful Business Growth

Five Sales Performance Metrics Key to Successful Business Growth

Every metric has a story to tell. Dig in over a period of time, break apart all that goes into the metric calculation, join the dots and there you have your story. But then you also have to ACT – your success depends on what you do after you figure out the story. What do you need to do more of? What do you need to eliminate? With the budget season in progress, sales performance metrics are on my mind again. In this Accenture analysis of Sales Performance Optimization Study, sponsored with CSO Insights, sales leaders say their top priorities for the past year was increasing sales effectiveness (56 percent), followed by increasing revenues (52 percent) and improving up-selling/cross-selling (39 percent). The Operations team can play a big role in increasing sales effectiveness with their clear understanding of the various moving parts and inner workings that contribute to high sales performance. These insights can help determine which levers (metrics) can actually help improve sales efforts and align the sales organization to the business strategy.

When it comes to sales metrics, one size definitely does not fit all. The key is to select a good mix of lagging and leading indicators – a set that not only helps you to measure results but more importantly, gives you the ability to predict outcomes. Going beyond the standard booking or quota achievement vs. target, here are five other metrics that I believe go a long way in ensuring sales effectiveness:

Sales Performance Metrics #1 – Funnel or Opportunity Pipeline:

In the current quarter, there is not much you can do to increase sales radically but you can still implement steps to make the sales grow for the rest of the year if you know where to focus efforts. This metric helps determine the nature of funnel and sales expected in future quarters/months. Organize and record each opportunity the sales team is prospecting and assign them a status such as “qualified” or “suspect” or “proposal” along with an estimated value associated with each of them. Assign probability percentage to each status based on your past performance at each stage. The sales people can then prioritize their time according to the probability of a win (status) and the impact of a win (estimated value). This metric is a dynamic metric and will keep changing as new opportunities come in or old opportunities move out as delayed or lost. The value of sale multiplied by the status percentage gives estimated total sales that you can expect at any period in the future provided the opportunities and stages of each opportunity are diligently tracked and recorded.

Sales Performance Metrics #2 – Sales Mix:

Based on the sales strategy of the year, one can come up with different mixes or ratios that need to be tracked as metrics for the year. This is essentially categorizing your funnel into different fields – say by nature (new, renewals or farming), by market segment (products, services, maintenance), by demographics or geography (Americas, Europe, Rest of World), by channel (direct, indirect). The ratios are arrived at by dividing the mix value by total funnel value. This gives a view on how far your strategy is being implemented at the ground level or if there is a possibility of good returns on investment made in any particular area. The sales mix ratios help zoom in on decision areas and decision types and can change from time to time based on the granularity of information available. Again, here is where the operations team can play a big role in ensuring that data strategy, quality and integrity is maintained in all systems – and garbage in-garbage out decision making is avoided.

Sales Performance Metrics #3 – Cost of Sales to Revenue Ratio:

This is a metric that used wisely and measured as a trend over time can show the overall efficiency of the sales team by segment, market or any other growth area that is in the strategy plan. The calculation should be based on the total costs for the selling efforts of each area of business. Total Sales Costs includes salaries, commissions and expenses for sales management, sales people and sales support. Divided by the revenue in the same period from the area of business, you can arrive at the ratio. I like this metric better than sales productivity (Revenue by number of sales people) as, in a global organization, salaries vary across regions, so does the revenues based on the nature of the business area. Measured over a period of time, it can give useful insights into where sales investments in terms of people is needed to get higher revenues, how long it takes for additional sales headcount to generate revenues and other such trends.

Sales Performance Metrics #4 – Conversion Rates and Ratios:

Conversion rates are very useful in identifying sales methodology or process issues, including poor proposal preparation, inaccurate forecasting or funnel categorization efforts, insufficient research into customer buying behaviors, core strength and weakness of sales persons. Conversion rates need to be measured at various steps of the sales process – the most common one is the win ratio –what percentage of qualified opportunities get closed as won. Other useful rates could be the percentage of deals that get lost after responding to proposals, percentage of qualified opportunities that show no movement over a long period of time, percentage of opportunities that are lost without any reason for loss – to pin point where the improvement is needed in the process and is useful in the qualification and prioritization of opportunities.

Sales Performance Metrics #5 – Gross Margin % by Sales Person:

This metric is a bit controversial as it is not generally used to measure performance of the sales team nor used in sales incentive plans. The general idea is that sales team is responsible for getting in the bookings and revenue and the rest of the organization has to ensure that margins are made. I am of the view that unless we track and reward sales people based on not only the volume of the bookings but also the quality of bookings, the organization cannot achieve its margin mandate. Discounting practices, pricing, “value” selling, terms and conditions on scope, timelines, milestones all affect gross margins and sales team has the highest influence with the customer to ensure favourable terms in these areas. So why not measure not only the actual gross margins of revenue by sales person but also future margins based on the funnel details? This will help the entire organization to plan and also help the sales teams to make the “right” (read profitable) sales.

“Gut feel” is all good but you also need the right data and indicators to validate your gut feel. On the other hand, no sales leader will want to go overboard on metrics and measurements that put additional load on the bandwidth of their teams taking time away from “selling” to filling in all sorts of data requirements. So, it is important to choose the right set and number of metrics to help focus strategy and efforts based on not only past performance but also through a rationalized view into the future to enable course corrections as necessary for the success of the business before it is too late.

So what is your story? What sales performance metrics do you think are must have leading indicators to improve forecasting accuracy? What are some of the more creative sales metrics that you have seen ? I would love to hear back and learn from you.

Pic courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericparker/1537862310

Five Thoughts through Five Favourite Quotes on Performance Metrics

Five Thoughts through Five Favourite Quotes on Performance Metrics

Numbers tell stories – and metrics are the tools through which these stories get shape and substance. And yes, I am mad about metrics. And I know I am not alone in my fascination for metrics. There are tons of metrics to choose from and the right performance metric for your business may not be the right one for mine. I have been asked many times on how to know when to introduce metrics, what the right metric is, and how to work the metrics so that the metrics work for you. So through this post, I will try to answer these questions through another passion of mine – quotes! I LOVE quotes (as do the majority of internet users going by the number of quotes shared every minute) – do you too get the feeling sometimes when you read a quote – ahh, I totally get that one, I wish I had written that – an Eureka Moment ?

Quotes are distilled pieces of wisdom. And when it comes to metrics, my experience is that getting the perfect metric and the perfect outcome as a result of tracking the metric needs a lot of hard work and experimentation – so wisdom from people who have been there, done that certainly goes a long way in making the metrics journey easier. So, here are the five quotes on performance metrics, pieces of wisdom that have helped me crystallize my approach to key performance metrics:

“Measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so.” – Galileo

From the Father of Modern Science comes this gem. The thought to keep in mind when you have to begin from the beginning with metrics. The second half of the quote – make measurable what is not so – stands out to me – just because you can measure something easily is no good reason for measuring something. Metrics need to be tied to the desired business outcomes. And we need to spend some time assessing what metrics we have already and what metrics we need, and then going back to work on creating the systems and processes that will provide the data for quantification in a shape and form that will allow us to measure that. Data collection, analysis and management is most often cost and labour-intensive – so that part should always be weighed against the benefit derived from the metric. Don’t start something you can’t sustain in the long run.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hofmann

What not to measure is sometimes more important than what you do measure. Selection of the right performance metric for your business is critical. Do not introduce metrics just for the sake of metrics – it serves no one and the whole purpose is defeated. Start with what is the business goal that you need to track and improve, what are the processes related to that goal, and what metric would best reflect the productivity of the process. Measure only that which is important, that which provides real value to the process in question, which can be easily understood by all stakeholders and is ACTIONABLE.  Control your love for metrics and don’t produce reams of excels and slides and/or dashboards that make peoples’ eyes glaze over right from the start. Be ruthless in cutting down the unnecessary so that the necessary can stand out and shout.

“If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything.” – Ronald Coase

One of my favourites and sorry to say, one that I am reminded of time and again in the corporate world. Data through metrics must speak the truth even when (and especially when) it does not serve our personal needs. As professionals, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our organizations to be honest, transparent and collaborative. How you measure is as important as what you measure. Don’t devise metrics out of the data just to show things in a good light or in a bad light – keep doing that and there will soon be nothing left to measure. Design the metrics and the data collection systems in such a way that it throws the spotlight on the business outcome and is balanced to reward productive behaviour and discourage “game playing”.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter F. Drucker

This one is a popular quote and one that has served me well every time I enter a new setup or review a long running process. Business is dynamic, why should metrics remain static? What made sense to measure last month, quarter or year may have become completely irrelevant to measure today. Many a times I have found during reviews, a metric that no one remembers why it is being used, knows who is using it or where it is being used. Trust me, the same is true for many processes as well. There may have been a good reason once sometime in the past that makes absolutely no sense today. So keep reviewing, keep questioning and keep going back to the drawing board with your list of chosen metrics so that they remain relevant and useful.

“An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.” – Arnold Glasow

Do I see you nodding your head to that? All data, dashboards, metrics are useless unless the knowledge and insights derived from them are translated into action.  Ask yourself – what story does this metric say, how can it help the leadership make the right decisions (more, less, better, different?) and arrive at an action plan when necessary? Every metric should be mapped to an end goal and have an action plan defined for improvement, sustenance and excellence. The action plan reviews should go hand in hand with the metric reviews feeding each other in a continuous loop. If the metrics are chosen carefully and presented properly, then, in the process of achieving their metrics, people will make the right decisions and take the right actions that enable the organization to maximize its performance. And that is when you know you have done your job well.

So, there you have it, the method and mechanism behind key performance metrics through learned wisdom. Metrics matter, metrics need work for them to work, metrics tell a story – the ending of which you have the power to change. Make your Metrics Rock!

What are your favourite quotes on performance metrics? What wisdom have you gathered on setting key performance metrics ? What has worked for your business and what has not? I would love to hear back and learn from you.

Pic Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rubyblossom/4674821065/

Five Human Resource Metrics that link People to Business Strategy – Business Operations Performance Metrics

Five Human Resource Metrics that link People to Business Strategy – Business Operations Performance Metrics

The abundance of information – from both internal and external sources – is the richest possible mine when it comes to understanding the employer brand, employee engagement and what employees want and need from the organization. The vital, and apparently missing, step is to transform the data collected into strategic advantage. The use of analytics, seems to be focused on external stakeholders and is yet to be used to its full effect when it comes to talent management. Only under half of CEOs (46%) use analytics to provide insight into how effectively skills are being deployed in their organizations.

This was a key finding in PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, “People strategy for the digital age: A new take on talent”, which seeks to understand how businesses are preparing for the wholesale redesign of the world of work.

Clearly the standard HR metrics of Cost per resource, HR efficiency (no. of HR employees to total no. of employees), etc. which primarily help in driving down the costs are no longer sufficient in an environment where talent is the competitive edge for organizations. The need of the hour is HR metrics that are aligned to the current and the future business plans to ensure that not only is there no shortage of talent when we need it but also that we have processes and programs in place to create the right talent for our business.

When we create budgets for the year, we spend a significant amount of time planning where the revenue will come from and how the spend will be distributed across cost headers. In services organization, labour is the biggest component of both income and expenditure. Do we spend the same amount of time in planning how we would attract, retain and develop this big-ticket item so that the business objectives are met? Annual talent strategy planning is a must to develop and harness the potential of human capital – to proactively drive business outcomes instead of reactively responding to whatever the latest talent shortage crisis is. Based on my experiences in resource management and operations, here are the five human resource metrics that I think can help link your people strategy to your business strategy:

Human Resource Metrics #1: Competency Development Spend % – This one starts with identifying the key skills and talents that are necessary to execute on the company’s strategy for the year and create the competitive advantage while providing a platform for internal employees to learn and grow in their chosen career ladders. These could be technical (specialized software or hardware skills), functional (customer service, selling, tools and technology training) or managerial (leadership development, communication, succession planning, mentoring). Assess the current skill levels and the gap from where it needs to be and then draw up the competency development plan with budgets, timelines and desired outcomes for the year. Monitor the spend against the budget periodically (maybe monthly or quarterly) to ensure that there is focus on developing the right competencies that are needed for business success and that the plan is relevant to the current business scenarios.

Human Resource Metrics #2: Employee Engagement – This is the HR Mantra and enough research has been done to show that the EE figures of an organization are directly proportional to its business performance. Falling engagement levels are the precursor to higher attrition, lower productivity and increasing costs per hire. But an employee engagement survey just for the sake of measuring engagement is a waste of time and energy. The survey should be used as a tool to collect information that helps drive better results. Analysis should be done to isolate sincere actionable feedback from the “noise”. For example – what do your best performers think about your organization – does it allow them to perform to their optimum levels and get better every day? Invest and prioritize the engagement feedback that will really have an impact on key employee retention and overall employee performance and build this into your annual plan.

Human Resource Metrics #3: Quality of Hiring – This amounts to determining how a new hire’s abilities and performance varies from pre-hire requirements and expectations and is a metric that is generally calculated from 3-6 months after the hiring. Combined with the cost of hire (external recruitment spend+ internal labor costs) and the speed of hire (time taken to fulfill an open position), the quality of hire metric forms a great basis to measure the overall efficiency of your recruitment function and its processes (targeted sourcing,  speedy reaction time, consistent screening process and continuous improvement). The impact of a wrong hire is huge on the business outcome and we definitely need to spend some time here to ensure we have the right data points and methodologies to ensure that we hire the right people for the right jobs. Some excellent data on this metric here : http://www.ere.net/2009/10/02/quality-of-hire-the-missing-link-in-calculating-roi-part-i-of-a-series/

Human Resource Metrics #4: Resource Utilization % – This is the most common metric used in human resource management and for a good reason. It is the ratio of the resource’s billable work to the total amount of work and hence has a visible and direct impact on a company’s revenue and margins. What I want to highlight here is the need to go beyond this number and look at the underlying reasons for variations in the numbers and focus on them for improvement.  Numerous factors can change utilization rates, including inconsistency in calculations of what constitutes work and billable work, late and cancelled projects, increased training and ramp –up times and ancillary job demands, such as paperwork. Keep track of employee expertise areas and availability status in a central skill database, so that you can the quickly move people into a project and maximize utilization. Cross-train technical staff to respond quickly to changes in client demand. Developing a versatile and flexible workforce keeping in mind future customer requirements reduces idle time. Develop a bench strategy and a robust demand and supply forecasting process to stay on top of the target utilization numbers.

Human Resource Metrics #5: Revenue per Employee – This is a simple metric but the most important one to gauge and measure the success of all the plans and initiatives as outlined above – quarter on quarter and year on year. It also helps to compare the performance of your organization with similar organizations and set benchmarks internally for your HR and resource management functions, the data on total revenue and total headcount of companies being easily available. The revenue per employee should steadily increase leading to expanding margins and improved profitability. This is a number that must feature on all management reviews as it helps keep focus not only on the denominator (costs – and there is only so much cutting that you can do) but also on the numerator (revenue – where are we getting maximum value out of our labour and why – to drive strategy in the directions where it is working).

One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to metrics  – and you may have your own views on what metrics are best suited to drive the talent advantage for your organization. One thing is common though – we need to collect consistent information on our resources, use metrics that enable decision-making and ensure that talent management strategy remains relevant with overall business strategy and contributes actively to business growth. We need to choose the metrics that help the management to make quick and sound business decisions that are based on facts rather than feeling. What has worked for you in this area – I would love to hear and learn from you.

Five Metrics that can help Maximize Revenue, Margin and Cash Flow Potential from Existing Business

Five Metrics that can help Maximize Revenue, Margin and Cash Flow Potential from Existing Business

For a business or sales manager, the last week of the quarter is a very stressful time. Push for that last-minute sale, run after the documentation for sales orders and contracts, and make sure that all the steps in the book to bill process happen smoothly – it is a race against time. The scope and degree of these activities may vary from company to company based on the setting of quarterly or annual targets but the end objective is usually the same – maximize the revenue, margin and cash flow potential. Cash is always king and any additional revenue is generally welcome, as long as the bottom line targets are met. But extra revenue, margin and cash flow that can be uncovered and pulled out of existing fixed costs is very valuable because it tends to flow straight through to the bottom line. This is where business operations can play a critical role in identifying sources, plugging gaps and putting in place processes to prevent revenue and cash flow leakage that leads to financial under-performance.

Given the timing, today’s blog post is focused on the metrics and areas that act as indicators to these quarterly business objectives. I have been called a “gold-digger” and a “revenue shark” by my bosses (and I take that as a huge compliment :)) and so here are five of my secret sources that help me uncover hidden treasures and meet the stretched targets specifically in the services business:

Metric #1 – Unbilled Revenue:

What:  Revenue that has been recognized in previous months/quarters but has not been billed to the customer.

Why:  Mainly due to

a)    Lack of confirmation/approval  on milestones in Fixed Price projects from customer on billing

b)    Lack of confirmation/Approval from customer on time sheets in T & M projects

c)    Milestones not in sync with efforts in Fixed price projects – we are burning efforts faster than we bill

Impact: Cash Flow (Collections/DSO) Target


Metric #2 – Unearned Revenue

What: Revenue that has been invoiced to the customer but not earned, accrued or recognized.

Why: Mainly due to

a)      Advance billing in Fixed Price projects based on a milestone such as Contract Sign off/PO received/etc

b)      Lack of Information on man months spent for the revenue in the project

c)       Milestones not in sync with efforts in Fixed Price projects – we are billing the customer faster than we are spending the efforts

d)      Man-months and/or Total project value for the project not updated or re-baselined in case of fixed price projects where revenue is calculated on the basis of percentage completion – we thought we would be spending x no. of man-months at project start but actually need lesser amount of man-months to complete the project OR the total project value has changed (+/- CRs) and man-months has not been updated

Impact: Revenue and Margin Targets

Metric #3 – Deferred or Unrecognized Revenue

What: Revenue for which we have spent efforts (tagged as billable) but has not been recognized or earned in the period in which efforts have been spent.

Why: Mainly due to

a)      Lack of documentation needed as per US GAAP or other accounting guidelines – no signed SOW/contract/PO

b)      Orders received but not reached finance or accounting folks

c)       Project not created/updated in financial systems

d)      Billing inputs not received by Finance in terms of how many man-months spent and where

Impact: Revenue, Margin and Cash Flow Targets

Metrics #4 – Resource Utilization Dips

What: Dips in Percentage of the actual revenue earned by assets against the potential revenue that could have earned.

Why: Mainly due to

a)      Real increase in buffer or bench

b)      “Hidden” resources in fixed price projects

c)       Missed billing for resources in T & M Projects

d)      Incorrect tagging or time tracking of resources

Impact: Revenue, Margin and Cash Flow Targets

Metric #5 – Static Backlog

What: No change in Difference amount (i.e. Backlog) of the Value Booked and the Value Billed/Recognized of an Order over a period of time. A healthy backlog is a good sign but it has to be serviced quickly or the order may get cancelled and the backlog will disappear taking away the revenue potential with it.

Why: Mainly due to

a)      Slow ramp-up of internal resources for T & M projects

b)      Delays in project schedule for fixed price projects due to skill unavailability, etc

c)       Delays in hiring

d)      Gaps in understanding of customer expectations

Impact: Revenue and Margin targets

Some of the terms above may seem purely financial in nature but business operations in service companies must look deeper into these numbers in order to discover and monitor the root causes of the variations. The variations in the above metrics are an indication of broken processes and work flows within the organization maybe due to lack of integrated systems or communication gaps or discipline. Fail to understand the significance of these metrics and you will fail to reap the benefits in the shape of maximized revenue, profits and cash flow that arise from the tracking and root cause corrections of these metrics.

I would love to know and learn from you. What terms or metrics do you use to monitor and improve the performance and efficiency of your organization? Where have you found revenue, margin or cash flow leakages in your work? Which of the above metrics would you want to know more about ?