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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 Pointers to Make Your Business Proposal Stand Out as the Best

Five Pointers to Make Your Business Proposal Stand Out as the Best

A Business Proposal or Sales Proposal is often the first strong knock on the doors of a prospective client. Whether it is in the form of a word document or presentation, it has to be impressive and paint such a compelling picture that the customer just can’t wait to pick up the phone and schedule a face to face meeting with you. You get the entry that you need to pitch your product/service and abilities. Writing and reviewing hundreds of business proposals has made me realize one thing – there is a method to this madness and no proposal is too big or too complex – if you follow certain basic guidelines in the creation process:

Pointer #1: It is not about You – the goal of any proposal is to address the specific customer requirements and pain points. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and structure the proposal in the best way that answers the customer’s stated or implicit questions. Persuade them that you know the questions and have the answers through your proposal. To do this, ensure that your proposal and every section in the proposal addresses five questions Who, What, How, When and So What:

  • Who – will do this?
  • What – needs to be done?
  • How – will you do it?
  • When – will all the milestones occur?
  • So What – will the customer benefit by having you do it?

Pointer #2: Format and Template – Usually the customer specifies the format and structure of the business proposal. Comply with this religiously. Any additional information that you think would be useful in nudging the customer decision in your favour should go into the appendix. If the customer hasn’t specified the response structure, then create the template keeping in mind the questions in Pointer #1. Your proposal should be easily readable and information easy to find. Use indexing and linking within the proposal. Use headings for your sections and labels for your diagrams to draw attention. For some large RFPs (Request For Proposal), especially in government and public sectors, different departments could be given different sections of the proposal to evaluate. So it is important that every section by itself has the context and the references to other sections that might be relevant. Don’t make your customer work too hard or spend a lot of time puzzling his way through your proposal.

Pointer #3 – Optimize against Evaluation Criteria – Most business proposal requests lay out how they will score the vendor for the response. If not, ask the customer about their key evaluation criteria. Compliance to all aspects of the bid is very critical to pass the first stage. So read the fine print carefully before you start putting your efforts to it. Check the submission date and create a timeline to ensure that you meet the deadline. Focus and give more time on those aspects that are most important to the customer and will give you the scoring edge.

Pointer #4 – You do need a Super Executive Summary – Your introduction in the form of the executive summary should actually be the “conclusion” of your proposal. The rest of the business proposal serves to provide the supporting points to add credibility to your introduction. Brainstorm on what the customer needs (as opposed to wants), how you are going to satisfy those needs and why they should do business with you and none else. Summarize the salient points of this into your executive summary first and then start with the rest of your proposal; again it should be more about the customer than about you.

Pointer #5 – Keep it Simple – Minimize buzz words, don’t overwhelm with information just because you have some great content ready, make it visually attractive – sometimes a picture does speak a thousand words. Give a day or two to proofread and review the proposal. Spelling and grammar are yes, important – you don’t want to project yourself as someone who does not care about the details enough.

First impression is everything in hunting and winning business. Use your business proposal to stand out in the crowd and make a lasting impact. I would love to hear your views on what challenges you face in responding to proposals and how you tackle them….

Five Actions that can make your Sales Forecasts a Hit – Business Operations Performance Management

Five Actions that can make your Sales Forecasts a Hit – Business Operations Performance Management


A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organized ~ Anonymous

If you are in business or sales, this time of the year is tough. It is the season for budgets and forecasts.  You are either looking back and thinking what went wrong or taxing your brains on how to get it right for the next year. Or you could be one of the lucky few who raked in more, much much more than you forecasted. Either ways, this is not a good situation to be in. Predictability is key to successful business outcomes. You cannot decide how much to spend and where to spend unless you know with great accuracy how much and where your revenue is going to come from.

What usually happens in the forecasting process is that the senior management asks their sales leaders for a forecast, the sales leaders check with their reps for a “gut feel” number. The sales reps come up with a number (maybe 10%-20% lower than their gut feel number, to play it safe). The numbers roll up to the senior management. At this stage, the management takes a look at the numbers and checks it with the number they have in their minds (the number that will satisfy the investors/owners), then either discards the sales numbers completely and make up their own numbers or if you are lucky, the numbers get approved. This is quite a hellish process as you can see with lots of stress and heart burn at every stage but no guarantees that the end result is the most accurate version of forecast.

Accurate forecasting is an art – there is no foolproof method or formula to get it right but there are a few steps or actions that business/sales people can keep in mind that can improve the accuracy of the forecast and make the process easier:

Action #1 – Understand what Forecasting Is and Is Not – A forecast is not an aspirational goal, nor a “quota” or a “crowd-pleaser” number, nor an administration activity nor a computer program output. It is rather a Projection of ACHIEVABLE sales revenue, based on historical sales data, analysis of market surveys and trends, and salesperson’s estimates. Many people at this stage confuse a sales plan with a sales forecast – this is disastrous as it affects the entire chain of the business cycle which depends on the achievable number to do its planning to delivery on the forecast.

Action #2Collaborate to Win: To make forecasts more effective, there must be a free-flow of information between all the functions to prevent duplicacy or contradictory data. There has to be respect for different point of views. Each function has its own insights – delivery timelines, ramp-up plans from engineering, capacity constraints from operations, campaign or events plan from marketing, customer satisfaction scores from customer support– all of these could have an impact on the end revenue results. Hence, it is important to have a strong mechanism in place to efficiently bring together different organizational functions to contribute their inputs in a spirit of collaboration.

Action #3 – Joining the Dots: A good forecast is never stand-alone. It takes into account trends from the past too like the previous year(s) sales in the same time period to account for the impact of seasonal buying patterns, a similar state of the economy, currency exchange rate fluctuations, availability of resources, marketing campaigns, etc. As Eugene O’Neill famously said – There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now. Given that a forecast has to predict the future, it makes good sense to base it on what is known – the past.

Action #4 – Reward Accuracy: Like in other management areas, what gets rewarded gets done. Sales people often have the mindset that their job is to sell and not forecast. This mindset is disastrous for the company bottom-line. Accurate forecasts have a huge impact on the company margins so why not put some of it back to reward the source of accuracy. It is important to put in place policies and practices particularly in the job performance evaluation criteria to reinforce the fact that forecasting is important for business success.

Action #5 Track and Improve: At best, a sales forecast is an educated guesstimate built on the basis of certain assumptions. And the basis for assumptions as well as the assumptions themselves change rapidly in the business world. Hence it is critical to review the forecast on a regular basis (fortnightly at the very least) to check if the assumptions still hold good. Measure your forecast accuracy, develop mechanisms and metrics to identify and eliminate the sources of error and plough the learning back into your sales forecasting process. This will ultimately help build confidence in the forecasting process and improve the accuracy so that the entire organization can benefit from better planning.

Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight.

Henry R. Luce (1898–1967), US publisher

What process or mechanism do you use to generate accurate forecasts? What other steps do you take to improve the predictability of your business? I would love to know.


Five Ways Sales Operations can Enable Sales Leadership – Business Operations Performance Management

Five Ways Sales Operations can Enable Sales Leadership – Business Operations Performance Management


The job of a sales person is to sell – to focus every minute of his/her work day selling – because if he/she is not, then no one else is! But the expectation from a sales person is not just sales, there are myriad activities that are essentially non-customer facing but are necessary – sales strategy, planning, reviews, forecasting, reporting and logging in data in CRM tools, inter-departmental coordination, the list goes on… chipping away into the 2000 hours in the year that the sales person has to sell. Various surveys suggest that almost two-thirds of a sales person’s week is spent doing something other than selling. Less time in front of customer is equal to less sales – simple. And that is where the sales operations function can step in. Sales operation is essentially the processes, infrastructure and administrative support necessary to help a sales organization run effectively, efficiently and in support of business strategies and objectives. There is immense pressure on increasing the sales productivity given the drive for better top-line and bottom-line growth in all organizations, big or small today and the complex selling environment. A good sales operations team if properly structured and empowered can increase rate of sales and repeat sales, cut costs and improve margins all leading to a sales productivity increase.

Sales Operations can do the balancing act between strategy and execution from the annual, quarterly and monthly planning and analysis to the day-to-day support of the sales force – all the while enabling the front line salespeople to meet and exceed their sales and margin quotas. Here are five ways in which sales operations can be the sales productivity accelerators for the sales leadership:

Sales Enabler #1 – Identify the Focus based on the Goal: What is the company’s goal for the period – is it top line growth or bottom line growth? The Sales operations team can work closer to field-facing sales in times when top-line growth is the highest priority or work closer to internal organization-facing operations in times when bottom-line growth is the highest priority. The balance that has to be done here by the sales operations team is not to become a “sales prevention” team nor allow a “cowboy/cowgirl” style of unregulated selling. This is what will drive sales operations focus and roles (great inputs by Eryc Branham here) for the period to support and enable sales leadership. For example – field facing activities like account planning, RFP support, lead generation and field marketing campaigns could take precedence over commission planning, contract vetting and approvals and finance alignment.

Sales Enabler #2 – Provide Knowledge out of the Data: With all the CRM and Social Media tools and technology available to sales today, data collection is not a problem (if you have solved the technology problem that is – Enterprise resource projects are notorious for their low success rates for achieving the intended outcomes – another area where sales operations can support sales leadership in the selection of the right tools, in getting them to perform the way they should and in increasing tool usage and acceptability within sales teams along with ensuring data quality). What is needed is extraction of the right set of data, comparing it against trends and benchmarks and providing  recommendations to the Sales leaders to help them decide the strategic direction they need to take.  Sales Operations can be the expert on and the single source of authentic knowledge for the sales organization.

Sales Enabler #3 – Process Setting and Ownership:  An effective sales process can go a long way in improving the win rate and increasing the repeat sales. A sales process is effective when it balances the needs of three stakeholders – the needs of the customer, the needs of sales person to meet his/her numbers and the needs of the rest of the organization to be able to execute on the sale. The sales operation team can not only help in the creation of the process but also take ownership of its documentation, adoption and implementation and support the sales people through opportunity to a win-win for all stakeholders.

Sales Enabler #4 – Metrics and Dashboards: One of my favorite topics and pet projects. Metrics need to be aligned to business strategy and objectives – metrics should not only measure the past performance but also act as leading indicators into the future and how it is developing over time. The selection of the right metrics (out of the many sales metrics that are used today) for the sales dashboards also depends on the audience. For example, leading metrics for the sales reps would need to be around their pipeline (sales cycle times and win/loss ratios per stage, etc. to determine pipeline volume requirements and key selling strategies). Sales Leaders would need to have consolidated pipeline and trend information and associated metrics (% of stuck opportunities, overall opportunity age, etc) so that they can help their teams achieve the desired outcomes. The sales operations team can model the data and propose the right sales metrics to the sales team and sales leaders based on what insights they need to meet and exceed their performance objectives.

Sales Enabler #5 – Be the Bridge between Sales and the rest of the Organization: The sales team has to be customer facing and focused on selling and winning deals. But, they can’t do this alone – they need the support of many functions (marketing, finance, delivery, legal, etc) within the organization to succeed. The sales operations team can be the liaison between the sales teams and other functions and help trigger a customer focused culture within the organization by reducing inter-function friction. The key here is of course to work towards driving a respect and trust based culture through providing the understanding of each other’s priorities and challenges. Sometime, sales operations will be the advocate and sometimes the buffer to balance conflicting pressures – a less stressed  happy sales engine will be the result.

So in the end, the sales leader should be willing to assign and empower the sales operations team so that they in turn can enable the sales leadership by giving them the gift of time and the necessary insights to achieve the balance between meeting short-term quarterly expectations and the long-term planning needed to ensure the next million/billion dollars.

Where else do you think the sales operations team can enable sales leadership and help the sales force be more effective ? What challenges have you faced as a sales operations professional ? I would love to hear back and learn from you.


Business Operations Performance Metrics: Gross Margin – Five Steps to Improve your Margin

Business Operations Performance Metrics: Gross Margin – Five Steps to Improve your Margin

~~The success combination in business is: Do what you do better and do more of what you do. David Joseph Schwartz ~~

Margin improvement – this phrase usually conjures up images of budget cuts and lay-offs – and strikes fear in the hearts of the toughest managers.   But it really does not have to involve any of these things – costs reductions though important should not be used as the only lever in any margin improvement strategy as you soon run out of cost reduction options.    Gross Margin (as I wrote in my earlier post on key performance metrics) is the mother of all metrics and the quickest way to determine if your business in on track or not   and acts as an early warning system to put in place margin improvement initiatives. So, a quick definition of gross margin:

Gross Margin (%) = (Net Sales – Cost Of Goods Sold)/Net Sales

The gross margin represents the   percent of sales that the company keeps after incurring the direct costs associated with producing the goods and services sold by a company. The levels of gross margin may vary dramatically based on the nature of business (products or services, manufacturing or retail, etc.) but the principles and strategies behind improving margins boils down to two things – increasing your sales and increasing your operational efficiency to   bring down the cost of goods sold.

Thinking through some such initiatives that I have been involved in and noting what worked and what didn’t, these are the five steps that I came up with that I believe are critical to the success of any margin improvement initiative:

Margin Improvement Step #1: Customer profiling or Knowing your best customers – It all starts with the right data that gives you the information that you need, in this case a profile of your customers (or customer segments) that gives you a view of where your profits are coming from. Pareto’s principle applies here too; around 80% of your profits would come from 20% of your customers (or segments). Now you have identified where to focus your energies on – sell more in high profits areas and less in the low profit ones. This will also help in reducing the cost of sales that arise from keeping alive or going after customers where you are consistently not making any margins.

Margin Improvement Step #2: Order to Cash process or Leaving no money on the table – Take a close look at all your internal business processes and systems that are in place to book orders, bill them and collect the cash. Where are the revenue leakages – do you have a method to track unbilled and deferred revenues and plug these?  Are invoices being raised in time or are customers being essentially financed by you? Do you have policies to regulate and control warranties, refunds, credit notes, etc.? Little things add up to a big dent into your margins over a period of time.

Margin Improvement Step #3: Pricing Policies or Enabling your Sales force Effectiveness – The quickest way to increase the gross margin is to increase prices. Even a 2-3% increase in prices brings in a big jump in margins and the people who can do this are the sales team. So are the sales people in the company aware about the linkages in pricing and margins? Is there clear communication and transparencies in how pricing is done within the organization and how it translates into bottom line for the company? Are there tools that can help sales make better decisions by giving them access to real-time data on profitability?   Making key stakeholders aware of the tools at their disposal and how their actions impact the outcomes is a big step forward in any improvement initiative.

Margin Improvement Step #4: Operational Excellence or Reducing inefficiencies – This is all about doing more with less and driving performance improvement through the smart use of metrics. Look at all areas of waste and inefficiencies  – space that is not being used, people that are not being utilized, advertising that is not working, projects that are out of control, inventory that is gathering dust, supply chain expenses, travel costs, etc. Translate this into a plan with measurable outcomes and deadlines and assign clear ownerships.

Margin Improvement Step #5: Rewards and Celebrations Or Creating a Customer-focused Culture – Tie the incentives, awards and rewards that you give to your employees clearly with the margin goals. Tie Sales bonuses with the levels of margin that each sale brings in and not just the revenue. Celebrate early wins to reinforce the importance of the margin improvement initiative. Positive reinforcement works best here.   Research shows that companies with a customer-focused culture that consistently deliver value beyond customer expectations grow at rates that exceed industry averages. Customer Focus is a profit strategy and the way to achieve long term profitability is to build and sustain the culture of customer focus within the organization

What steps have I missed ? What business operation metric do you use to measure margins?   What has worked for you in improving margins? I would love to learn from you.