SPM Ch. 6: A Culture of Continuous Sales Performance Improvement
If you are reading this section of our Sales Performance Methodology, we can assume that you have planned, executed, and seen results from Phases I and II.
If not, you can find the previous chapters here:
If correct, you are well on your way to an accelerating sales organization with increased effectiveness.
Sales Performance Management
Hopefully, you are in a better position than you were when you began this journey. Soon, you won’t recall how you had been able to manage your team correctly before administering to a standard that is accurate and well-communicated. Now that you have created a baseline level of sales performance expectations, optimized your team from an HR standpoint, and placed focus on activities that are predictive of success, it is essential that you don’t lose sight of the long-term value in light of early success.
In many ways, Phase III, the Continuous Improvement Phase, is the most important of all. This phase is where you will obtain the ROI that was expected when you set out to improve sales performance. When properly executed, you will set your team and your management career on the path to sustainable, long-term excellence. The likes of which are incredibly difficult to find in today’s over-saturated big data age, where our access to information has never been greater while our understanding and application of information has never been more inefficient.
View Dashboards for KPI Progress — Measuring performance against goals each day characterizes the rhythm of your sales team. As a manager, your responsibility is to keep a handle on this rhythm each day. This responsibility does not need to take more than a few minutes at most but is essential for success. When correctly configured to show the KPIs that matter most, you can restrict your focus to those KPIs and their performance-against-goal.
For each metric, select an acceptable deviation from standard to analyze time frames that are most relevant to the way your business runs (weekly, daily, monthly). Then, identify patterns that could be indicative of potential trouble (e.g., KPI trends being off consistently for a period). Make a note of these trends every day and mark them for follow-up.
Evaluate KPIs and Take Action — Once you identify the sales performance of the team that is outside the acceptable standard deviation, take action. Don’t just file it away. Resist the temptation to let it rest. If you are comfortable letting underperformance rest, try changing your acceptable deviation to a higher percentage. This must be an objective process, whereby your brain does not have to make a qualitative decision.
Gamification — Instill a gamification aspect to your management. Not only should you be managing the team, but they should also be coaching themselves through healthy competition and peer evaluation. Though this depends on the organization and privacy, you should always strive for transparency. This rule will be the glue that holds the team structure together, ensuring that everyone on a team is kept to a standard and fosters two-way accountability.
Spot check utilization — Utilization is the essential component of the system. Everything else stems from agents and managers using the system every day. For agents, you are looking for a few things: Are they making calls through the authorized system each day? Is the overall volume for a rep/office consistent with overall expectation? Keep in mind that you are not necessarily looking for sales performance against a goal because this is being monitored weekly. Preferably, this is your opportunity to evaluate raw activity across the hierarchy. Any chronic issues will likely be vetted during the week from gamification.
Monthly activity will be the most critical information collected towards the ongoing development of the system will occur in the monthly timeframe.
Despite the simplicity of the system, there is a required monthly “maintenance” that must happen for the system to provide consistent returns.
Analyze Goals and adjust (upward or downward) — Each month, you should evaluate the performance against goals for each KPI that is tracked by your organization.
Identify the pattern over the prior month each week, as well as related to previous months. Ensure your goals are realistic and attainable.
Rule of thumb — When adjusting goals, make sure the goals you are setting are:
- Indicating progress — even if you are lowering goals, it must correspond with a heightening of management coaching and/or structure, so you obtain progress one way or another.
- A stretch — the goals should never be “easily attainable” by your middle of the pack reps.
- Attainable — not easily attainable, but still attainable. The goal is not to demoralize reps and give them excuses, but to inspire them to succeed with attainable stretch goals that account for their role and indicate forward progress
This continual readjustment will do two things for your management structure. First, it will keep you current with changes that develop over time, such as significant personnel moves and strategic prospecting shifts in thinking. Second, it will send the right message for your team that the system is continually updated and monitored instead of being some long-gone neglected initiative.
Reconciliation of activity with revenue — Often considered the only sales KPI that matters, revenue is the ultimate effect that you are always working to manage. The power of the system is that it’s a reliable predictor of revenue performance. You should pursue a monthly analysis of activity effectiveness with revenue production. Ideally, you expect to see a direct correlation between the agents that are most effective daily to the maximum output.
Many factors can play into this analysis, but it’s incumbent for the manager to understand the correlation itself, along with the underlying factors that inform it. If there is a negative correlation, you need to analyze that as well and make the necessary adjustments.
For example, if longer calls result in less revenue for a rep or team, you need to take that next step to understand how and why using conversational information or speech analytics. What you can’t do, is not know or not learn the correlation. It is the very definition of sales management.
Newsletters & Showcases — A newsletter is a great way to remind the team of the ongoing importance of the activity that is being measured and conducted each day. Often, a newsletter format is ideal to emphasize the success of the teams and individuals from the prior month. Your top performers are going to appreciate the recognition, your middle of the pack will have a model to strive towards, and your low performers will feel a bit of pressure. Though you don’t want the tone to be cynical and punitive, you also don’t want to protect the low performers entirely. Leaderboards or stack-rankings are healthy for this type of reinforcement.
Also recommended is a specific “MVP” call-out that highlights a user or office from the prior month, who exemplifies the system principles along with other notable performance details.
Try not to focus on the same KPIs and success points each month. Instead, try to mix it up, so everyone gets an idea of the big picture goals in play for the long-term.
Some organizations prefer to prep newsletters either frequently (weekly) or less regularly (quarterly) but in our experience, monthly is infrequent enough to be valued and manageable administratively, yet frequent enough to be consistently relevant for the group.
Some organizations prefer to prep newsletters either frequently (weekly) or less regularly (quarterly, but in our experience, monthly is infrequent enough to be valued and manageable administratively, yet frequent enough to be consistently relevant for the group.
Performance Plans — Cultivating and developing a team of high-performers is not for the faint of heart. As much as we’d like to solely praise the top dogs, you will inevitably notice agents struggling or consistently underperforming upon deployment of this system.
Because you now have an objective standard from which to measure, evaluating and placing agents on a performance plan goes with the territory.
Each company’s HR processes will inform guidelines for this process, but the best practice recommendation for an agent to show development is generally between two and three quarters.
Assuming you have done the appropriate coaching and training when you have identified a rep that merely isn’t generating the activity needed to perform against your established baseline for a sustained period, they should be placed on a 30-day performance plan.
Unlike traditional PPs that can drag from 60-90 days, the Gryphon system is established on activities that predict success when a rep is consistently short of these activities, and 30 days is typically more than enough to see negative results or cut bait.
Hiring and Firing — In landscaping, one trims shrubs to get rid of low performing limbs, so that the energy expended by the organism is optimized to the limbs that are likely to produce the best results, whether that is further strengthening an existing limb, or nurturing a newly growing limb that has stronger potential than a dead or dying one.
Performance plans aside, you should be working to “prune your tree” quarterly at a minimum. It should be unemotional if you are doing it right. Objectivity will come into the equation, but the reason for the baseline minimum of activities is because it is indeed a minimum.
Along with redeploying or relieving underperformers, you should be as systematic with planning new hires.
The system will provide you with the “blueprint of success” so that any incoming agent has an accurate assessment of what would be expected of them, so naturally you should be able to hire agents that are more likely to be successful.
This should impact both hiring and onboarding significantly. With an accurate read of activity against-goal-from day 1, you will be able to identify culture and intent more quickly, improve hiring practices, and retain a higher quality rep.
Reinforcement Training — According to Gartner, the majority of sales training fails to produce the ROI that is expected. The most often cited reason is that of trained agents reverting to long-held behaviors (good or bad) when the training is not reinforced daily in their process.
The Gryphon System is designed to establish the process and enforce it every day with clear management visibility. However, even the most diligent agents will eventually lose sight of some of the system’s principles.
So, similar to the idea behind monthly newsletters, you should plan quarterly reinforcement sessions to restate the system elements, share best practices, showcase those who exemplify the system, and discuss learnings and potential opportunities.
We recommend this quarterly at a minimum as a priority meeting with full participation.
Update training material — Because we place such emphasis on the Gryphon System as a living adapted workflow and culture, training is often last-considered and neglected.
Every six months, you should make an effort to audit and revisit the new hire training as well as the onboarding agenda and material, to ensure these items remain current with the system as it is launched and adapted to the individual working environment. Nothing conveys the message of “outdated” like obsolete training material.
Tools evaluation — The core emphasis of this system is on a methodology. However, the right tools are required to properly deploy it because of the need to accurately and automatically capture daily activity and process data quickly for management insight.
Technology isn’t the primary focus, but it is vital to continually evaluate and update the tools that are in use to obtain data, control it, and interpret it.
Technology also changes rapidly, so you should ensure you are staying current with the tool availability on an infrequent basis.
Perhaps only validate the tools that are currently in use, but also explore additions that may have emerged to improve effectiveness further.
For example, conversational data is incredibly valuable.
If there is a tool which allows you to enable call recording with smart speech analytics, and one that is simple, automated, and targeted, would significantly improve coaching and transparency by utilizing actual customer conversations.
In short, you should always strive to be improving not only the team and the process, but the tools to become better, smarter, and more effective
Annually Top-Down Audit — In preparation for a new year with new goals and learnings from the prior 12 months, you should do a full audit of the following:
- Activities tracked
- Activities against goal trends
- Performance against goals
- Variance within groups of teams or offices
- Tools audit
- Process audit
- User feedback
Keep a log of all the details from the past year, as well as a summary of overall activity performance and changes. Each year, you will want to review both the changes from the prior year and the results. Over time, your blueprint will get better and will be the thread that runs through the team’s culture. It will also inform your management decision-making and serve as a guideline that can be relied upon in times of change, which are always on the horizon.
From Project to Practice
The primary purpose for the last phase of the program is to make sure you are continuously optimizing the “supply chain” that has been established. Without this step, every other action taken will have been for nothing. The best way to simplify this phase is to focus on three key words — Ongoing, Incremental, and Sustainable.
Ongoing — This means “forever.” This approach must become part of your repertoire for as long as you are leading a sales organization. The principles herein are extendible to any organization you are leading, only the tools and backdrop changes. This approach is the opposite of a “project.” The project phase was completed in Phase I and II. Phase III is now a practice that becomes part of the fabric of your management organization. The focus on measuring, promoting, and optimizing activity is now your system of record as long as you continue to get results.
Incremental — The first two phases of this plan were designed as a “shock to the system” for your sales team and the company overall. The last phase is intended to be less jarring and instead focused on small incremental improvements over time.
Sustainable — This program will need to be comfortable enough over time that it doesn’t command too much of your time and attention. The very last thing you need is to have another obligation that requires “heavy lifting.” Quite honestly, if the previous phase isn’t manageable, it won’t be sustained.