In the second part of this series, we showcased how the sales tools and management practices of the last 5 years had already been pushed to the limit, and why data driven management is the only scalable option in the post COVID-19 world.

In this third part, we’ll talk about the discipline of data driven management, and show how the right data can dramatically give managers leverage in day to day decision making.

The challenge of data driven management today

Today, sales managers get a very one dimensional view of “what their reps are doing all day” when looking at their CRM.

For example, let’s say we have three reps:

  • Bill makes 50 calls a day and is 90% of the way to quota.
  • Julie makes 45 calls a day and is at 110% quota.
  • Mike makes 10 calls a day and is at 30% of quota.

What conclusions can a manager draw from this?  Maybe, we can say that Mike just needs to try harder… but the real question is what to do with Bill?.  Do we try to get 10 more calls a day out of him (is it even possible?) or do we try to make him more efficient (and at what?)

This highlights the critical gap of CRM today; without the right data set and visualizations, it is not useful as a diagnostic tool for managers.

As a result, managers have no choice but to fall back on their “high bandwidth” tools which (while inefficient) do give them the information that they need.


The four dimensions of understanding

When shadowing reps, managers implicitly get visibility into four core things, which CRM doesn’t provide easy access to:

  • Activity: what a person does (cold emails, follow up emails, calls, texts, meetings).
  • Behavior: how they do those activities (batched work? call blocks? long hours?)
  • Efficiency: the ratios of activity to outcomes (calls:appointments, appointment held rate, win rate, etc.)
  • Pipeline Strategy: what part of the funnel reps are spending time on.

Each of these four dimensions are a critical part of the story, and without them all, managers can’t close the loop to advise reps on where they should focus their effort.

In the section below, we’ll show how each of these data sets drives sales management decision-making, and where the insights become limited without being able to see into other dimensions.


Applying the Data To Sales Management 

Activity – What are the reps doing?

All things being equal, activity levels may be the easiest dial to turn up in outbound sales.  To execute this strategy, we have to have an understanding of rep capacity – how much activity is possible, how close to that limit each rep is and how their time is allocated across the different types of activities.

Manager Diagnosis/Strategy

The following diagnosis is useful and will apply regardless of whether a rep is a top or bottom performer:

  • If the rep is showing activity levels below average relative to their peers, we need to figure out how to drive this effort level up by eliminating sources of friction:
    • If there is a mismatch in expectations on what activity levels should/could be, the rep needs to have this clarified
    • If the rep is focusing time on tasks that should be owned by others (eg: data enrichment), the issue can be brought to the relevant team to be addressed.
    • If there is a behavioral issue that is tied to  incentives (either intrinsic or extrinsic) or training, those issues need to be addressed.
    • If the rep has very strong efficiency metrics and doesn’t need to do the same volume of activity as everyone else to achieve the same result, we need to incentivize them to execute further.  We may also want to look at the behaviors that are leading to this person’s success to generate best practices for the team.
  • If the rep is showing above average activity levels, we need to figure out if they’re working in a sustainable manner
    • If they are working above capacity (80 hour weeks), the rep should be assessed for burnout
    • If their efficiency metrics below average, then the focus should be on efficiency metrics to figure out where the biggest opportunities are for improving conversion ratios.


Behavior – How are the reps doing it?

Behavior is formally defined as ‘how a person reacts in response to a stimulus’. 

It is the manager’s job to control these stimuli through intrinsic motivation (storytelling, coaching, praise) and extrinsic (motivation) SPIFs, bonuses, commissions), to drive the right activities, which lead to the right results.

In order to assess the effectiveness of these coaching programs, managers need to start with a fundamental understanding of how rep behavior changes over time, across their entire team.

Manager Diagnosis/Strategy

  • The most simple heuristic in performance management is:
    • If a rep is performing well, we want low volatility in behaviors.  A sudden increase in volatility may reflect a dissatisfaction (job searching), lack of motivation, distraction, etc.  It may also reflect the fact that something else in your system is broken (eg: leads are drying up, lead quality has gone down, etc.) 
    • If a rep is performing poorly, we want high volatility in behaviors.  If someone hates picking up the phone and this is what’s causing a low call count, we must urgently change their perception of making calls, or else they will likely never succeed
  • If the rep is showing high behavior volatility, we need to dig into what is causing this, and decide if it’s desirable or not.  Almost always, behavior volatility is a function of a lack of clarity, either in the environment (throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks) or in the enablement systems of that rep.  
  • If the reps are showing behaviors that fall outside of our guidelines, then we need to see if it’s a broad trend or specific to certain people.  For example, if one person always joins web meetings late, then this may be specific to their attitude, technology situation, etc. If it’s happening to everyone, then maybe we need to adjust processes (eg: schedule demos for 45 mins instead of 60)

Efficiency – Input:Output Ratios

As we mentioned, behavior drives activity and activity drives outcomes.  The big question is which of these elements managers should spend their time focusing on (what it the incremental gain for every unit of improvement we get in the funnel)

This is where efficiency ratios come in.

Manager Diagnosis/Strategy

  • If a rep is underperforming:
    • If a rep has additional capacity to do more activity, we can look at the “calls:opportunity” ratio to tell us if increasing outbound calls alone is enough to drive the lift in performance we need
    • If a rep has no more capacity for activity:
      • we can look at the “calls:shortCallDuration” ratio to tell us what % of our dials are not reaching anybody (and therefore, we have a data problem to unblock)
      • we can look at the “pitch:opportunity” ratio to tell us if we need to do call coaching to improve their pitch
      • we can look at their “touches:opportunity” ratio to tell us if we need to figure out why their outreach strategy is yielding different results than other reps.
  • If a rep is performing above average:
    • If the rep has more capacity for activity, the manager should focus on driving that single metric up
    • If the rep is at capacity, the rep may be at peak capacity and productivity (a good thing!). The manager may get little incremental gain from focusing on this rep over others.

Pipeline – time allocation

With an average SaaS win rate of 30%, managers need to make sure that reps are focusing their efforts on the right opportunities, that deals “stuck” are unblocked and that new opportunities are continuing to flow into the top of the funnel.

Manager Diagnosis/Strategy

The following logic will apply regardless of whether a rep is a top or bottom performer.

  • If the rep has a shrinking pipeline at the top of the funnel, we either need to pull in marketing to drive more leads or focus the rep’s activity here.
  • If the rep has growing pipeline at the bottom of the funnel, we need to figure out where to focus our efforts:
    • First, we need to ensure the opportunities are sized right
    • Second, we need to assess deal velocity by looking at engagement over time.  Activity is almost always a positive indicator
    • Third, we need to assess quality of activity – are we still emailing or are we getting on scheduled meetings or are we on a cell phone call / text message basis?  To quote an Enterprise Sales Leader: “In 2020 if you aren’t on a text message basis with a decision maker in an enterprise sale, you don’t have a deal”
    • Fourth, we need to assess whether given all of the above, the deal is in the right stage and meets our criteria for being “a deal” (do we push out, or try to force it to close?)
  • If the rep has conversion rates that are very different than their peers, then we need to spend time analyzing the last activities they have in each of those stages to see what activity/behavior is driving that deviation in performance.
  • If the rep has time-to-conversion rates that are very different than their peers, then we need to look at their activity and behavior to see what in their technique



As we can see, the levers of performance management are largely mechanical, and if we can get the right information into managers’ hands, we could greatly reduce the physical and mental bandwidth they allocate towards micromanagement (and instead have them focus on strategic goals like hiring, incentives, etc)

The cornerstone assumption here is that they have all the information they need in the CRM.

In the next part of this series (Part 4), we’ll share how this data can be pulled into your CRM to give you the picture you need to manage reps remotely with a lean/minimal tech stack.