Sales Activity: Leading Indicator or Symptom of Bigger Problems?

Sales Activity Assessment Everything went great last year, so you took on an aggressive growth number for the new fiscal year with a steep ramp in the second half tied to the hiring plan. Now, the company has missed its bookings target for the second quarter in a row and faces a pipeline deficit for next quarter. Marketing has data showing MQLs from content downloads and webinars are up. The sales team is adamant that both the quality and number of leads are down. Executives wants answers and a get-well plan. The conclusion: both field sales and the business development team need to be making more calls to increase overall activity. Sound familiar?

Activity is important, but what really causes it to go up or down across the board? Sales management hates monitoring activity, yet it is a favored culprit of non-sales executives because it’s easy to understand and is a less threatening narrative than the alternatives. So, how do you evaluate the problem and what do you do about it? Are the managers running a disciplined cadence and holding people accountable for everything downstream of activity – new opportunities, pipeline, forecast? How about commitment to task? When a sales person has mentally quit, but not yet resigned, activity and new pipeline generation will drop off a cliff and can drag down team numbers. If those are both solid, what is the underlying problem? What is the precursor to outbound sales activity?

Sales Activity

Source of the Problem

You interview a few BDRs and sales reps to find messaging is inconsistent and the quality of conversations isn’t great. The “message”, to the extent there is one, isn’t resonating with new prospects. When a high percentage of salespeople are making quota and earning commissions, you don’t need to be overly concerned with activity tracking and can hold reps accountable for sales results and their immediate predictors like pipeline and forecast. When you have both a pipeline problem and broad-based activity issues, take a hard look at Sales Messaging and Value Proposition. When the message is ineffective and does not advance the conversation – that telephone handset becomes very heavy.

Basic Message Elements

“Stories build trust, which is the foundation of sales success. Without trust, you cannot influence.”              –Michael Bosworth, Solution Selling


Value PropositionHow we help you achieve specific results
Competitive DifferentiatorsWhat is unique about our approach
Anecdotal StoryWe've done this for people just like you


Generating inbound leads via content marketing and lead qualification is an important part of the go-to-market strategy. However, outbound activity will always have a place. The reason? Initiative. It is what separates great sales people and is a core personal characteristic of all top performers. Executive decision makers in top global accounts are not researching new vendors online, sitting at their desks downloading your whitepaper nor following your 97 post-a-day social media stream. If you want to do business with them, personal initiative is required. There is a quality aspect to activity that must be prioritized. Here are some additional questions to explore.

  • Are you teaching and practicing sales conversation skills with BDRs?
  • Are the call objective, sales content and message appropriate for the prospect?
  • Do you carve out dedicated time for outbound sales activity?
  • Are campaigns designed to integrate personal phone calls, voice-mails and emails or do you rely on automation only?
  • Are you able to track high priority/quality touches vs. general activity?
Conclusion

All things being equal, more activity is better than less. Even mediocre messaging worked really hard will take you far with a compelling product. The only way to make good messaging better is to put it to use and steadily improve. Tackle effectiveness first, then look at activity and double down on efficiency with software to gain ever more leverage. When activity is down across the board, examine underlying causes. If the value proposition is not resonating with the core target audience, the result is a negative feedback loop. Activity will fall off and the root problem must be addressed. Instead of using their creative powers to sell, your salespeople will think of ingenious ways to give you the activity stats you are looking for, just to get management off their back.  Sales people tend to thrive with clear expectations, proper incentives and sufficient creative space for human ingenuity to do its work. There are many paths to success in sales, high activity is certainly one of them.  A reasonable call objective supported with content and message isn’t too much to ask and will absolutely improve activity.

Resources

Article: Assess the Effectiveness of Your Sales Content

2014 Report: Sales Operations role in activity reporting and sales enablement

Learn how to Boost Activity with More Effective Sales Messaging


 
If you enjoyed this article, check out the 2014 High-Tech Industry Report on Sales Operations and Incentive Compensation 2014 High-Tech Industry Report on Sales Operations.


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About Neal Murphy

Neal Murphy is the publisher of Enterprise Sales Operations and former VP of Worldwide Sales & Operations with 20 years experience in enterprise technology.

+Neal Murphy +ESO