This is the third in a new series of blogs where we identify 5 deadly trends that are hobbling sales management and then provide tactical ideas for overcoming with each one. See Trend #1 here and Trend #2 here.  

We continue our series of deadly sales management trends with an innovation that falls into the category of ‘too much of a good thing.’  At first this innovation appeared to be a blessing, but over time it has yielded as much confusion and mistrust as improved sales performance.  So what is this thing of overabundance that both compels and confounds?  Abundant sales data.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve witnessed a true technological revolution. What was once a stack of printed documents became electronic reports on a computer.  Then those reports became e-mail attachments, and now every smartphone is a mobile sales dashboard. Anyone on the planet within reach of a cellular tower can view the latest data on year-to-date revenue, opportunities in the pipeline, sales forecasts, quota attainment, sales activity, and any other data point that the heart or mind desires.

So what’s wrong with that?  Data is good, and good data is better, right?  Yes, but only to a point.  In the absence of any data, sales management is starved of critical insights, so those first management reports feel like a cup of cold water on a hot summer day.  But as the reports begin to pile up, they become a torrential downpour that can leave sales managers adrift in a sea of data. The challenge then becomes to identify the cupful of data that will quench your thirst, without drowning you in a flood of reports.

Data, Data Everywhere

We once had a client that was sending its sales management team twenty-eight sales reports each month. Twenty-eight. If there were only 10 pieces of data in each of those reports, then the sales managers were receiving nearly 300 pieces of data that were deemed important enough to distribute.  And of course, the expectation was that each sales manager would take action to improve all that data.  All of it… Right now… Really?

The truth is, just a handful of those data points were absolutely critical to each sales manager – the others were just dangerous distractions.  But how could a manager know the difference between the critical data and the noise?  Well, that’s the source of the problem:  no one ever taught them.

CRM is the biggest innovation in sales management in over a century.  It’s a decision-making tool of epic proportion, but sales managers are not given the training to use it.  Sure, we’re taught how to log into the system and press ‘Run Report,’ but what then?  What does the data mean, and, what should we do with it?

You might, for example, be able to see that Jane has $5 million in her sales pipeline, but is that enough?  You see that she’s at 102% of her year-to-date quota, but is that the best she can do?  And if not, what should you do about it?  You’ve been trained to navigate your CRM logins, screens, and reports, but you haven’t been taught how to use what you see.  You’ve been given this amazing decision-making tool, but not the associated decision-making criteria.

Reversing the Trend

In sum, our ability to create sales data has outpaced our ability to use it.  And so we paddle on, our heads bobbing in a sea of reports.  The good news is that companies are slowly beginning to see this issue for what it is… And what it is not.  This is not a technology issue – CRM is great and only getting better.  What we have is a management issue – we need to learn to make better use of the technology.  And here’s how we do it.

The research for our book Cracking the Sales Management Code gave us some very useful insights:

1. Focus on the Manageable – Some sales metrics are more useful for managing than others – more specifically, measures of sales activity.  A salesperson’s activities are the leading indicators of success, and they should be the near-term focus of management and coaching efforts.

2. Begin with the End in Mind – Acknowledging that sales activities drive success, managers should identify the result they want (quota) and reverse-engineer success down to the activity level.  Once a clear chain of events is identified from the outcome to the activity, then it’s easier to focus on the metrics that really matter.

3. Ignore the Noise – Once you know which sales activities and associated metrics drive success, then it’s okay to ignore the rest.  Pay close attention to the data points that inform whether your team is on track to succeed, and treat the remaining data as noise.  Feel no guilt… You’ve been set free to manage.

These are the keys to reversing the deadly trend of increasing data overload.  Data is good, but only the good data.  Reports are great, but only the ones that will help you manage your team to greatness.  If you can learn to identify the data that’s important, then you can sit back and enjoy a refreshing cupful of success.