In reading the title, many of you may be asking, “Dave to you get up on the stupid side of your bed this morning? Of course we care about results!”

It’s often hard to tell this, based on what we ask our people to do, or what we inflict on them.

We know we have to do activities to produce results. For example, we have to do a certain amount of prospecting to find enough qualified opportunities to fill our pipelines. We have activities that are critical to moving deals through the pipeline, for example demos and many other things.

We know there is a tie between the activities we do today and the results that are produced tomorrow.

But too often, we lose focus. We forget we are trying to produce result or outcomes, and the focus becomes the activity itself.

My friend, Hank Barnes, writes a post on LinkedIn, most Fridays (#FridayFails) about terrible prospecting emails he or colleagues get. The emails are simultaneously hilariously bad, but at the same time, unfortunately representative of what too many people succumb to in service to bad activity metrics. He shared a comment from a sales person, an excerpt is below:

“I follow your posts and a lot of what you advise against is – sadly – exactly what we do. Sales is my job, so I’ve given this some thought and I’m genuinely curious on how companies could/should fix this problem…. Hank my question is: How does this get fixed? I agree that these emails are disappointingly common but, as you note, the behavior is largely driven by sales managers requiring reps to meet certain activity metrics. Often those metrics may not make sense for a specific territory but must be met nonetheless b/c of the need to “manage by the numbers” – which is important in its own right in order to scale the business…. I know many, many sales reps (myself included) would like to be able to sell in the way you advocate, but unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to do so and still meet expectations. This is the sellers dilemma that many front-line sales reps face daily and I’m honestly curious as to if/how it can be changed.”

Too often, our people know that what they are doing is ineffective. After all, they are the one’s that see the emails being sent are “spammed,” or get angry customers on the phone. They see every day that much of the work they do doesn’t produce the outcomes they need–but they have to make their activity number, so they are forced to continue to do things they know don’t produce results.

I know most managers don’t want their people doing stupid things, that don’t produce results, but in the rush of every day business, perhaps they aren’t paying attention. Perhaps, they aren’t involving their people in discussions, “Is this working? How do we make it work better?” Instead of taking the time to diagnose and correct what we are doing, we succumb to doing more. We continually focus on escalating volumes. “If email open rates drop by 50%, the way to fix it is double up on emails…..” What would happen if we change our thinking to understand why email opens have dropped and fix them. Perhaps we are targeting the wrong people, perhaps our messaging is wrong.

Too often, we don’t understand the linkage between activity and outcomes. Just yesterday, I was involved in a discussion with a very good sales manager. He is looking at some new programs and ways to ramp up the business. He had a thoughtful plan, he looked at the key activities to drive results. “We need to do this many of this, then on those things, we need to do this many of that, ….. to produce a sale.” He had thought through the activity streams, had made some assumptions about the outcomes of each activity and what needed to be done to drive a result.

After he described the plan, I responded, “It looks great, but here’s the problem. If you do this and produce the results in each activity, you will only make 60% of your plan.” The problem is, he like most managers was designing the process backwards. He started with prospecting activities, then drove the activity chain through results. But he hadn’t looked at it in reverse, starting at the end, working backwards to understand the number of each activity required to produce the results.

I see this all the time, managers and sales people don’t understand the linkage between activities and outcomes. They don’t trace these through the entire selling process to understand if they are doing enough to produce results.

Activities and results are critical. We have to do the right activities to produce results. We have to understand the entire activity chain to see if they produce the numbers. We can only do that by working backwards. We have to continue to inspect the activities to see if they are producing the results expected. If they aren’t the solution isn’t necessarily do more, the solution is “are we doing the right activity?” Often, while it’s counter intuitive, doing less is actually better–if we’ve identified the right activities.

As an example, what do we want our sales people doing, 1000 emails, of which 1% produce the expected outcome. Or 100 emails, of which 15% produce the right outcome. I’ll leave it to you to do the math.

Afterword: As a shameless plug, in Sales Manager Survival Guide, we dive into this issue deeply, exploring “are we measuring the right things, are we producing the right outcomes, what do we do when they don’t” For a very detailed discussion, pick up a copy and study the chapters on Metrics.