How to Make Good Use of Sales Reports

The Gist:

  • Collecting more data increases the number of reports available, but reports are meaningless unless you do something with the information and insight they provide.
  • Reports that are negative require action to improve the results. Positive reports require positive conversations to recognize individuals and teams.
  • The need for data increases in proportion to the amount of data available.

Whenever new sales-related data becomes available, someone will want a report on it. The reason that sales dashboards are a collection of pie charts, line graphs, and dozens of other formats that Edward Tuffte might condemn is twofold. First, if there is something that might provide an insight that improves results, it’s worth seeing. Second, the information is available. But neither factor, on its own, justifies requesting a report.

The Only Reason to Ask for a Report

There is only one reason to ask for a report: you are going to do something with the information that improves results. Whether the report provides good or bad news, the value is in using the information. If you request a report, you must decide what it means, determine what it might recommend, and meet with the people involved to help them create something better.

Here is a familiar example. Say a sales manager is responsible for a team of inside salespeople. Each person on that team is responsible for making forty outbound phone calls each day. At the end of the day, the sales manager pulls the report to find that the average number of outbound calls was twenty-eight. The next day’s report shows an average of twenty-nine calls. For two weeks the manager keeps pulling daily reports, but the average never gets above thirty. They complain that the salespeople are lazy and don’t do what they need to do to succeed, but otherwise they make no changes.

There are two options available to this manager. The first option is to stop pulling the report at all, since they aren’t doing anything useful with the data. The second and more useful option is to meet with the sales force, to explain the assumptions the company is using, help them understand how too little activity is producing unacceptable results, and finally explore what resources they might need to improve. The manager might also use the data to meet with individuals to ask them to commit to the goal.

Figure searches through sales reports

Waiving Your Rights

One leader I worked for was a stickler for cleanliness and order. If she witnessed you walk by a scrap of paper on the floor, she would reprimand you, then demand you pick it up and throw it away. She insisted that you adopt her very high standards, something that permeated the culture. How you do one thing, she believed, is how you do everything.

When you are presented with data showing that something is amiss, if you do nothing about it for days, weeks, or even months, you are waiving your right to do anything about it. The not-so-hypothetical sales manager who allows their team not to meet their standard is the root cause of their team’s low activity. Soon, even the newest team members will learn that reaching forty calls is more like a suggestion than a requirement.

The reason sales teams often need to be “turned around” is because they were allowed to go in the wrong direction. As a leader, everything is your fault. Your team will always be what you make them. Setting and keeping a high standard prevents the need for a turnaround, even if you call it a “reboot” to make the change seem less drastic.

What to Do with Reports

Sometimes the information and insights in a report provide you with a view that some result is less than it should be. That information requires that you go and explore why the results are not what you expected. Before taking any action, you first have to see why the results are poor.

As a leader, it’s your job to shoot every donkey, removing the obstacles that prevent better results. When you understand the nature of the challenge, you’re better equipped to solve it.

But there is also work to do when the data paints a positive picture. Most sales cultures could stand to be a lot more generous about praise, recognition, and celebrations for good results, starting with high performers. When a report brings news of an outstanding accomplishment, a phone call and a personal note (not an email or text) shows your gratitude and provides recognition. A team’s performance is also worth celebrating, as winning tends to be a habit for well-led teams.

In summary, if the report is bad, go and find out what is wrong then do something about it. If the report is positive, go recognize your team’s success and express your gratitude for their good work. But if you get a report that never results in a conversation, a project, or a set of new decisions, you should rethink whether it’s necessary at all.

Pilots use the cockpit approach to sales management

The Cockpit Approach to Sales Management

Because the data is available, some sales leaders have a dashboard that resembles the cockpit of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Their view, broadcast by their giant curved monitors, is something like “information is power.” That’s only half true: information is potential power, yes, but only when it drives action.

The score never changes by staring at the scoreboard: you have to play the game successfully. That’s why the coach is standing near the players and making adjustments, not sitting at home watching the game on TV.

Do Good Work:

  • Review your reports for areas that you need to improve, then immediately take action.
  • Where there are bright spots and excellent results, call individuals and teams to recognize them and express your gratitude.

If there are reports you never use, eliminate them or replace them with reports that allow you to improve your results.

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