Productivity vs. Effectiveness: A Sales Conundrum

Success in sales is all about getting results. While that’s a simple enough fact, the path to getting those results is not so clear. A great rep needs to get a lot done, but that work also needs to offer value to the company. In other words, sales professionals need to be both productive and effective. Despite the similarities, those two concepts don’t mean the same thing.

To get a clearer idea of what sales teams need to know about productivity and effectiveness, we spoke with three expert executives to get their insights. Mike Solow is CEO of Idea Harvest and Wojciech Gryc is CEO of Canopy Labs. Colleen Stanley is founder and president of SalesLeadership, Inc. These leaders in the field not only defined the two concepts, but offered tips for how to best train your team and what tools to use for success.

What does it all mean?

Although they each used different words, our three experts roughly agreed on a definition of productivity. Stanley painted a picture of a busy schedule to explain it. “The most productive reps I have worked with have their week’s calendar blocked,” she said. “They proactively set aside time for prospecting, appointments, client retention, and networking.” Gryc’s definition was more scientific: “We define productivity by how efficient a process is from an effort perspective.” Solow favored a number-centric definition. “I define productivity in sales as achieving the number of touches, or ‘at bats’ to use the baseball reference, that it takes to be successful.”

As you can see, productivity is about volumes, how many things a rep can get done. They saw effectiveness differently, as the quality of the work accomplished rather than the quantity.

“Sales effectiveness is ensuring that the customers we are signing on are actually helping the business grow,” Gryc said. “We track this through three variables: total revenue, cost per acquisition, and lifetime value.” Stanley’s definition also targeted the company’s health as a whole; “sales effectiveness is selling sustainable and profitable business,” she said. However, Solow explained the idea on an individual basis. “I define effectiveness in sales as the ability of a salesperson to understand the customer’s needs, position their product as the ultimate solution to those needs, and gain an understanding of that person’s business or position so the solution can improve one or both,” he said.

Applying effectiveness at the individual and the team-wide level will do more to improve a company’s bottom line. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so encouraging each of your reps to push their game to the maximum will do more to boost the overall health of your sales figures. After all, striving for excellence can be a tenet of the culture at your company. “I find that most of the time, the executives will define the culture and determine the sales methodology in place, but it’s the managers that will ensure its success or failure,” Solow said. The more people in your organization who value effectiveness, the better your odds of having an effective (and successful) business.

Training to be tops

Theoretical ideas are a good start, but putting efficacy into practice requires a focused approach to training. Stanley cited “unconscious competence” as the key to improving effectiveness, making the important tasks and habits feel natural. “We tell our clients to practice a skill 144 times to achieve mastery,” she said.

Solow agreed: “It’s the repetition that drills the methodology into someone’s brain.” He recommended achieving that training across the team by thinking small. “In my opinion, you don’t use company-wide communication like big meetings and large webinars to train,” Solow said. He said that maintaining the small-group mindset becomes especially important as a company grows. “Large group on-boarding is fine, but when it’s time to focus, learn, and grow, people need attention and small groups afford that,” he said.

It’s also just as important that managers think about being effective in how they work with their reps. “Stop having managers take 1-on-1 meetings with sales people that only focus on the number of calls that they made last week,” Solow said. “If they need to pick up the effort, tell them and move on to the part where you concentrate on the deals and how to win them.”

Gryc also addresses effectiveness on a team-wide scale in Canopy’s small team of three full-time sales reps. “We see which one of us is performing well and we give each other feedback on email templates, cold calls, website copy, and so on,” he explained. “In many ways, we model this on agile software development: we have a morning meeting every day to set targets, and we’re constantly iterating and A/B testing our approaches.”

In her trainings through SalesLeadership, Inc., Stanley adds a unique touch by incorporating concepts of emotional intelligence. “Emotional intelligence closes the knowing and doing gap,” she explained. She gave lack of assertiveness as an example, noting how it could translate to vagueness in the sales process, such as not getting to meet with important decision makers or not learning the real budget before writing a proposal.

The right tools for the job

Whether you’re in the training stage with a rep or you’re looking to support a team of pros, your company should have the best tools available to encourage both productivity and effectiveness.

Gryc told us how Canopy Labs uses Base to quantify the important metrics. “Base provides a very efficient way to track our sales funnel while also tracking the deal size,” he said. “In this sense, we can easily see how productive our process is.” The company also tracks deal size in Base, which shows them where they stand on lifetime value at closing. “We also use sales funnel steps as a way to see how much time and money we’ve invested in cultivating a relationship,” he said.

“I am a fan of focusing attention on the number of at bats and the closing ration to track efficacy,” Solow said. “You can also pay attention to the length of the call or appointment, once the salesperson is engaged.” Those are metrics that a great CRM can monitor for you. Stanley also recommended having a system for reps to track performance. “They can use their CRM tool as long as it is set up to track goal against actual,” she said. “Nothing beats one-on-one interaction to test the reality of what’s working or not working.”

Any tools your sales team adopts should be part of a broader push to improve effectiveness and productivity. No CRM is a panacea to magically repair flaws in your sales process, so be sure to roll out your tools and your training in a way that will support your reps rather than steamroll them.

Find your balance

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to solve this sales conundrum, but you’ll know you’ve hit on the right balance when your reps are delivering and are happy about their work. They need to be productive and effective in order to be top players in their company. By providing your sales team with the correct tools and the correct training, you’ll be able to identify the right balance for your reps. If you haven’t already, you can try Base for free, here.

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