How to improve sales performance

According to Sales Hacker’s State of Sales Performance Survey Report 2019, there’s a wide gap between what sales leaders think motivates their sales teams and what really drives them. That leads to a lack of motivation.

And how does lack of motivation impact sales teams? Your overall sales performance.

What is sales performance?

Sales performance is the measure of what your sales team is doing to meet the goals set in your sales strategy. In short: Is your team on track to hit sales goals?

Think of it like a pyramid. At the bottom is sales activities. At the top is profitability. Profitability is not something you can control. You can, however, control the performance of sales activities.

In other words, your input (sales activities) influences your output (revenue results).

sales performance pyramid

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Track your sales performance to see if you’re going to meet revenue goals based on sales activities. These can be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly goals.

For example, if your monthly revenue goal is $10,000 in sales, you can check (normally within your CRM) your sales reps’ progress on hitting daily and weekly revenue goals. This helps you catch any red flags and course-correct long before there are major problems.

In addition to helping determine if you’re going to hit your revenue, tracking sales performance offers multiple other benefits:

  • Complete accurate sales planning for the year. If you look at sales performance throughout the year, you’ll know the areas where reps are struggling and where they excel. This helps when you need to plan goals and activities for the next year.
  • Highlight areas of improvement for sales reps early on. By tracking sales performance progress, you find out if sales reps’ activities are effective or they need to improve.
  • Focus time and resources on quality prospects. Tracking sales performance makes you look closer at the quality of the opportunities, determining if they’ll be profitable. Maybe your reps are bringing in a large number of leads that don’t buy. You’ll be able to revamp your lead qualification process as a result.

How to measure sales performance

To determine if goals will be met each quarter, take a look at specific KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). According to the Sales Performance Survey Report 2019, top KPIs for both sales leaders and reps are:

  • Revenue generated
  • Pipeline generated
  • Opportunities created

While these KPIs are important, they’re not necessarily the best metrics to set up sales performance success. They’re reactive rather than proactive.

Think of it as looking in your rear view mirror. For example, if you’re only looking at revenue created or the number of opportunities generated, you’re just seeing the output. You know what your revenue is but not why it looks the way it does.

To understand the “why,” you have to track sales activities. How many sales calls increase the size of your pipeline? Are demos converting into deals? This information is important for both influencing sales results and motivating sales reps.

We’ll dig deeper into proactive sales performance KPIs later on, but just be aware that there’s more to sales performance than the final numbers.

top sales kpis

Tips to improve performance levels

Sales activities like emails, calls, and sales presentations are your performance drivers. But how do you improve sales reps’ performance of sales activities to meet your goals?

You can help your sales team achieve goals by acting as a leader, implementing a sales process, enabling sales goals, and investing in sales team development.

Lead, don’t manage

If you’re only managing your sales team (e.g., making sure that sales activities get done), you’re not leading them properly. Sales leaders go beyond overseeing day-to-day activities. They have a long-term vision for their team, inspiring and motivating reps to meet sales goals.

Here are a few strategies to improve as a sales leader:

  • Practice active listening. During sales rep 1:1 oreven team meetings, don’t do all the talking. Ask your sales team questions and repeat what they said to determine if you’re understanding their issue or question correctly.
  • Communicate your expectations. According to the Sales Benchmark Index, over 74% of sales managers admit they have poor communication skills. Talking to reps in person is often more effective than email messages. However, if you do communicate via email, keep messages short and bullet-point style, and limit your message to two action items.
  • Empower your team through the right tools. Invest in tools such as a sales CRM to assist with organization and productivity. 66% of sales leaders said their reps have continuous visibility into their performance — but 32.1% indicated that reps are only getting performance insight on a weekly or quarterly basis. Ensure that your reps have access to daily sales activity progress in your CRM.

Too often, sales managers are scared of failure. As a sales leader, embrace mistakes and encourage your sales reps to learn from disappointing months or quarters.

Implement a standardized sales process

To meet sales goals, your reps need a process to follow that’s standard for the entire team. Create a sales process that helps your reps get from point A (finding prospects) to point B (closing the deal).

You can build an effective sales process by mapping out sales stages in your sales CRM:

sales stages
  • Prospecting. Reps find and identify leads who are the right fit for your product or service.
  • Qualified. Reps determine prospect information, such as key decision makers and budget. If the prospect is qualified, the rep pitches the product or service.
  • Quote. Reps present price and terms and conditions to the prospect. Negotiation may be required.
  • Closure. Reps put their final agreement with the prospect into writing and wait for approval.
  • Won/Lost. If the deal was won, reps hand the new customer over to account management. If the deal was lost, reps should determine the reasons why and how they can improve.

Companies with a playbook are 33% more likely to be high performers. Consider your sales process as a playbook that shows the correct order of sales activities for reps to follow.

Enable reps to hit specific sales goals

Sales goals are useless if they don’t have a strategic sales plan behind them. After your sales goals are set, let your reps know what they are and how they can accomplish them.

Many sales reps struggle to meet their sales goals. In fact, Sales Hacker found that a large percentage of sales reps don’t meet their individual quota goals, as you can see in the chart below.
If your own reps are struggling to meet their quotas, it’s likely that your sales goals aren’t realistic, and reps are overwhelmed by aggressive end-of-the-year goals.

To combat this problem, set smaller, more realistic short-term deadlines for the steps your sales department and reps must take to ensure that final goals are reached.

For example, if an overall sales goal is to “Increase customer retention rate by 50% during Q4,” a short-term team goal could be “Increase customer check-ins by 15% per month.”

Breaking down overall goals into smaller objectives will make them feel more approachable for your team to complete. Hold team meetings to provide context on why certain sales goals were chosen, what’s expected for the year, and the sales activities reps will use to accomplish these goals.

sales goals

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Invest in team training & coaching

In addition to strong leadership, enable your reps to achieve their goals through sales training and development opportunities.

Only 42.7% of sales leaders said their company offers ongoing career development training twice a year or less. However, ongoing development is an effective incentive to keep sales reps around:

sales career development

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Sales coaching is one effective form of development that you can offer your reps. CSO Insights found that companies with a formal approach to sales coaching experience 10% higher win rates. Hold weekly 1:1 coaching sessions with your reps practicing cold calls, for example. But don’t focus on top or bottom performers. Instead, help the middle performers (aka your core performers) succeed.

In addition to offering ongoing career development opportunities, such as conferences and external training sessions, other sales training ideas include hosting monthly sales workshops. For example, present step-by-step solutions to specific problems that sales reps are struggling with (e.g., how to improve social selling). Another education initiative is to implement a shadowing program where reps learn from their peers in different departments.

Be strategic with your sales training offerings. According to Stein, between 85% and 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days. Pinpoint the main areas where your reps need help. Start with small initiatives to experiment with what education format works best. Also get regular feedback from your reps through surveys and conversations to see if training offerings are beneficial.

Incentivize through sales metrics

Sales reps are motivated if they can see their progress over the short-term through sales metrics. In fact, sales reps cite “visibility into numbers” as the number one thing that motivates them to sell.

sales incentives

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One way to help reps view their numbers is to first break down team and individual goals into achievable, daily activities. Calculate which sales activities currently achieve high conversion rates (e.g., calls, emails, demos).

For example, if a monthly team goal is to “Increase customer check-ins by 15% per month,” this could be broken down into 20 calls per rep per week (if your sales calls have been proven to convert deals in the past).

Next, track the success of your sales activities through short-term customer-centric metrics, such as:

  • State-by-stage conversion rate
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Lead response time

These metrics ground your activities into day-to-day requirements, making achieving goals seem possible. For example, viewing conversion rates by stage is less overwhelming than checking conversion rates at the end of the quarter. They also indicate if course correction is needed before it’s too late.

If metrics indicate that a sales activity isn’t working or a sales rep is performing poorly, it might be time for a new strategy or extra training. Circle back to other sales performance strategies.

Sales performance: Support your sales team

There are other ways to improve sales performance, such as fine-tuning sales pitches or working on cold calling techniques. However, the above tips are foundational in helping your team with sales performance. Your sales team will have a difficult time hitting peak performance if they’re not motivated or don’t feel supported.

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