Salespeople have a reputation for avoiding paperwork and administration. They are also traditionally resistant to the idea of working to a meeting quota. But getting busy and recording the results is precisely the path to sales success.

Face-to-face sales calls are the preferred method of making a sale. Yet, because they are also seen as expensive, they should ideally be used only when there’s a good chance of achieving the outcome.

While the marketing department has many tactics that will move the prospect along the buying path, the truth is that many businesses use salespeople when less expensive methods would work well.

There can also be too much of a good thing. Too much energy in the wrong direction is a waste and too little will lose you business. The key is in the planning and the measurement.

What are they doing?

The first question you need to ask in an analysis of your sales force is: where are they and what are they doing? If you are planning to have your team doing one thing, but they are drawn in to do another, then you need to adjust the plan, or the behaviour, or both.

Get them busy

There is a strong correlation between inputs and outputs. If you accept that a face-to-face sales call is a high-impact activity, then are more sales calls a good thing? Let’s look at one study we did with a company whose chief executive officer demanded a minimum number of calls per week. There was a lot of push-back, especially from the older salespeople, but the chief executive officer held firm.

At the end of a three-month pilot, two facts emerged:

  • The most active 15 per cent of salespeople were the most successful (in terms of performance against quarterly targets)
  • The least active 15 per cent were the least successful on the same score

But in another pilot with another business, returns diminished when activity levels were raised. Too many meetings without focus and planning will simply drain resources. There will come a time when one more meeting a week will be one too many.

To find out how many meetings you need, use the well-worn three-step program, but build it around the buyer.

  1. Plan how many meetings to allocate for each progression in the buyer’s journey. For some progressions you may need multiple meetings per progression, but for others you’ll only need a fraction (0.25 for one stage means that for one in every four buyers you’ll need to get a sales person to meet the buyer to help with that progression).
  2. Measure actual meetings for each progression. This means you will have to code your customer relationship management (CRM) software so that every meeting is recorded against one progression or another.
  3. Review the differences between what you planned and what actually transpires. Where are you using more meetings than intended?

Where there is a gap, you need to ask:

  • Are my planning assumptions wrong?
  • Is the behaviour wrong?
  • Do I need to support my salespeople with more effective marketing tactics for the stage at which we are over-allocated?

If you don’t have confidence in the ability of your sales force to sustain this measurement, consider doing this only occasionally – perhaps for one quarter every year. Remember: don’t measure what you’re not prepared to change. But also, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.