Sales Metrics and KPIs in B2B Sales

sales metrics and KPIs displayed on a laptop screen

Optimizing sales productivity requires a top-down approach that synthesizes business sales goals with an individual representative’s daily performance. Sales metrics, specifically key performance indicators, provide visibility into the fundamental factors that ultimately drive sales initiatives and scalable growth. 

What are Metrics and KPIs?

Sales metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are oftentimes used interchangeably, but are more accurately described as two sides of the same coin. 

Sales metrics are data points that represent performance, whether it be for an individual, team, or company. They are broadly used to track progress towards goals, predict future growth, and identify any complications that may arise with sales plans and targets midway through a sales cycle.1 Many companies set goals based on lagging indicators, a type of metric that reports on previous time periods such as total sales or revenue per time period. Leading indicators—number of follow up calls, number of calls to prospects—are metrics that can have a real-time impact on course corrections.4

KPIs, however, are the key sales metrics specifically identified to best track the performance of a business or individuals with their respective objectives. Understanding these key indicators can turn numbers like first response time into actionable growth plans. Because there are many common metrics across managing sales teams, it is important to identify KPIs that are relevant within the specific industries and company departments. 

Sales metrics and KPIs are the backbone of an increasingly data-driven sales industry. On their own, KPIs are just numbers on a dashboard; they become meaningful only when analyzed for underlying trends and themes that can contribute to making a sales team more efficient.2 By examining drivers for successful goal attainment, B2B businesses can use strategic insights from KPIs as a means to align key targets with company growth.3 Without metrics, nothing else matters.

Best Practices in Managing Sales Performance

Monitoring the right KPI metrics can be the difference between driving scalable growth and fighting a flatlining revenue. A Salesforce study revealed that high-performing sales teams are 3.5 times more likely to use sales performance analytics than underperforming teams, which enable them to measure performance during a set time period against goals.4 Around 97% of B2B marketing decision makers also say growing revenue, a common KPI, is a top priority.

Metrics are not intended to be the final outcome, but rather a measure of progress. Consequently, it is important to translate sales KPIs into initiatives that make sense to both the executive team and sales representatives themselves. By choosing a mix of lagging indicators and leading indicators, companies have access to data they can interpret in relevant contexts; action-oriented KPIs inspire action and can help uncover possible causes when goals are not met. Managers and executives can then compare dashboard analytics with previously established benchmarks in order to assess trends in sales activity and give the directions necessary to yield the best results. 

With many companies increasing their use of KPIs and sales metrics, only the smart companies will see their sales increase as a result. For example, the number of follow-up calls that directly result in sales is a clearly defined and measurable KPI, allowing sales managers to tweak this variable and measure the results.4 

Clearly defining KPIs is an effective first step, but what is truly powerful is using these indicators as strategic levers towards a greater initiative of driving new sales growth. Only after establishing KPIs that monitor productivity can a business make strides towards their overall business goals.

Sales Team KPIs

General B2B Sales KPIs

At baseline, KPIs can connect how a B2B sales team directly relates to a company’s overall performance, health, and growth potential. It is important for sales executives and managers to interpret and use KPI data about their teams continuously throughout the sales cycle.

  1. Marketing qualified leads (MQL) to sales qualified leads (SQL), also known as lead to opportunity, is a KPI that requires synergy between marketing and sales departments. In the MQL stage, businesses have expressed interest in products or services through signing up for the email list, downloading website content, or other avenues. A company moves into the SQL stage after they have been vetted to speak with a salesperson and have potential to become a prospect client. The MQL to SQL conversion rate can determine if marketing efforts are leading to a high-quality pipeline, as well as provide visibility into the quality and volume of leads handed over to a sales team.6
  1. Net new revenue attainment, the total additional revenue generated from acquiring new customers and investing in existing businesses, can reflect the overall contribution to a business’s revenue growth. By comparing planned and actual revenue performance, sales leaders can then identify the changes needed on a representative level in order to increase organizational attainment percentage (percentage of the revenue plan that was achieved).3
  1. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a growth-focused leading indicator that measures company health from customer loyalty and satisfaction. If revenue is dropping and/or the number of leads decreases, the NPS can assist sales KPIs in understanding their customer base. Knowing if and why customers lack loyalty enables businesses to uncover what is turning away potential customers and improve the sales experience of existing clients.5
  1. Sales cycle length offers information about where the sales process is stalling, time-to-onboard, and churn rates. With data on the average time taken from first contact to closing the deal, managers can identify what sales cycle length produces the highest number of closed-won businesses and the success rate of those deals down the line to adjust accordingly. For example, if a representative is closing deals in record speed but frequently have dissatisfied customers who churn after a few months, a longer sales cycle length could result in a higher retention rate.7

Prospecting

Lead generation and pipeline creation KPIs are useful metrics for sales prospecting as representatives make outbounding efforts in hopes of creating opportunities.

  1. The number of accounts contacted is a leading indicator of how many opportunities the sales team will move forward to account executives; this can include the total number of companies prospected, as there may be multiple points of contact, and total number of companies that have responded to outreach. A conversation between sales representatives and account executives should occur to establish the level of contact needed before the moving converting a prospect into a sales opportunity.3
  1. Average lead response time is how long it takes for a sales representative to respond to a contact made from a lead. A Harvard Business Review study “The Short Life of Online Sales Leads” comments on the idea that time kills all deals, revealing that the average company responds to leads within 42 hours of an inquiry—if at all.8 Every minute matters in sales. Ideally, representatives should follow up with leads quickly to increase the chance of it being high quality. To decrease lead response time, representatives can explore options in live chatbots and automated email workflows.
  1. An ideal sales process is defined by low system touch, or low customer interactions that indicate salespeople are efficiently closing new leads. Salesforce estimates it takes six to eight touches to generate viable sales leads, while other sources report seven to thirteen.10 If an individual has missed their target quota and additionally has a high number of touchpoints per closed-lost deals (ex. 4 video meetings, 15 email correspondences, 8 phone calls), they may benefit from restrategizing their techniques which can refine the overall team’s average sales cycle.
  1. Opportunity creation by lead source is a KPI that should be consistently monitored. For outbound SDRs, this metric is commonly the percentage or number of sales opportunities created through proactive outreach on different platforms. B2B sales have a low average conversion rate of only 10 to 15% of opportunities typically leading to sales. Tracking the common sources of sales opportunities gives representatives the data that shows what efforts are effective in driving sales opportunities.
  1. Pipeline creation is an important predictor of revenue generation, and should be monitored on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis; the more visibility into a sales pipeline, the more visibility into revenue. If the opportunity pipeline is decreasing in size, representatives have the information to identify where in the process prospects are leaving and improve those areas; insight may lead back to the quality of opportunity creation from certain lead sources.10

Field Sales and Inside Sales

Metrics on new businesses and existing businesses are critical for field sales and inside sales representatives. These KPIs not only position efforts as contributing to larger team goals, but also stimulate healthy motivation to reach on-target earnings.

  1. Once sales development reps (SDRs) track where leads are coming from, a KPI on estimated revenue by lead source can measure what portion of a company’s revenue derives from major sources. If a company has $40,000 revenue in sales with half from social media engagement, then social media outreach would account for 50% of total revenue. Comparing current metrics with historical data can both show profitability of each source and figure out where sales representatives should be dedicating efforts in order to meet revenue targets.
  1. The average revenue per account (ARPA) is the average revenue per customer upon closing a deal. Tracking ARPA by business segment is useful for comparing average sales prices or transaction sizes within respective market averages. ARPAs can expose trends in account expansion and contraction and evaluating effective or changing pricing plans within monthly cohorts. This metric varies depending on product and pricing levels, so constant data collection from past quarters and years can serve as effective benchmarks and target predictions.11
  1. A new business win rate assesses how efficiently account executives are turning qualified leads into new customers and revenue. Important things to keep in mind when analyzing new business win rates are lead source and cohorts: inbound opportunities will inherently have a higher win rates than outbounding efforts, and win rates will fluctuate as companies in the pipeline mature at different stages. Ultimately, the goal of new business win rates is to establish reliable benchmarks to predict future targets. Representatives can improve win rate calculations by cross-referencing win rates of cohorts with past data or computing the metric on a rolling basis.3
  1. Together, gross customer churn rates and churn dollars provide insight into customer behavior. Because it is anywhere between five and 25 times as expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, customer retention and expansion are key for driving sustainable revenue growth. Recognizing patterns in large churn events or the occurrence of many smaller churns across an existing customer base indicate what products and services inspire customers to return and contribute to company revenue, which allows representatives to optimize that information. 
  1. SDRs can determine if certain verticals are responding well to products or service pitches by tracking upsell and cross-sell numbers. Established credibility and knowledge of client preferences provide encouragement to expand customer accounts and decrease the likelihood that a company will churn. The more integrated a customer is, the more difficult it becomes for them to switch vendors.12 
  1. Percentage of time spent demoing is a KPI that can provide insight into an SDR’s productivity and help understand how long it takes to reach revenue targets. This metric tracks how much time is spent demonstrating products to potential customers. The faster an individual can hit sales targets, the faster a company can hit sales productivity.10

Case Study: Intercom

Intercom is a business chatbot unicorn that provides a platform for businesses to communicate with customers. Since its founding in 2011, the company has used KPIs to drive business closer to the next level of sales growth.

As Intercom’s customer base moved upmarket in 2014, the company utilized KPIs as a way to monitor new outbound initiatives that would help reach global revenue targets. LB Harvey, Intercom’s SVP of Sales & Support, hired outbound sales representatives to sell to larger companies, working with the finance team to establish realistic metrics and timelines. This process of explicitly defining KPIs on win rate, new net revenue, and number of opportunities created allowed the department to plan for how they could achieve an ROI of 4X on each outbound SDR.

Harvey also shared the importance of KPIs during product launches. When Intercom launched their new sales and marketing chatbot, setting a specific target for new net revenue gave sales managers the opportunity to come up with a clear amount of pipeline each representative needed to create. Tracking a dedicated KPI ensured that their “investment in our product has a positive financial impact.”

Managing by Metrics

Manage by Metric graph

Importance of Managing by Metrics

In his book “The End of Marketing as We Know It”, Sergio Zyman, then Chief Marketing Officer of Coca Cola, spells out his success in driving Coca Cola to the number one beverage company in the world by managing by metrics. At a time before cloud based services, Sergio tracked numbers daily. He would run an ad and then measure how many cases of Coca Cola products that ad moved. If it met his metrics, the ad continued to run. If it didn’t, it was cut.

Among B2C companies, Zyman is not alone in his obsession with running Marketing by the numbers. Jim Kiltz, ex CEO of the Gillett Company and author of “Doing What Matters,” also ran his company by the numbers. In fact, he advocated for the ZOG (Zero Overhead Growth) and NOG (Negative Overhead Growth) principles that basically said companies should grow their sales with no change in selling and marketing costs—a far cry from the current situation of B2B companies.

We have not been able to find any examples of B2B companies that strictly run Marketing by the numbers. Yes, nearly all B2B companies measure and track sales results, but that’s about it.

Even in Sales, most of what is tracked is at the tail end in closed wins. Few companies, if any, track sales cycles, closing ratios, average deal sizes, lost deals, etc., by rep. Even fewer track how early reps cut loose opportunities that go nowhere.

Managing by Metrics is how companies move from Good to Great. It requires substantial work, but it pays a lot of dividends in the long run.

In Conclusion

It is our belief that each of these Five Factors can significantly improve a company’s ability to grow Sales. Working on all five can completely revitalize a company that is seeing flat sales.

Our recommendation is to always start with Factor 1. Nail that, and the others will be much easier to accomplish.

Please contact us with any questions or thoughts. We are here to help.

High-Quality Lead Generation (Pillar 4): Metrics

sales metrics for high quality lead genereation

Success is a result of clearly knowing what is required, preparing a plan for achieving it, executing the plan, measuring results, comparing results to desired outcomes, and then making necessary adjustments towards the desired outcomes. Do more of what’s working, eliminate what’s not, and keep improving until you find a better way. Data provides reliable metrics and insights on where to spend more resources and where to spend less. Measuring results is critical to consistently producing High Quality Leads. The important questions to answer are:

  • Which metrics do we want to track?
  • What do we do with the findings?

Amazon tracks over 700 different metrics. However, for most B2Bs, the key categories to track for lead generation are email campaigns, inbound (web), and social media properties. Below are the minimal metrics that should be tracked in order to bolster HQL generation.

Email Metrics

MetricsWhat it tells us
Open ratesOpen rate metrics don’t reveal whether or not someone has read the email, only that they have opened it.

High open rates typically mean that the subject line is interesting and/or the sender (person and/or company) is familiar.

Such metrics vary from industry to industry, and comparisons should be made within rather than across industry.

Click through ratesOne clear indicator that an email has been read is if a link in the body has been clicked.This is also a strong indicator of the recipient  moving from curiosity (opening the email) to interest (clicking to find out more).
Bounce ratesThere are two kinds of bounces: hard (the email cannot be delivered) and soft (the server will not deliver the email because the sender is unknown).

Bounce rate metrics typically measure the quality of the email list used. High bounce rates indicate that the list is “stale” and has outdated information.

Opt out ratesOpt out rate metrics measure the degree to which there is a strong fit between the target audience and the message.

High opt out rates  indicate that the recipients regard the email(s) as spam. Most likely, the list is untargeted—  making the message irrelevant for a substantial number of recipients. Or, the list is targeted but the message is weak and uninteresting to the recipients. Either scenario is likely to irritate recipients and make them opt out to avoid receiving unsolicited and unhelpful emails.

Too many opt outs are early warning signs that the company may be charged with spam complaints, which can cause the company’s email domain to be blacklisted.

 

Inbound (web) Metrics

Inbound leads are typically of better quality than outbound leads because the prospects have already demonstrated a desire to find out more—which means they likely have a pain they want to address sooner than later. Therefore, it is very important to understand the requirements for generating inbound leads at the lowest cost possible. The metrics below are equally important for both organic and paid search activities.

Unique VisitorsThese are the number of actual visitors coming for the first time in the period measured (today, this week, this month, etc.). Generally speaking, increasing the number of unique visitors is a result of a significant amount of relevant content that has been highly search engine optimized (SEO), probably with additional help from outbound or social media marketing.
Bounce rateThis refers to visitors that came and left from the same page because they entered without looking at other pages. This is an indication that visitors landed on the site by mistake, which suggests that  focus key words may be misleading.

It is also important to track which pages have the highest bounce rates.

Gateway pagesIt is important to take note of  the most visited entry pages on a site in order to optimize the content and ensure that visitors stay on the website. The pricing page is a typical gateway page. Companies that only provide pricing information on that page are not using the page to its greatest potential. Worse, they may not even have a “Contact sales for pricing” message. This will likely result in higher bounce rates from that page.
Avg. pages per visitWe want “sticky” sites where visitors spend some time looking at several website pages. The more pages visitors view, the more engaged they become— ensuring a high degree of both name recognition and understanding of what the seller does. This is what we call a Marketing Qualified Lead: one that shows a strong need for knowing more even though the lead’s budget and decision-making capacity are unknown.

If the number of unique visitors is high but the bounce rates are also high, then the remedy is to provide links on the gateway pages to increase the stickiness of the website.

Key wordsMany visitors enter generic key words in their searches. Sites that rely on generic key words are usually ranked too low to appear high in a web search.

For example, entering “stethoscope” returns 9.2 million results; entering Littmann stethoscope returns 475,000 results; and entering “Littmann pediatric cardiology stethoscope” returns 123,000 results. In each case, “Littmann” appears at or near the top since the company spends a great deal of money on being at the top for any search on stethoscopes. Product based key words should use both the category and the specific name of the product.

 

Prospecting Metrics

As a general rule, companies should make telephone calls to follow up on their marketing activities. Skilled phone prospectors, or Business Development Reps (BDRs), can generate High Quality Leads on a regular basis.

From a prospecting perspective, all leads begin as Untouched and either become a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) or are exited (unqualified).

Note: The Difference between a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) and a High Quality Lead (HQL) is that a HQL is a SQL that has been accepted by Sales. In other words, when it meets the fifth criterion, it becomes a HQL.

The metrics for phone conversations differ greatly from industry to industry and from role to role. Some people use the telephone as an instrument for doing their work and typically pick up when it rings. Others see it as a nuisance and source of interruption, so they only take calls from customers or people they know.

For example, it is far easier to reach those in sales roles than it is to reach CIOs or technical people in general. Similarly, those in local government jobs are more likely to pick up than those in state or federal government offices. Generally speaking, older people tend to pick up the phone far more often than younger decision makers.

With that said, there are some important metrics to track when monitoring the effectiveness of a prospecting program in generating High Quality Leads.

Prospecting Metrics
Key Conversation RatioThis measures the relative ease or difficulty of reaching the target. The higher the ratio, the more accessible these decision makers are. This does not include conversations with receptionists or assistants unless assistants provide useful information.
SQL RatioFrom the BDR’s perspective, getting Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) is the goal. To achieve this, the BDR asks a series of questions to gauge whether a potential lead meets a client’s specific criteria through SQL metrics.
Acceptance RatioAcceptance ratio metrics keep the prospecting team honest. Sales people look at the SQLs turned in and either accept or reject them. As a rule, the minimum acceptable acceptance ratio should be around 80%, so that no more than 20% of SQLs turned in are rejected.
Nurture ratioThis is the “Not interested now” or “Don’t have a budget now” metric. Such metrics can give a sense of the BDR’s skill and the quality of the call script, including the quality of the objection banks used to address some of the reasons given for not being interested. If the lead is in the right target and the right role, the only reason for not being interested is that the lead has already solved the problem in question.
Exit RatioThere are several reasons for exiting—all of which are determined after trying to reach someone. Metrics such as the exit ratio can help clarify these reasons:

  • Not a good fit—This means that the targeted company itself is not a good fit. It is either too small or too big or not even in the right sector. This is an indication that the list contains bad data.
  • Not the right person – The company can be the right target, but the individual contacted is not the right person for the purpose of the call. This is an indicator that the list is not well-targeted.
  • Bad data – This means that the phone number is wrong or disconnected. Therefore, the list is stale and has old information.
  • Can’t reach – There are limits to the number of times we want a BDR to call the same number before giving up and moving on. Unless the lead is on vacation, an extended period of unreachability indicates a lack of willingness to pick up the phone or return a call. In these cases, the BDR should move on.

Read about the first pillar of High Quality Lead Generation here.

Revenue Growth with Certainty: Predictable Revenue Model

The Revenue Growth Model

A Predictable Revenue Model (PRM) enables a company to achieve 20% or more revenue growth year over year, sustainably and profitably.

Its key benefits are:

  • Sustainable high growth of over 20% per year
  • At least a 30% increase in profitability
  • At least a 30% increase in customer satisfaction

A Predictable Revenue Model is characterized by five traits that are necessary for delivering the above results:

  1. Specific and purposeful focus – when focus and specificity are lacking, people tend to do what comes naturally to them. The end result is that you have people rowing in many different directions and when it feels right to them. As a result, the boat tends not to move much. When specificity and purpose are added, people know in what direction they must row, and at what speed.
  2. A detailed yet simple Execution Plan – It is one thing to say we will grow at 20% a year. It is another thing to work that backwards so that people know what they have to do this week and next to get there. The execution plan is what ties the day-to-day efforts of everyone with the strategic focus so everyone rows in the same direction and at the specified speed.
  3. Systems and processes that are optimized to support the plan – rowing in the same direction and speed implies tools and processes that track and enforce these. Giving people different sizes and shapes of rows will make it harder to row at the same speed and direction. Making the rows the same size and shape, adding a navigation system, having a boat that is streamlined, all these aid in getting to the destination faster and with more certainty. Tools and processes that enforce the plan are a crucial element of a high growth plan.
  4. The right skills and reward system that execute the plan – it now becomes obvious that getting the right people and providing them with the right incentives increases the chance of rowing in the same direction, at the specified speed. You want people that have the natural inclination to do the things you want done and like to be recognized and rewarded for achieving the goals you set for them. You need smart, results-oriented people who don’t mind giving more each year, to get more than ever before.
  5. The constant gathering and analysis of data in order to drive continuous improvement—without continually analyzing data, the only way you can grow 20% or more is if your industry grows faster than that. How many times does that happen? If you gather data and analyze it regularly, you can make continuous improvements that add up to higher productivity than your competitors. Therefore, even if you industry doesn’t grow at a high rate, your company will as it does more business relative to your competitors.

We will discuss each one of these critical components in more detail, and more importantly, how to implement them in the most practical and least resource consuming way possible.

1. Defining a Specific and Purposeful Focus

Of all the five components of a High Growth Plan, this is by far the most important and most difficult to complete. It turns out that the difficulty company Executives face is not intellectual but rather emotional. Many postpone deciding on which markets to focus on for fear of missing out on revenue potential.

Ironically, the fact that there is no focus actually slows down revenue growth rather than increasing it.

Here is a simple test you can perform to find out how true this statement is.

Who do you think makes more money, the heart or brain specialist, or the general practitioner doctor?

In the era of the PC, Microsoft was the largest software company in revenues. More importantly, it took more than 50% of all of the profits of the entire PC industry! Why, because 90% of the PC’s ran on Microsoft Windows, and nearly all of these used Microsoft Office.

Google owns 80% of the search market, which enables it to grow roughly 20% a year, generate over $700,000 in sales per employee—an incredibly high productivity rate.

Apple sells only a handful of products (laptops, desktops, tablets, and phones primarily)—yet it is either the number 1 or #2 company in the world in market capitalization, with over $100 billion in cash in the bank.

These few examples show that focus increases revenue, not shrink it. But even more critically, it has a remarkable effect on profits. Focused companies, which sell a few products to a few markets, tend to have a lower cost of doing business, higher name recognition and market share, faster sales cycles, and overall better customer satisfaction than those that sell many products in many markets.

Which company has better customer satisfaction—AT&T or Apple Computers? Which of the two do you think sells a wider selection of products to more diversified markets?

As Geoffrey Moore, the noted high-tech marketing guru and best-selling author eloquently puts it, “…you do not have to pick the optimal beachhead to be successful. You just have to win the beachhead you picked”. In other words, it is far more important to commit to the decision you made (once you pick a target segment) than it is to make the best decision in picking the right segment.

2. Building Detailed but Simple Execution Plan

Once a market segment is picked, a specific plan for dominating this market segment can be prepared. By dominating, we mean a market share of at least 35-40% of that market segment within a three-year period. That is the goal of the plan.

The next phase is to define how you will achieve the plan. Your plan has to take into account three separate but highly inter-related sets of activities to achieve the desired goal: Marketing, Sales, and Delivery.

At SOMAmetrics we advocate the use of a Four Funnel Framework to integrate Marketing and Sales to achieve the desired Revenues. To give a simple illustration, say you want to achieve $10 million in incremental revenues in 2015 and your average deal size is $50,000. That means you need to close 400 new deals.

Say, your average closing ratio is about 25%. Therefore, you will need to have about 1,600 potential deals or Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) in your pipeline.  Let’s further say that maybe 20% of all of your Marketing Qualified Leads turn into a SQL. Therefore, you will need about 8,000 MQLs delivered by your marketing department in 2015. If your closing cycle is, say four months, then these 8,000 MQLs have to be delivered by the end of August to make a difference in 2015 revenue numbers.

The above numbers now give us the Planning targets:

  • $10 million in new revenues
  • Four hundred new deals closed
  • One thousand six hundred opportunities (SQLs) in the sales pipeline
  • Eight thousand Marketing Qualified Leads from Marketing
  • Roughly 1.6 million marketing touches to generate the desired 8,000 MQLs

The next step is to figure out how each of these numbers will be achieved in terms of resources and support systems.

  • How many sales reps will be needed to close 400 deals in one year?
  • Where will you get the list of prospects and how big must the list size be?
  • What are the marketing assets you must develop to attract these prospects, and who will be developing these assets? How much time will that take?
  • What kind of marketing campaigns must you conduct to generate 1.6 million touches to your targeted prospects? How often must you conduct these campaigns, and how many times per prospect?
  • If you have to install your products, and train customers on how to use them, you have to timeline the closing of deals and see how many resources you will need to implement what your sales organization has sold.
  • You also have to worry about supporting customers on an ongoing basis. Your plan is to add 400 more new customers this year. How will they be supported? What is the average customer satisfaction rate you are going for? What will that entail to satisfy your customer satisfaction metric?

This is the minimum level of detail required to implement the plan.

Our experience has shown that the degree to which a plan is executed is a function of two critical factors: the level of detail of the plan, and the simplicity of the plan. These two factors, while NOT exactly being mutually exclusive, are hard to work into the same plan and strike the right balance.

3. Implementing Systems and Processes that support your Plan

The best way to manage the work of people is to create the necessary automated processes that guide their work. If we want to make sure that our people are rowing in the same direction and within the same rhythm, we need to equip them with oars that are the same size and shape.

The organizational parallel to this is to standardize the systems and processes that your people use and to encourage them to use these in a consistent way. This introduces an age-old debate about what is the right choice to make, select a system that can do pretty much everything such as SAP or Oracle, or go with a best of breed approach and integrate the systems.

Our view is always to go with the best of breed approach provided you also follow some basic rules:

  1. Use the same rigor to select the system of choice, regardless of whether you are going with a best of breed or a monolithic system.
  2. The total number of systems you use within your company should be the fewest possible and yet allow you to automate all of your major business processes.
  3. Each of your systems should be well integrated with any system that already has the data this system needs to use. In other words, a cardinal rule is that data should always be entered once and used as many times and places as necessary. One crucial design decision is which system should be responsible for capturing the data in the first place, and which systems are to consume this data from that system.
  4. In designing your systems and processes, it is wise to follow a key principle: design for version three, spec out version two, and build version one. That way, you will reap benefits right away while building critical flexibility into your system.
  5. Take a full audit of your systems and processes at least every 12 months to verify that they are still relevant, that you have not outgrown them, and that you don’t have critical gaps in your system and processes that might prevent you from achieving your growth targets.

In our experience, we have found Salesforce.com to be a powerful, flexible, and extensible platform that can handle the requirements of pretty much all small and medium sized businesses today as well as grow with them to meet their needs of tomorrow. Because of the huge amount of applications developed to integrate and extend the core capabilities of Salesforce.com, it is the most affordable platform for running business processes for most small to medium sized businesses.

4. Getting the Right Skills and Reward Systems in Place

The next step is to think about human resources—what kind, how many, and how you compensate them. Right after the first component—deciding on which market segment to focus—this poses the greatest difficulty for most of our clients, especially those that have been in business for ten or more years. This is especially true for those that founded their companies with little or no funds, who hired help they could afford—that is to say cheaply.

In very few instances, these founders lucked out and hired moderately skilled but highly motivated people for cheap. And these extraordinary individuals put in their heart and guts to grow the company along with the founders. Ten years later, they had acquired vast knowledge and experience and are indispensable to the company.

However, the more likely scenario we have seen is that the founders hired moderately skilled and motivated people for moderate pay. Then they used the Peter Principle; promoting people to a new level based on their ability to do their current job, rather than the new one, rewards seniority by putting in place of high power and responsibility those that do not necessarily have the ability to discharge that responsibility effectively.  Furthermore, these managers feel more comfortable with this level of experience and prefer to hire people they feel are less capable than them, rather than more capable.

Sooner or later, the company faces the danger of accumulating moderately capable people who give moderate performance. Newer competitors come out with better products and services, the response to which is to compete on lower price, which further deteriorates the company’s position.

It is critical to hire smart, results and growth oriented people and do everything in your power to keep them:  by rewarding them well, giving them challenging assignments, and recognizing them in front of their peers when they successfully carry out their assigned tasks. It is not just money, but also growth and recognition, along with money, that is the effective reward system for smart, results and growth oriented people. They will work hard, typically 50 or 60 hours each week, to earn their reward and their recognition, and to master new skills. And in the process, will help propel your company into its next stage of its growth.

5. Constantly Analyzing Data for Continuous Improvements

Whatever is not measured does not get attention, and it will never improve. That is well known and accepted. The key to growth and improvement is to bring attention to the very few things that matter—what we call Key Performance Indicators or KPIs.

Each of the three sets of activities we mentioned—Marketing, Sales, and Customer Support—has its own set of KPI’s.

The steps are simple, but they require a high degree of rigor and diligence to actually convert into real results:

  1. Define the KPIs (some we have mentioned above already such as number of SQLs, MQLs and touches; percentage of accepted SQL’s by sales; average sales cycle; average deal size; number of sales contacts to close a deal; revenues by employee; revenue by sales rep; sales cost as a percentage of revenue; marketing cost as a percentage of revenue; time from contract to invoice; account growth rate per year; customer satisfaction rate; and so on.
  2. Design the monitoring process/systems—what is your system of record that can handle your processes and with reasonable ease provide the data you need?
  3. Automate the reporting and management and review of these KPI’s so they are in everyone’s face as frequently as possible?
  4. Set quarterly objectives on moving them a notch to the next level so they are continually improved. Can you get your managers to review data each week and set the next week’s tasks towards achieving these targets?
  5. Work back into the plan the specific changes in systems, processes, and work activities that must happen to obtain those continual improvements.

Take Away

In this article, we discussed how a company that desires to meet its growth objectives on a sustained basis must do five things well, and must do them continually and relentlessly. It must decide to focus on a single or no more than two markets so it can act with purpose; it must develop a detailed yet simple plan; it must build the right systems and processes needed to execute the plan; it must hire smart, results and growth oriented people and reward them the right way; and it must constantly collect and analyze data so it can continuously improve towards sustained future growth.

All five are critical and must be done in the correct order. We also saw that #1 and #4 are probably the hardest to do of the five, and probably because they both require breaking away from the old culture and moving to the one.

However the real cost of not making these changes is falling into mediocrity and possibly risking the company to fail. This is why a company must target a growth rate of about 20% or more each year so it is assured continued viability and relevance in today’s and tomorrow’s market place.