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Making the Number: How to Use Sales Benchmarking to Drive Performance

I’ve been writing about measuring the impact of sales training for a while.  ESR published a report on the subject.  We know from our research that there is little to no measurement taking place—not by most sales trainers and not by their clients and customers.  This is one of the factors that is preventing the degree of sales performance improvement we should be seeing, based on the $6 billion or so a year that is being invested in sales training in the U.S. 

Opinions differ on the subject of measuring the impact of sales training.  For example, Charlie Green (Trusted Advisor Associates) is a sales expert whose work I respect and appreciate.  He wrote a post with a strong opinion that we should stop measuring ROI on soft skills training.  Although I agree with some of his points in the post, there are others with which I don’t agree.  Charlie writes:

“But what if I take one course in trust, and another in listening. Suppose my sales go up next year by 50%. Which course did it? Or did my company’s 70% growth have something to do with it? Or my happy new marriage? Too many variables.”

With the right measurement system in place—simple, few metrics, easily implemented and managed—one can, with considerable accuracy, determine the impact of both the program in trust and the other in listening. 

Enter Making the Number: How to Use Sales Benchmarking to Drive Performance by Greg Alexander, Aaron Bartels and Mike Drapeau, of Sales Benchmark Index.

Although we have different business models, ESR and SBI are quite aligned in our philosophies.  We both know that sales managers, as a whole, think of sales more as an art than a science.  And that gut instinct has no place in decision-making.  On the positive side, we both know that collecting, analyzing, and using the right data about sales team performance, in the right way, can make a substantial difference in sales effectiveness.

If you’re a sales manager who has decided that now is the time you are going to start running your sales operation more like a business, Making the Number is a terrific place to start.  But let me warn you.  It’s not a silver-bullet-of-the-week book.  Not by a long-shot.  This is serious, but powerful stuff. 

Greg, Mike and Aaron take the reader (presumably a sales manager or someone whose success in their job is based upon sales productivity, like a Sales Ops director) through pretty much all you need to know about sales benchmarking with a detailed and logical step-by-step process. 

The authors provide an insightful list of common objections to sales benchmarking, including “sales benchmarking is a fad,” “it isn’t worth the emotional cost,” “and it won’t really work.”  In fact the best counter to the “it won’t really work” objection is their case studies: Netsuite, Discover Financial Services, FranklinCovey, Covad Communications and Smart Modular Technologies.  If you’re skeptical, you might want to start reading the book there, and when you’re convinced that this is all real and doable, skip to the beginning.

I like this book.  I like what it represents—taking sales management more seriously, and what it can deliver—a proven path to measurable and ongoing sales performance improvement.

Disclosure:   SBI and ESR have an informal business relationship whereby we have each referred business to the other.


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