The Problem (and Opportunity) with Numbers

In Posts by Steve by Steve Andersen

Sometimes it seems as though we’re obsessed with numbers, giving rise to popular not-so-truisms that are repeated and accepted as fact. We often hear, for example, that “the numbers tell the story,” but isn’t it our interpretation of the numbers that tells the story? How about “the numbers don’t lie?” They may not, but the people spinning the numbers (in whichever direction is most convenient to their agenda) can certainly create false impressions. One of my personal favorites, “it’s all in the numbers,” is absurd, because, at least in sales effectiveness, what contributed to the numbers is what’s most important. Taken out of context, abstract numbers can be as deadly for sales effectiveness measurement as having no metrics at all. Is one billion large? Is 10 percent small? I submit that it’s a matter of perspective, and subject to interpretation in the context of a broader discussion.

The opportunity to measure sales effectiveness in such areas as sales performance and productivity, customer value and relationships, planning and execution, teamwork and coaching, and growth and revenue is practically unlimited—which can be both a problem and an opportunity. The sales organization that attempts to measure everything may well find themselves evaluating and changing very little, as the time that was available for assessment and correction gets absorbed in the quest for data. Additionally, time wasted in pursuing measures and metrics that don’t hit the mark with an organization’s corporate objectives and its growth and go-to-market strategies can actually be a negative factor in the categories above, as well as a potential drag on sales morale.

When launching a sales effectiveness measurement program, it’s important that sales managers and salespeople understand why the organization is implementing sales metrics and what sales leadership expects to achieve through the measurement of sales performance. When the sales organization understands the core objectives that are driving the implementation of sales effectiveness measurement, it helps mitigate the concern that metrics and measurement are tools for assigning blame.  Effective sales measurement programs communicate clear objectives, reinforced by strategies, plans, and actions to drive deployment and adoption. And remember: it’s not just about the data, the information, and even the insights; it’s the actionable awareness that comes from sales effectiveness measurement that really matters—lest when all is said and done, much more was said about the numbers than was actually done.

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