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How I Learned the Hard Way that You Couldn’t Manage Inside Sales Bookings (And What You Should Manage Instead) 

In my last startup, I wanted to show my investors that we could double our revenues in the coming year. I treated this as a statistical exercise. I pulled out the spreadsheets and determined the total inside sales bookings we’d require every month to meet the target figure. I added 10% just in case (my personal insurance policy) and assigned this number to my inside sales manager.

In turn, my inside sales manager did something very similar with his team. He calculated the productivity of the reps in his current team and figured out the number of additional reps he would need to hit the assigned quota. Just to err on the side of caution, he added 20% to that quota. After doing all the calculations, we concluded we’d need 5 additional reps to double our revenue.

Since we’d just raised a round of funding, I thought it only prudent to hire the extra reps immediately so that we could be at our productive best within a year. Soon, we had our 5 extra reps, a solid product, and experienced managers at the helm. Things were looking good and I was confident we would hit our target sales bookings within a year.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bad News: You Can’t Manage Inside Sales Bookings by Assigning Quotas

A few months into our sales scaling exercise, we quickly realized how hard it is to meet our monthly quotas consistently. Some months we would absolutely kill it, other months we would be treading water.

To me, these feast-or-famine swings were bewildering. After all, our sales process was very well defined, we continued to get the same number of leads every month, and our sales reps were top-notch performers. Yet, we struggled to meet our quotas consistently, month-over-month.

Good News: You Can Manage Activity

I spent many a sleepless night trying to figure out the underlying cause of our inconsistent performance. I couldn’t figure out why our results varied so much even when our product, capability and motivation remained the same.

For help, I turned to a friend who had run a very successful inside sales team.

“Mansour”, he asked me, “are you managing activity?”

“What do you mean by managing activity?”, I replied.

“I mean – are you managing the number of calls, demos, and emails for your inside sales team every day or week? Are you making sure that their activity supports their quota?” he asked again.

He then went on to explain how activity – performing a number of defined actions in the service of a goal (in this case, meeting the quota) – is the underlying catalyst for all sales. You can have the best sales team and the finest product, but unless you consistently take actions to meet your goal, you will not meet your quotas.

This was that ‘moment of epiphany’ entrepreneurs love to talk about. I suddenly realized I’d been looking at our sales process from a top-down perspective. I wanted to improve revenues, so I increased our target sales bookings, and to meet this increased target, I expanded the sales team. I never once considered that the sales team might not be doing enough activity consistently to meet the monthly quotas.

In short, I was embracing goals and processes, not the underlying actions that lead to those goals.

In short, I was embracing goals and processes, not the underlying actions that lead to those goals.

Treading a New Path: The Shortcut to Sales Success

Following the advice of my friend, we set out to define what level of activity we would require to meet our quota. We aligned this with our sales process and chose the following four activity metrics to track on a daily basis:

  • Number of calls per day, per representative
  • Average talk time per rep, per day
  • Number of emails per day
  • Number of demos this month

These were the four activities we identified as crucial to moving prospects through the sales process. If we could control these four activities, we realized we could not only sell more, but also sell more consistently.

After this, we set our activity quotas. We required each rep to make ‘X’ calls per day, send ‘Y’ emails per day, and for the sales manager to monitor ‘Z’ calls per day. We also put in place a reporting system that allowed our manager to monitor his team’s activity 3 times a day – once at 10am, once at 1pm, and once at the end of the day.

To my surprise, the reps loved the activity tracking system. They loved that they could get quantifiable data on their activity by the hour, and could use this data to improve their own performance.

The result: tracking our activity helped us push prospects down the sales pipeline. Instead of feast-or-famine, we consistently met our quotas. Within 12 months, we hadn’t just met our original sales bookings target, but even exceeded it.

Sales Bookings are a Function of Activity

sales-results-are-a-function-of-sales-activity

Over time, our activity tracking system became more sophisticated. We tracked a number of additional metrics that helped us pinpoint areas of improvement. Capturing this data was also a great way to benchmark reps against each other and help the team consistently strive for self-improvement.

We did much of this manually, but today, with inside sales software, we can completely automate activity tracking. Inside sales software with a power dialer can automatically log calls, talk time and emails and compile detailed reports for the same. With this data, you can get powerful insights into sales rep performance and activity metrics.

As my experience shows, managing activity metrics is the key to consistently meeting sales bookings quotas, and building a productive, motivated sales team.

Key Takeaway

For inside sales teams, you can’t manage bookings, but you can manage activity. In a well-designed sales process, managing activity will push prospects down the sales pipeline and help you meet your quotas in a consistent and predictable manner. I often read how managing activity and activity metrics is useless for inside sales teams.  However, I found that managing activity and activity level is the best indicator of achieving inside sales booking goals even a better indicator than the number of leads or weighted pipeline.