The Most Important Sales KPI Isn’t A Sales Figure

(As originally posted on OpenView Labs)

Sales is primarily viewed as a numbers game, so it’s common for sales professionals to take a step back and ask “of all of these numbers that I’ve got in front of me – and holy mackerel there are a ton of numbers in front of me – which ones are the most important?”

The answers that most frequently come back are informed and appropriate considerations of metrics like lead flow, pipeline size/ratio, deal velocity, weighted pipeline average, conversion rate, etc. Those are all important, and while some are leading and others lagging, they are all good indicators of the health of the business.

In my opinion, however, the most important KPI relates to the proportion of time dedicated to enablement and training.

There are 21.75 workdays per month on average. At minimum, each person in the sales organization should dedicate one day per month to enablement. One full and focused day. Minimum. That’s less than 5% of their time.

Why is this so important? In sales, many times it’s a game of inches. The product sets of competing solutions are generally on par or they wouldn’t be in an evaluation. Pricing tends to settle into the same general area absent incredible skill at value creation that truly supports premium pricing. Delivery approaches and promises of timing to delivery don’t tend to vary widely.

How can a professional selling organization differentiate then, when all other things are created equal – and beyond our control anyway? I was given the answer by a mentor and sales leader of mine many years ago.

Sales execution. 

We differentiate with our sales execution. And the only way to continually impact sales execution is to foster a culture where training is valued and enablement opportunities seized wherever possible. Otherwise, reps fall back on habit, muscle memory and path-of-least-resistance.

Assume that an enterprise sales rep has a fully-loaded cost of $175,000. A 5% time investment can be equated to a cost of $8,750 per year. If that 5% of time investment in training nets a 10% increase in booked business – either by way of higher close rates or increased deal size, the impact is substantial.

On a $2M annual target that’s an additional $200k in bookings a year.

That’s material, and that’s a compelling return of $200,000 on $8,750 invested – more that a 20x return on money. I’ll do that all day long. All. Day. Long.

How do we accomplish this? We simply choose to make the time. We play the long game rather than lament taking our reps out of the field for a couple of days per month.

We support a culture where learning is valued, preparation is expected, and moving out of comfort-zones encouraged and applauded.

How else can we expect to get better? Great sales professionals weren’t born that way. They were taught by the mentors and leaders that came before them. They observed, they experimented, they worked at it. They were trained. They were enabled to become the skilled professionals that they are.

Without enablement, all we have a right to expect is more of the same.

My most important responsibility is to ensure that every person with whom I interact is better for the time they spent with me, even if the impact is indiscernible to me. Especially when the impact is indiscernible to me.

With my colleagues and reports – direct and indirect – I can do this by ensuring that they know that taking the time to learn and grow is encouraged and supported, that it’s viewed as an important component of how they spend their professional time. My job isn’t to drive yield – it’s to help my team become better versions of themselves. The rest seems to just take care of itself.

2 thoughts on “The Most Important Sales KPI Isn’t A Sales Figure

  1. Hey Ethan, I want to start by saying how much I really enjoy your post and I feel that they are very insightful. I found your most recent post especially interesting. I am curious what specific examples you would reference when it comes to enablement. Does this mean additional product training, working with your team to improve their business and sales acumen? You have clearly had a great deal of success as a manager, what activities did you put into place to foster a culture of enablement?

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    • Thanks for the kind comments, Jarrell. Regarding examples of enablement, I think it really important to get the team together for all of these enablement exercises. Programmed content is fine for initial on-boarding and things like routine releases of new product, but too often we leave enablement to – well – the enablement team, and their content is, by design and necessity, somewhat generic as it needs to be scalable and repeatable. To really help reps stretch, challenge themselves and improve, there’s nothing like interacting with ones peers. A few ideas 1) for one team call/meeting each month, have a volunteer (or designate someone) to bring a topic to the team and run a discussion, 2) get the team together and have them practice their presentation in front of everyone to solicit constructive compliments and feedback, 3) have each member of the team bring a particular challenge they’re facing in a deal to the group and facilitate some solutioning – if one person is having a hard time with something, chances are everyone is, and 4) have everyone bring an example of an innovative approach they’ve used to break-into a key account. The nature of the content is less important than the actual doing of it. The objective is to have everyone slow down enough to observe what they’re doing and break out of old habits to develop and nurture new methods of thinking and operating.

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