The Powerful Sales Metric No One Is Measuring

This post first appeared here in the Selling Power blog.

As someone who has long studied the management best practices of sales forces, I’m often asked my opinion on the most powerful sales metrics to track. While there are many useful metrics, there’s one measure that has the potential to revolutionize sales performance around the world. And no one tracks it.

This magical metric is: Percentage of Sales Reps Receiving Effective Coaching.

This number gets right to the heart of what drives sales. The most important role in any sales force is the sales manager – and the most important responsibility of the sales manager is to coach. This metric makes sales coaching highly visible inside the sales force and holds managers accountable for delivering it consistently and effectively. If you carefully monitor whether your most critical people are doing their most critical activity, you will see your revenue skyrocket.

Screen Shot 2017-01-10 at 11.52.40 AM

How can you determine whether your salespeople are receiving sufficient coaching? Well, what you can not do is ask their managers. There is always a large disparity between managers’ and reps’ perceptions when it comes to coaching – and, frankly, the rep’s opinion is the only one that matters here. One of our largest clients once surveyed its managers and reps to understand how much coaching was taking place. The result: 93 percent of sales managers said they were doing more than three hours of coaching per month per rep. Great! But only 44 percent of their reps agreed. Ouch! This kind of gap is typical. But the rep is always right. No matter how much managers think they are coaching – or how well they think they’re coaching – if your salespeople don’t perceive it as impactful coaching, then it isn’t.

The source of this disparity in perception is shockingly simple to explain: Sales coaching is typically undefined. So sales managers think any time spent with their reps is coaching. If a manager tags along with a rep for four hours one afternoon, the manager usually perceives that they just coached for four hours. But the salesperson knows that, in reality, they were just interrogated for four straight hours. No coaching took place. Reps need to receive value in order to perceive an interaction as coaching. This is why it is so important to ask your reps, not your managers, whether effective coaching is the norm.

The best way to do this is with a one-line survey, sent every quarter or every six months, asking:

Did you receive effective coaching from your manager this week? [Yes/No]

That’s it. Keep it simple. The longer and more complex you make the survey, the less likely it is you’ll get an answer from busy sellers. This one question, sent at regular intervals, will provide a powerful picture of how much effective coaching takes place in your sales organization. The results should be prominent on your performance dashboard.

Don’t be surprised if your results are shockingly low the first time you send out the survey. You’ll probably have some work to do, starting with clearly defining what coaching means for your team. But to radically change sales results in 2017, start tracking whether your frontline sales managers (your organization’s most important role) are performing their most important activity (coaching salespeople), and if they’re doing it well. It’s a single metric, based on a single question for sales reps. There’s no other metric that is so simple, so important, so powerful – and so absent. Let’s make 2017 the year sales organizations awaken to its power.