The Problem: How to Scale the Right Way
Most businesses, especially those with a heavy sales focus, face a lot of pressure to scale their operations in order to meet with increased demand. It makes perfect sense when you think about it: if the business were going well then VPs and C-Levels are going to start looking for smart, responsible ways to grow their sales force in order to not only keep up but stay one step ahead of the competition. This is usually where the most fear or trepidation for the VPs comes in, and with good reason.
Steve W. Martin put the fear into the following terms in the Harvard Business Review- "What prevents a sales organization from achieving success? After studying hundreds of sales organizations, I have found the answer to this question is directly related to the challenges associated with their development stage." That's where the fear really comes in- most organizations don't go about scaling their sales organization in the right way, and as a result, they don't achieve success and the entire business is in danger of failing.
So what is the solution to scaling a sales organization in the right way? While there is no magic cure-all for knowing the exact right way to scale your sales team, there is a lot to be said for making smarter decisions during the crucial stages Martin was talking about. And smarter decisions start with being more informed- in other words, knowing how to use data and information to make informed, smarter decisions rather than just going off of your gut. We're going to talk about what metrics and KPIs you should be looking at in order to make the right decision about when and how you should be scaling your organization and in which direction.
Smarter Decisions Start with Knowing the Difference Between Metrics and KPI's
It's lesson one because the difference between them could mean success or failure when it comes to making a data-informed decision. According to Jonathan Taylor of Klipfolio a KPI is "a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives." A metric, on the other hand, is "a quantifiable measure that is used to track and assess the status of a specific process."
But what is really the difference between a KPI and a metric in plain English? Taylor notes that "With metrics, think broad. With key performance indicators, think deep. For example, a metric may monitor website traffic compared to a traffic goal, whereas a key performance indicator would monitor that same site traffic but only insofar as it’s related to, say, content downloads." In other words, metrics are the building blocks of KPIs. KPIs can be an aggregation of a number of metrics, though most usually they are a selection of a very few, related metrics. In Taylor's example, the correlation of metrics to form a KPI is # of hits on a certain website and the # of content downloads. A KPI in such a scenario might be "x amount of web traffic converted to content downloads."
So what does knowing the difference between a metric and a KPI have to do with using data to scale your sales organization in the right way? Becuase it is only through looking at the right KPIs that you can know when and how to scale your sales organization. If you choose to expand or cull your sales organization without knowing whether or not you are hitting certain benchmarks then you run the risk of making a serious error that could have been avoided if you had only looked at the data.
The key here is to look at a certain number of metrics and KPI's and then, once those numbers pass over a certain threshold you can know with surety that it's the right time to expand or cull your sales organization.
So Which Metrics and KPIs Will Tell Me When and How to Scale my Organization?
That's just the thing- if you are reading this you know your business better than we do. When to scale a business is a tricky question and varies by industry, so we won't try to tell you exactly when you should be increasing or decreasing your sales force. Therefore it is up to you to set the performance thresholds, but we can say with certainty that no matter what business you're in you need to at least be tracking the following specific metrics and KPIs that shed the greatest insight on growth before you make a decision whether or not to expand or decrease your sales organization.
- Deals Closed
- This is one of the most basic metrics and is still useful even without context. This is the most basic because it essentially shows you how your sales are growing or shrinking and therefore acts as a great early warning system for possibly bigger problems ahead. However, don't put too much faith in this metric alone. You might be closing fewer deals but each of those has a higher dollar value attached, or the converse might be true.
- Size of Open Opportunities
- This metric is great for understanding what kind of business your sales organization is attracting. Again, this metric serves as a wonderful early warning system for either potential benefits or negative impacts based on the size of deal your representatives are attracting. But without the context, this metric can be misunderstood. For example just looking at the size of your open opportunities could have you neglecting the historical context and future predictions of the same data.
- Cost to Acquire Customer
- This metric asks you to closely monitor how well your sales and marketing teams are working together and is one of the first metrics that will start to slip if the two departments start drifting out of alignment. If you see a sudden spike in the cost to acquire a customer that could mean that your marketing team is spinning their wheels bringing in poor leads for your sales department and you need to start bringing the two of them together. For more information on how to do this, check out our article on the subject. You can always find this metric in your Salesforce data, as explained here.
- Sales Per Representative
- This KPI combines sales metrics with individual representative performance. If you are keeping your eye on this KPI then you will not only know who your top sellers are but can see, if you compare the data historically, whether or not your training programs are working and whether or not you are growing or shrinking as an entire workforce. As an added benefit, according to Klipfolio, "Some leaders share this information across their entire sales teams to encourage competition among reps."
- Product Performance
- This KPI not only looks at metrics for # of products sold but then breaks down and compares that information to other products in your organization. The benefits of such a KPI are beyond obvious- if you know which of your products is selling well you can focus more of your business on those aspects while perhaps adjusting your approach to the rest of them. This KPI is also helpful in scaling your organization because it points a direct light on what you should be training your new salespeople on.
- Pipeline by State/Region
- When trying to decide how and when to scale your sales organization nothing is perhaps more important than understanding your business as a whole. If you, like many companies in the world today, have business in more than one state or region then you need to be looking at the bigger picture. By breaking down your sales data into a geographic location (the first metric) and then the size of opportunities in the pipeline for those regions (the second metric) you will have a clear picture of whether or not your entire organization is booming or just a single region has gotten hot. This allows the conscientious VP or C-Level to focus their attention in the right area.
How Do You Use This Information?
Now that you are tracking these 6 metrics and KPIs that shed particular light on how well your organization is growing, and how to expand it in the right way, you need to understand how all of the pieces fit together. The secret to this is that you can't just look at any one KPI or metric, you need to be examining all of them at the same time to spot patterns and see how they all fit together. When all of these metrics and KPIs are working together, with none of them lagging behind or lacking attention, then you know you can make a smart decision with confidence.
The difficulty doesn't lie in gathering the information. Countless programs like Salesforce, Hubspot, and Insightly are collecting real-time and historical data on daily sales, website traffic, and broader sales goals. The difficulty, rather, is in gathering all of these data sources into one, centralized location and then seeing all of that information in the big picture without losing the details.
That's where a sales performance platform like VisualCue comes into play. VisualCue allows you to see all of the metrics and KPIs listed above, and more, in a single, understandable graphic that makes the actionable intelligence jump off the page. The platform even comes with customizable thresholds so you can know the instant that a metric or KPI starts to slip into worrying territory.
Seeing all of these KPIs in one graphic helps you understand the data in context, enabling you to spot patterns and make sure that you know when the time to scale is right without having to spend hours poring over spreadsheets and reports. According to