About 15 years ago, LevelEleven founder & CEO Bob Marsh realized that his success as a sales rep had nothing to do with a magical closing technique or some special relationships that came to fruition. There was no secret weapon.

what is sales activity managementBefore this, he had been struggling in his role as a sales rep. But when the company he worked for brought in a new sales leader, it changed the way he thought about selling. The sales leader helped him create a little swagger in doing the right sales activities, generate a rhythm and get really good at closing deals.

What he found was that the reason he was winning deals was because of the things he was doing day in and day out. He was always staying in front of people. He was always sending new ideas.

He had discovered the principles of Activity Based Selling.

“I learned from myself and from my peers, who were very successful as well, that that’s what it all came down to: the day-to-day things that you’re doing,” Bob said. “No matter how good you are at selling, you’re not spending all day closing deals. You’re spending 99% of your time on the behaviors and activities you’re hoping are going to lead to sales.”

During a recent Sales Hacker Detroit event, Bob shared his journey to discovering sales activity management, and how it started with engaging in Activity Based Selling as an individual sales rep.

Check out this video for a short preview of what Bob talked about, followed by a full recap of his discussion.


Sales Activity Management Is How to Run a Business

When Bob became a sales leader, he wanted to incorporate the Activity Based Selling approach within his own team, but it begged the question: How could he keep salespeople focused on what really matters?

As a sales leader, Bob wanted to understand how to run his sales organizations in a clear and efficient way. With sales activity management, that starts with defining the operating metrics that you’re going to run the business around. He explained that when you think about any other part of a company, there’s tremendous organization and planning: what are the next steps we need to take to get to the outcome we need?

For some reason, a lot of that doesn’t exist in sales, and it’s very odd,” Bob said. “I think the miss is that sometimes people think ‘Hey, I’m old school. I just need to get deals done.’ No one’s going to argue with that. I wouldn’t disagree — of course you need to do that. But I think people just get caught up in ‘I’m just a deal guy’ or ‘I just have to go close business, and it’s as simple as that.’ ”

Activity Based Selling tells us that selling is a cascading chain of behaviors, activities and milestones that lead toward some outcome. Sales activity management is simply supervising your sales team around those behaviors, activities and milestones. It’s not micromanaging, but rather teaching reps how to take control of the sales process.

Sales activity management is an “inputs drive outputs” kind of mentality. Although the word “activity” might make people think of just hitting the phones, this method can be applied to any different type of sales team.

“If you have a really clear, short sales cycles, [your activities are] probably things like how many calls you’re making, how many conversations you’re having, how many opportunities you’re creating,” Bob said. “[For long sales cycles], it’s different. It’s like, how many C-Level conversations are you having? How many ROI meetings are you having? How many times are you getting to this critical stage gate where you’ve connected with the five buyers who are involved in the process? There’s still this chain of process that occurs, you just need to map it out.”

Once you understand the key activities in your sales process, the key is to make them happen more often, whether that’s through investing in more people or better technology. For example, if you’ve identified that having conversations with a certain type of buyer is the biggest trigger or indicator of future success, you can either hire more people to perform that specific activity, or you can invest in technology that allows your current reps to have more of those conversations, such as a dialer system.

Sales Activity Management Will Only Continue to Grow

Bob isn’t alone in his quest to embrace this modern sales methodology. According to the 2015 State of Sales report from Salesforce, 75 percent of sales leaders are either currently investing in or plan to invest in sales activity management software.

The use of CRM systems has become ubiquitous, and companies are realizing that the technology and systems they’ve put in place allow them to track all of the sales activities in a single database (think dialer systems, email tools, presentation software and more).

With sales activity management, companies can finally start achieving what they always intended when they bought a CRM system: to have the knowledge that if your team can make a certain number of calls, they will turn those into a certain number of conversations, which turn into a certain number of opportunities, which turn into a certain number of proposals and so on throughout the entire sales process. It’s never quite that simple, and it’s unique to every different company. But the point is that this cascading chain of behaviors or activities leads to an outcome, which is closing business.

“All the systems are there. The data is there. And if you can get some of this organized properly, suddenly [things like] forecasting can start being driven by how many calls did me make? How many meetings did we have this month? I think it’s going to take a while, but that’s where forecasting in sales is going, where a company can truly see: ‘Are we really spending our time on what matters?’ ” Bob said.  

To put it in perspective, think about your sales organization. Let’s just say there are 100 people in it. That means you’re probably spending somewhere around $10 million on all those people, and you’re spending maybe another $500,000 on CRM and sales technology. But really it’s the people that matter, because if you can keep them truly focused on the right activities, you maximize output.

Have you taken on a sales activity management approach? Leave a comment and let us know how it’s working for you!

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