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Jeff Schmidt

Sales Managers Should Be More Like Doctors


I just completed my annual physical. Those are always fun. I actually like my doctor, Jon Carlson. Jon and I have a little chit-chat about whats happened in the past year of our lives and then we get down to business. Before Dr. Carlson comes into the room, the nurse has weighed me and taken my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. These are the vitals. For the annual they also draw blood and do a panel on my blood. If those are all within the boundaries of good health, Dr. Carlson and I chat some more, he does a bit of poking and prodding and says, You look healthy, good work. The process takes a total of about 15 minutes and Im good to go for the next year unless something comes up that causes me concern.

Imagine for a moment if that would be how sales managers handled the annual reviews with their salespeople. Imagine if the one-on-one with your sales manager were similar to my experience with Dr. Carlson. They arent, but you can dream right?

Ive been on both sides of the table of a one-on-one meeting; sometimes it feels like a ridiculous exercise of measuring the details I never would look at if not for the meeting.

Before you managers start to get angry with me, let me explain. Dr. Carlson looks at my vitals. If he finds no cause for alarm, he doesnt subject me to needless invasive procedures and expensive diagnostic tests looking for trouble. He accepts the vitals as an indicator of health or trouble and proceeds accordingly. IF there are warning signs, more questions, tests, and diagnostics are performed, but only IF an issue is found in the vitals.

In sales, shouldnt we be measuring what matters and not subject our people to analysis by paralysis? Here are the vitals for sales professionals:

1. Are they meeting their PERSONAL financial goals? Are they making enough money? In my experience, most sellers dont care much about the company goals. They care about their personal goals first. Notice the whole process starts with them.
2. How does their billing compare to their agreed-upon goal? If they are meeting their goals every month, this is a great sign. Many managers, including me, would joke, Then we have to raise your goal. Salespeople dont laugh at that.
3. How does their billing compare to last year? Are they up, down, or flat? Have they retained most of their customers from last year, or are they churning through new business?
4. New business. What is the percentage of their billing that didnt exist last year?
5. Repeat business. What are their renewal and attrition rates?

By looking at those five vital signs you would have a complete picture of a salespersons success.

With new sellers, measuring activity is a worthwhile pursuit, but as they grow and improve, the shift from measuring activities to measuring results must occur or you will have a frustrated bunch of sellers. Ill leave the good reasons to measure activities of new sellers for a future article. For this one, let me share the common measurements and why they arent relevant for experienced sellers.

 Dials. Measuring the dials of an experienced seller is insulting. Do you really care how many times they dialed the phone? I can dial a phone 180 times an hour as long as nobody answers.
 Diagnostic Appointments. Would you rather sellers fill up their calendar with cold calls, or do a third of the number of calls but make them smart calls -- prepared, pre-planned, and purposeful calls? Theyll get better results with better planning.
 Presentations. Heres why measuring the number of presentations is silly. Consider two sellers. One makes 15 presentations asking for $500 orders each time. He closes 20 percent. A second seller makes five presentations, each asking for $50,000 and she too closes 20 percent. If youre measuring the number of appointments, seller #1 wins. Seller #1 sold $1,500 with his 15 presentations. Seller #2 sold $50,000 with her five appointments. So whos the real winner?

With experienced sellers, its the quality of the appointments more than quantity that matters most.

I was as guilty as any, but as managers when WE have a problem meeting OUR number, we slip into measuring-the-minutiae mode with every seller, regardless of how theyre doing. We think if they make more dials, appointments, and presentations, it will solve OUR problem. A seller whose vital signs are good is not your problem. Its the seller whos not healthy and not performing based on the vitals who is the problem. Often the solution is VOLUME:  you need more sellers.

As a manager or seller, there are only two ways to grow your billing. Get more from the people on your team/list, or get new/additional people on your team/list. Usually its a combination of both.

I believe that sellers want to grow their personal income. Who wouldnt? Ive never met a corporate exec who wishes s/he could do less than last year. The good news is these two desires are not conflicting. The more a seller makes, the more s/he is billing. The focus of the manager should be on helping sellers increase their income, and the rest will take care of itself.

The big idea is this:  Measure what matters. The seller who is performing doesnt need the same level of diagnostic work as the seller who is not performing. If Dr. Carlson were to put me through a battery of tests when my vitals are good, he would be accused of insurance fraud, or over-billing.

Salespeople by nature are independent types. They want to be left alone to do what they do. If they are growing, hitting goals, exceeding last year, and getting positive feedback from repeat customers, what more do we really need to look at?

Help your sellers reach THEIR financial goals, and have enough sellers on your team; thats how to exceed your budget. Force high-performing sellers to track things like dials, contacts, appointments, and presentations, and youll get made-up numbers. I know I did. Measure the results they are achieving and help them achieve more because they want more, and youll have more productive and engaging meetings. Youll be able to actually coach and help improve performance rather than getting bogged down in measuring the minutiae.

Coaching to help improve performance -- isnt that why we do what we do as managers?

Think Big, Make Big Things Happen!

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach him at,, Other ways to connect: