Olympic athletes train hard, and they are certainly among the ranks of the most dedicated in the world of competitive sports. They strive to excel in every capacity and endeavor, to have the right team, the right equipment, the right training regimen, the right attitude, and the right support network. But there is one factor, perhaps above all else, that determines whether they will find themselves perched atop that highest and most coveted pedestal – they really know their numbers. That’s right. They know exactly what their numbers are, down to the fraction. They know where they are, where they need to be, and whether they are progressing on target. To an Olympic athlete, the numbers are so critical that a mere 100th of a second means the difference between going home with the gold or just going home.

For 14-time Gold Medal winner Michael Phelps, the numbers may be stroke distance, stroke rate, speed off the block, and speed off the wall. And there are other indicators he and his coach are sure to watch such as drag, balance, kick, and propulsion.

Sellers must also know their numbers and other key performance indicators. It is not enough to hire the right people, provide the right sales training, the right tools, and the right processes. You need to know how you are performing across a wide range of factors. You will need to measure past performance against the present, set goals for improving on that performance, and for sustaining those higher levels once they are achieved. As every seller knows, even those new pinnacles are just temporary benchmarks, because the numbers are only as good, or as permanent, as the pace or determination of the competition and the market dictate.

What to measure

The easiest performance measurement to track is “revenue” or “booked deals.” But that is like tracking the number of medals won. It does not measure the efforts or the trials it took to achieve them. If you want to significantly impact the outcome of your sales efforts, there are many more underlying factors to evaluate—observable and measurable in terms of both the rep’s and the prospect’s behavior—that clearly indicate the likelihood of a successful outcome. In the most fitting analogy, it is the ‘track’ record of  practices that reveal how a successful outcome can move from “likely” to a more confident “certainty”.

First, I would like to discuss Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). KPI’s are crucial bits of data that signal the strength of performance for an individual sales rep or for the sales organization as a whole. Identifying the KPI’s that are relevant and important to your business is the first step if you want to adopt a training regimen specifically designed to win, and to win on a consistent basis.

Equally important is what I will call Key Buyer Indicators, or KBI’s. KBI’s are bits of data or insight that signal the strength of a buyer’s intent at any given stage in the sales process. Not knowing the buyer’s level of interest, or the degree of probability that they consider your solution in the most favorable light, is like running a relay while wearing a blindfold. What good is expending all that time and energy if you are not even in the race? And for sales managers, there’s no better indication of when coaching intervention is needed, then you can get from knowing the KBIs.

Sample KPI’s and KBI’s

To help you, I have provided a sample list of both KPI’s and KBI’s that you can select from. A word of caution – don’t try to implement all of these performance measurements at once. Start with one indicator from each category. Choose the one that can help you calibrate your efforts to the greatest effect, and best propel you to the next level in the least amount of time.

KPI’s – Key (sales) Performance Indicators

  • What percentage of forecasted deals close with a win?
  • What percentage of forecasted deals close with a loss?
  • What percentage of forecasted deals stall out?
  • What is the average amount of time needed to move deals through the sales cycle to a close?
  • What percentage of leads convert to meetings?
  • What percentage of meetings convert to forecasted opportunities?
  • How many calls does it take on average to schedule an appointment.
  • How many calls are being made per rep, per day?

KBI’s – Key Buyer Indicators

  • What are the most common triggers that indicate the beginning of a buyer’s journey?
  • What are the signs that indicate a successful first call?
  • What are the typical steps in the sales process when a prospect goes on to buy?
  • What are the most common trigger statements/questions in a sales call and which responses work best?
  • What are the indicators the prospect has un-stated objections?
  • What are the most desirable “next steps” and what percentage of prospects commit to them?
  • What signifies the need for coaching intervention?
  • How can you get prospects to actively participate in the sales process and what percentage of prospects engage in that way?

As every competitive athlete knows, whether professional or amateur, staying at the top of your game goes well beyond just having the right people, tools, and processes. It even transcends how well you know the competition. Olympians face their supreme test after four long years of trials and tribulations few of us will ever begin to comprehend. Win or lose, they have achieved their goals only through a direct and often life-long competition with the most fearsome and challenging opponent of all – themselves.

In the sales profession, you have to be able to measure the progress of your performance improvements in order to improve your performance. It is all about the evolutionary development and enhancement of a particular skill set that can only be honed and ultimately tuned by an ongoing process of evaluation. Whether the win is determined by a time clock, a flawless routine, a checkered flag, or the numbers in a revenue column, performance will be measured by one of only two possible outcomes . . .  “the thrill of victory”or“the agony of defeat.”

Author, Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert in sales productivity tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digest with invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Tool Talk blog. Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035. To schedule a free 30 minute consultation.