sales reps swags make them pirates

Can you run your sales force off of SWAGs? Since it is happening daily in thousands of companies, the answer must be yes.  But should you?  Only if you have a measurement system that can validate the accuracy of those SWAGs.  The way to do this is by measuring the sales process and showing trends of a Rep’s good SWAGging at each step in the process.  Exceeding stage duration targets and seeing deals regress are sure signs that you have a bad pirate on your hands.


Here are 4 steps to ensure “pirate control”:

1. Understand your buyer’s process and build a sales process that matches the steps.  With this, you must know the “exit criteria” that a buyer fulfills to move from one stage of the process to the next.  Here’s a sample sales process flow with buyer exit criteria:


sales process with exit criteria resized 600


2. Ensure you have a method in your CRM/SFA tool for Reps to “check off” on an opportutnity that the exit criteria for a stage has been met.  Often, this may be implied when a Rep changes the sales stage from one stage to the next.  However, requiring a Rep to either click a checkbox and/or add some text explaining how the exit criteria was met adds a psychological element to their SWAG – not only the SWAG but the evidence is recorded!  It’s difficult to manufacture both.  An example of explaining an exit criteria: “I spoke with the buyer who then sent me an email saying they would like our company to present them with a proposal before the end of the month.”  In the old ‘gut feeling’ (Pirate) way, a Rep simply felt that the last sales call went pretty well and “knows” (SWAGs) that the buyer is ready for the next stage (even though no evidence of progress was seen via observed exit criteria.)


3. Determine, through a baseline, what the average duration of each selling stage should be and set up a report in your CRM to list opportunities by stage that are outside of the agreed stage durations. You’ll be needing historical reports of the same sort that can provide a look into patterns by Rep.  For example, does this Rep seem to always exceed the average duration in a particular sales stage?  At the other extreme, you might find that a Rep seems to zip through a stage in much a much shorter time than the average.  If this is coupled with a pattern of stage regression (when an opportunity moves backwards a sales stage), you may have a true pirate on your hands – a Rep that is gaming the system and relying on his/her own hunches rather than observed exit criteria.


4. Coach to the trends you find.  If it’s only one or two opportunities that have exceeded the stage duration targets, during deal inspection and a weekly one-on-one, the Rep can explain the anomalies.  However, if there is a pattern of continued stage duration excess, the Rep needs coaching to that particular sales stage. 


In the above steps, determining the baseline of your average stage durations is often difficult.  You may have to repeat the exercise a few times to get it right.  The first time through, you may be getting averages that are more aligned to SWAGs than to observed exit criteria, so the durations may vary wildly based on the variety of your Reps.  As Reps start to use and be measured by the Sales Process Stage exit criteria, though, the averages will become more realistic.  In any event, just get started recording the opportunity stage progressions and start with conservative durations – knowing (and communicating to the sales force) that the durations will tighten up in the future.