Football bowl and playoffs are here. I can pretty much guarantee NO coach is saying this to his quarterback:
Coach: “I need you to throw the long bomb on every play. Every time just toss it as far as you can. I don’t care where, put it up.”
Player: “Uh, coach, shouldn’t we mix it up, try to move the ball downfield, be selective, run strategic plays?”
Coach: “Nope. I want lots of passes. It’s a numbers game.
Another Player: “Coach, we have a better chance of scoring when we run good quality plays.” Coach: “The more passes you throw, the more chances you have of scoring. Give me passes!”
Baseball Spring Training starts in a couple of months (not soon enough for me!) I’ve played and coached baseball, follow my Kansas City Royals obsessively, and can bore you with what is happening on every pitch during a game. I can say with confidence this won’t happen in any team’s dugout:
Manager: “Guys, I want you to swing at every pitch. The more times you swing, the better your chances.”
Player: “Well, uh, coach, if a ball is out of the strike zone, we’ll either miss and strike out, or it won’t be a solid hit.” Manager: “It’s a numbers game. You’re not getting hits if you’re not swinging the bat. And for every miss, just tell yourself you’re that much closer to a hit.”
I’ve been a sales rep for large corporations. I worked phone jobs in high school and college. I’ve been a sales manager. I still sell every day. I’ve trained tens of thousands of sales reps in hundreds of companies. I can say, WITH CONFIDENCE, that this DOES happen in some form daily:
Manager: “Get out there and pound those phones. Make those calls. I need (pick a number) calls per hour.”
Rep: “Uh, boss, wouldn’t it make more sense to put more emphasis on the quality of the calls?”
Manager: “The important thing is calling. The more times you dial, the greater your chances.”
Another Sales Rep: “If we invested a bit more time on our pre-call planning and doing research, wouldn’t we be able to place more focused, relevant, value-filled personalized SMART calls, tailored to the person and organization we’re speaking with?”
Manager: “That wastes time. It’s a numbers game.”
Yet Another Sales Rep: “How about talking to people other than the ultimate decision maker to get useful info? Like other people in the department, or users of our product? Or executive assistants? Wouldn’t this help us put together better, more interesting opening statements and voice mails?”
Manager: “You’d place fewer calls. I need numbers.”
Rep: “When I invest a bit more time on a call, questioning, identifying needs, going deeper into a problem, my calls are more consultative and I’m able to offer a better solution. These calls take longer.”
Manager: “And you’re not hitting your calls per hour.”
Rep: “But I’m hitting sales quota.”
Manager: “Doesn’t matter. I’m measuring calls per hour.”
The first two scenarios are a bit absurd. Sadly, the latter happens. Too often. Maybe you’ve seen it. Or are living it.
A few points:
- Sales is NOT just a numbers game. It’s a quality game.
- Activity, for the sake of activity, indeed gives numbers. It also contributes to burnout, poor calls, bad morale, resentment of managers, and turnover. (And by the way, bad calls are not like a tree falling in the woods that no one hears. Bad calls do damage your brand and company image.)
- The most important number at the end of a day, week, month, or year is sales and resulting profits.
Just think if the “throw it up against the wall and see how much sticks” model was used by other professions: Surgeons. Airline pilots. Cooks. Bankers… crazy notion, right?
So why is this “numbers game” thinking in sales so prevalent?
As one wise manager told me,
“Counting calls (or phone time) is the easiest way to quantify what a sales rep is doing every day. However, putting a focus on quality means investing a lot more time in people … one-on-one coaching sessions, training meetings, monitoring calls or recordings, really rolling up your sleeves and developing people, understanding why someone produces at the level they do, identifying where they can get better, then helping them get there. Just counting calls is ‘managing by computer screen or CRM’.”
I know that some managers will violently disagree with me and this article. I don’t care. I would ask them if they are too lazy to work with their people. I would also encourage them to take a look at their own operation and ask what is really best for their people and department.
So is there a “right” number of calls in a day, or per hour?
How would I, or anybody outside of your organization know that answer? It’s like when someone asks, “What is a good direct mail response rate?” One percent? Three? Ten percent? Actually, it could be anything. The REAL answer: anything that makes the most money over time.
And that could be your answer for the number of calls as well.
(Note to Sales Reps: Please don’t forward this to your manager with a “See, I told ya so. Look at what this guy says.” There still is a definite correlation between being on the phone and making sales. Doing research and making quality calls AND high activity are not mutually exclusive.)
Numbers are used to measure activity. Focus on making it quality activity and you’ll see the number you want the most: increased sales.