What is sales performance? It’s the measurement of sales activity and corresponding results compared to the sales expectations and quota. Good sales performance is highly valued — but it can also be tough to achieve for many salespeople and organizations.
The key to good sales performance is consistency. Anyone can have a good sales month — but a high-performing salesperson and sales team can meet or exceed expectations for an extended period through different sets of economic circumstances and competitive situations.
How to Improve Your Sales Performance
1. Start with the right mindset.
The mindset you bring to a deal has a lot of bearing on its outcome. Success in sales is often a self-fulfilling prophecy — if you approach your job with an "I don't think I'll make it" mindset, you're dooming yourself to fail.
And while becoming a high-performing sales rep takes more than insisting that you're destined for greatness, you still need to work within the right frame of mind.
It can take several years to sincerely be a high achiever in the field, and getting there can seem like a pretty tall order — but there are some tactics you can employ to find the right headspace to help guide your journey.
For one, you can try creating an annual vision board — a space where you assemble pictures and phrases that relate to your ambitions and why you want to achieve your goals.
While it might seem a little hokey or gimmicky, it helps you remember why you got into the field when you hit hitches in your career — and it's a powerful exercise for visualizing success.
It can keep you going when you need a little extra oomph to power through the rougher patches of your professional development and improve your sales performance.
2. Improve your business acumen with an emphasis on your vertical market.
Business acumen — the level of understanding you have in regards to how a business runs — ;gives you immediate credibility when you are positioning your product or services.
Sales, as a practice, is rooted in developing trust on a dime. You have to show prospects that you're the real deal — with a product or service that's worth their time and capital — in an extremely limited timeframe.
Being able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of how businesses like theirs function is one of the better ways to get there — so taking the time to learn the ins and outs of how the typical company in your vertical operates is always a good call.
Approach every prospect with some picture of how their industry peers function — along with knowledge related to the challenges and tactics companies of similar size face and leverage.
HubSpot Sales Manager Mintis Hankerson says:
"You need to understand your customer's business before you even reach out to them or draft the first email. As a sales rep, the key to success is to understand how your prospect is approaching their buying process, what their intentions are, and how you can accommodate and fit into that."
You can take small steps to improve your business acumen each day. Try reading credible business publications or digging into relevant financial reports for a deeper understanding.
3. Get organized.
One of the biggest factors in improving sales performance is ensuring you are focused on the right task at the right time. If you're not taking the proper strides to allocate time to complete work — like putting time on your calendar — you might be letting some key responsibilities fall by the wayside. That kind of inefficiency can take a toll on your sales performance long-term.
If organization isn’t your strong suit, get help quickly. Ask an organized team member to walk you through their workflow to give you some ideas. If you're exhausting too much of your mental capacity trying to juggle too many priorities, it's hard to focus on your prospects — and that's more or less bound to stunt your overall performance.
4. Review all pertinent data for your role and position.
Most salespeople are assigned a sales quota and activity metrics that will help them reach it. Some organizations publish these numbers, so salespeople can compare their results with high performers.
Reading the data and incorporating it into your daily activity is key. HubSpot Sales Manager Tiki Biswal offers this advice:
"Understand what your ‘sales macros’ are. Most people are familiar with macros, or macronutrients, in the context of healthy eating. In that instance, you track how many carbs, proteins, and fats you eat to better understand what you’re consuming and help you reach your goals. This same thought process applies to sales.
Think of your metrics and KPIs as your macros. If you don’t understand what metrics or KPIs you need to overachieve, then you’ll have a hard time gauging your performance. The metrics you need to hit could be vastly different than the other reps on your team.
I once had a rep on my team that was ‘doing everything right’ but still missing her quota. We pulled some data and noticed that her discount percentage was 15% higher than everyone else on the team. After some coaching on negotiation and closing, she was able to steadily increase her Average Sales Price."
Always be mindful of the fact that your definition of personal success might be different from those of your peers — but it's hard to argue with hard numbers. That's why knowing where you stand, according to the relevant KPIs your sales org tracks, is central to improving your individual sales performance.
5. Set concrete goals above and beyond basic job expectations.
Sales tends to attract high-energy, ambitious professionals — many of whom strive to shatter their quotas and keep their feet moving after they do. And that kind of high-minded goal-setting can be a big help to improving sales performance.
It keeps you working hard and offers some wiggle room if you fall short. Setting goals that are equal parts achievable and ambitious is central to improving sales performance — but it's important to distinguish between goal-setting and dreaming.
Goals are specific, written down, and trackable — dreams are vague, unmeasurable, and ultimately ineffective when it comes to impacting sales performance.
You need to clearly define what you want to achieve, set plans for how you want to achieve it, and share your ambitions with managers and peers to help keep you on track and accountable. That kind of personally established guidance will give you definitive direction and improve your sales performance as a result.
6. Build a personal development plan.
A sales career offers you several opportunities to learn and mature at every stage of your professional trajectory. It's a field that lends itself to rapid development — but only if you're willing to plan and work for it.
One of the better ways you can streamline that kind of growth is through something called a "personal development plan" — a living document that defines what skills you want to improve within a specific timeframe.
If you decide to put one together, start by picking one or two specific skills to focus on each month, and document the steps you take to develop those skills as you take them — that way you can see how you've improved over time.
If you weren't given one during onboarding, you can also work with your manager to request a sales training plan to help get you to the next level — particularly if you're new to a company. Asking your manager to fill out this sales training template for you is a concrete way to show you want to grow in your role.
7. Find a sales coach or mentor.
It's not particularly shocking or controversial to point out that sales isn't always intuitive. It often takes some guidance or expert insight to really get your feet set in the field — and your manager might not have the necessary time, bandwidth, or perspective to get you all the way there.
That's why having a sales coach, confidant, or mentor outside of your organization can help you round out your sales skill repertoire and put you on the right track when your manager might not be able to. Having an outside perspective on your professional development can also let you see your efforts more objectively.
It's easy to catch a rhythm with your day-to-day that might be curbing your potential. If you have someone to act as a guide, sounding board, and critic when it comes to how you sell, you can more easily identify gaps in how you approach prospects and conduct yourself professionally.
8. Track your progress in quantitative and qualitative ways.
You need to have a pulse on what you're doing well and where you're falling short if you want to improve your sales performance, so always keep careful tabs on your progress — both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Try to do this on a weekly and monthly basis, so you can have visible, definitive evidence of your progress and where you might be tripping up. Beyond helping motivate you personally, it can also give you a high-level understanding of how your performance relates to your broader sales org's success.
And always be sure to document your success. Positive personal morale will keep you afloat and boost your individual sales performance over time — having a record of your wins can be a big help with that.
9. Take a creative approach to problem-solving.
There is no singular path to success in sales, and your ability to think creatively can serve you well in the long run.
HubSpot Principal Sales Manager Tiki Biswal says:
"Your ability to think outside the box could be the difference between winning a massive account or having them ignore your call or email. I've found clients appreciate creativity no matter what stage of the sales process you are in.
One of my favorite examples of creativity is during demo prep. If we are preparing to show a customer how HubSpot is going to revolutionize their blog and newsletter, why not take the time to sign up for their newsletter and receive one of their emails. This takes one minute, and provides relevant information about how we can tangibly improve their process."
As a sales professional, it’s your job to solve your customer’s problems and help them look good. The more creative you can be in your approach, the better.
10. Celebrate your wins.
A career in sales is filled with its share of ups and downs — and understanding both sides of the coin is key to long-term success in the field. But many salespeople get too fixated on the "down" side of their performance.
Improving your weaknesses is obviously important. If you spend too much time ignoring them, they're bound to trip you up, down the line. But improving sales performance also rests on celebrating your wins — no matter how big or small they might be.
When you achieve a goal or improve a skill, don't be reluctant to share your success with your manager or team. Every win counts, and celebrating each one can give you the momentum you need to keep going.
Now that you have a solid understanding of how to improve performance at the individual level, let’s discuss some ways sales organizations can foster better results for the whole team.
How to Improve Sales Team Performance
Improving a sales team's performance includes some elements of the activities listed above — but the fact that multiple salespeople are involved in the process adds another layer of complexity.
More people involved in the process means more variables to account for. Improving a team's performance is imposing — but far from impossible. Here are some key tactics sales managers can employ to improve sales team performance.
1. Take a people-first approach.
Every sales org — like any organization composed of people — should be people-centric. And that's important to bear in mind when you're looking to improve your team's performance. As a manager, you need to win the hearts, minds, and trust of the reps you lead.
That starts with knowing them and letting them know you. Meet with everyone on your team multiple times to get a solid grasp of their individual skills, strengths, weaknesses, demeanors, and work preferences.
Try looking into past performance reviews and previous quarters' results. Dig into any sort of self-assessments they've conducted to evaluate their own performances, and give them the time and space to share their experiences with you.
One way or another, get to know your reps on a more personal (but still professional) level — and let them do the same for you. That kind of attention will make them more inclined to follow your direction, give them more of a stake in the team's success, and ultimately improve sales performance.
2. Create a safe space for your team.
As a sales manager, constantly focusing on engaging diverse perspectives and encouraging open conversations in a team setting is often crucial to your team's success. You need to ask yourself, "Am I fostering an environment that's safe and accessible for people of all backgrounds and abilities?"
We know diverse teams perform better, but they don't come together arbitrarily — the same goes for inclusive environments. That's why intentional leadership is so important. It's on managers to create a safe space where their reps feel comfortable sharing concerns and ideas.
Sales leaders have a responsibility to make sure everyone within their org has the room to express their thoughts as they want to without fear of reproach or judgment.
3. Ensure that your team has a set of core values that are agreed upon by everyone.
Here at HubSpot, core values are integral to how our teams operate. Here’s what Sales Manager Tiki Biswal has to say about team norms:
"As sales leaders, we all have 'non-negotiables' that we expect from our team — but there needs to be give and take. An exercise that has been helpful over the years is to actually meet as a team and decide on these core values together.
Once this list of core values and norms is built, it creates a system of accountability that starts with the sales leader — but gets enforced at the team level. Seeing reps hold one another accountable is especially impactful and helps the group grow together."
If you’re looking for some example core values for your team, Tiki recommends checking out this list as a starting point.
4. Analyze relevant team data.
Emma Hogan, Principal Sales Manager for Hubspot in Sydney Australia, was a successful sales rep before her promotion to manager. Her advice for reps looking to advance is to look at the information available in each deal stage that can reveal hard-to-find performance issues. She says:
"Get a consistent deal stage definition. At HubSpot Australia, our salespeople mark their deals in the CRM as Best Case, Most Likely, or Commit, and have clear criteria to help them identify the appropriate Forecast Stages.
This then enables our Sales Operations teams to provide forecasting dashboards that predict where a salesperson or sales team will finish each month based on their pipeline coverage and the forecast stage assigned to every deal.
What's helpful about this for a sales rep is that it gives them a clear picture in real time where they stand based on the deals they have in play so they can prioritize accordingly. They can decide if they need to focus on building more pipelines or gaining more commitment on their Best Case deals."
For Emma and her team, Deals Created is the most important deal stage. "It is important to know how many net new deals that a rep needs to create on a weekly, monthly, and/or quarterly, depending on your business' operating rhythm, to be successful in their role," she says.
If you don't have a Sales Operations team that already set the benchmarks for you, then prioritize the following information:
- Stay focused on prospecting — If your team knows how many deals they need to be created and a deadline to do so, the rest falls into place. This helps them stay focused on the prospecting efforts required to be successful. To gauge how effective reps are at prospecting, you may want to watch lead work rates and the average time to follow up inbound leads. Other relevant information can include the number of leads worked per day, average lead depth (average number of prospecting touchpoints per lead), and even the time of day salespeople are reaching out to prospects.
- Look at the close rate by rep data — If a sales rep is not closing at least 30% of the deals that are in the decision-making stage, it could be an indication of a bigger problem.
By closely tracking rep performance early on in the sales process, you can catch and help correct issues that can have a negative impact on business later on.
5. Have regular one-on-one meetings with each team member.
As a manager, it's in your best interest to consistently have an accurate picture of how your reps are feeling, performing, and thinking about the future — conducting one-on-one meetings with your teams is one of the better ways to cover those bases.
These kinds of check-ins can also give you an opportunity to remind your team of how important they are to your company's mission and broader vision.
You need to understand the "why" behind your reps' performance — from their perspective — if you want to diagnose and address the issues that might be stunting their progress. HubSpot Sales Manager Emma Hogan says:
"In one-on-one meetings, when I am trying to understand what is holding someone back from reaching their goals, the right questions need to be asked to determine what the underlying blocker is to building a pipeline.
Is it a motivational issue? Is it a time management issue? Or is it a skill issue? This should determine the guidance, support, and coaching you provide to help the salesperson remove the blocker."
Having one-on-one meetings can provide a safe space to work through these scenarios with team members who need varying levels of support.
6. Review business results as a team.
Mintis Hankerson is a HubSpot Sales Manager in the North American Small Business Division. Here’s her advice for reviewing sales data with your team:
"Ensure the metrics that you want the salespeople to track are communicated frequently and publicly. This might be regular emails showing sales activity leaderboards or talking through it in a team meeting.
"To make this work, you need to build a culture of transparency, trust, and psychological safety — as well as high-performance. In this type of environment, salespeople will become used to seeing their sales activity and numbers presented in publicly available channels, and with the right people on board, it should provide a sense of healthy competition to motivate them."
7. Create a culture of peer-to-peer coaching.
As a sales manager, it's on you to be your reps' primary resource for guidance and professional insight — but you're only human. When it comes down to it, you're one person with limited time and energy at your disposal.
And while you should always work to the best of your ability, you need to bear in mind that the challenges of fostering your reps' development and improving their sales performance don't have to fall squarely on your shoulders.
If you have the team structure to support it, consider pairing reps of varying experience levels together to increase team-wide accountability and create a culture of peer-to-peer coaching and productive mentorship.
The value of this strategy is twofold. For one, you can provide your less seasoned reps with valuable perspectives that will help shape their skill sets and enhance their efforts as a whole.
Beyond that, the reps assuming the "coach" role in this dynamic receive people development experience that can help them better approach any management opportunities that might come up later in their careers.
8. Don't become complacent.
Inertia isn't conducive to long-term success as a sales manager nor consistent improvements to your org's collective sales performance. You always need to stay a step ahead. That means staying active.
Always keep a careful pulse on how your business is functioning and stay on top of your team's KPIs to avoid any surprises that might throw your team's progress off track or undermine your sales performance.
You also need to avoid getting fixated on how your lowest performers are functioning. Your overachievers and tenured reps need to be consistently challenged as well.
Keep them on their toes. Celebrate their success. Commend them. Shine a light on what they're doing right — but make sure they know they always have room to grow and refine their skills.
Raise the bar and set bigger goals — at both the team and individual levels. Your team needs to know you believe in them and their success, so don't be reluctant to convey your appreciation.
9. Set sensible, attainable operational objectives.
Your sales org's broader goals can be imposing on their own — and pursuing them all at once can be tricky and counterproductive. Achieving big-picture sales objectives should be an incremental process.
If you want to sustain high morale across your sales org and improve sales performance as a result, you need to break your high-minded, organization-wide ambitions into more digestible bits and pieces.
Those attainable, compartmentalized milestones are most commonly referred to as operational objectives — and they can be central to ensuring that your sales team has the necessary structure and reassurance to perform as best it can.
For instance, if you're gauging a portion of your sales performance by measuring onboarding time, you can't just say, "Alright team, let's reduce the time it takes to onboard a new rep by X%," and expect to see the results you're looking for.
Instead, you would want to set operational objectives like finding effective conversational intelligence software to streamline how managers can shadow calls, putting a systematic agenda for training that can be easily replicated on a weekly basis in place, and picking an effective training methodology to guide the onboarding process.
By breaking up your larger, strategic objectives into more straightforward, actionable, easily reachable checkpoints, you can keep your reps on track and help improve their professional wellbeing — two elements that tend to translate to improved sales performance.
10. Be actively involved with your reps without micromanaging.
Effective sales leaders can strike a delicate balance between trust and guidance when facilitating their reps' day-to-day efforts and broader professional development.
That's why you, as a manager, need to remain actively involved with your direct reports without encroaching on their room to grow as salespeople. As I touched on earlier, you stand to gain a lot from taking strides like conducting regular one-on-ones with your reps.
Beyond that, you should consider holding standups where they can air out their concerns, affirm their accomplishments, and try to create a team culture where your reps feel like they can come to you with issues they might be struggling with.
Also, keep tabs on how your team is faring and work with any reps that might be lagging to diagnose and address the root causes of their underperformance.
Again, you want to provide direction for your reps without micromanaging. It's easier said than done, but if you pull it off, you're bound to see a solid boost to your team's sales performance.
11. Thoroughly vet candidates, and hire effectively.
As a manager, you can only do so much for your sales team's performance if the reps that compose it aren't particularly skilled or willing to contribute. You need to hire effectively if you want to start and sustain a high-performing sales org.
Thoroughly understand the nature of the product or service you sell, and try to find candidates that have the relevant experience, skills, and demeanor to sell to your target personas. But ideal candidates have more than impressive technical qualifications. You want to find sales reps that fit your company culture and will fold seamlessly into your team dynamic.
Morale is central to sales performance — and a sales rep who lacks the intangibles to thrive in the environment you set might be insubordinate, undermine your leadership, or have no interest in supporting their teammates. That lack of chemistry can take a major toll on your org's overall performance.
Tracking Sales Performance
Sales performance is typically tracked via a range of key performance indicators (KPIs) that can reveal how your reps are faring both individually and as a team. Some of the most relevant and effective metrics you should be keeping tabs on include:
- Win Rate — The percentage of final stage prospects that close and become customers divided by the total number of deals in the pipeline
- Quota Attainment — The percentage of reps that reach their quotas in a given quarter
- Sales Cycle Length — The average time it takes a rep to complete your sales cycle
- Pipeline Coverage — The sum of your sales opportunities weighed against your revenue target
Constantly improving sales performance — on both the individual and team-wide levels — is the best action you can take to create and sustain healthy, productive sales org. And that requires accountability from everyone involved.
Reps need to be open to embracing opportunities, conducive to their professional development — but for the most part, a sales team's performance is a reflection of a manager's effort and leadership.
They're expected to push, assist, and challenge their team members enough to actively refine their skills and ultimately make the most of their abilities. That starts with effective training and onboarding and continues with consistent attention, thoughtful guidance, and an appropriate degree of trust.
Originally published Oct 6, 2021 5:00:00 PM, updated October 07 2021