What do jellyfish, a Dyson AM09 Fan Heater, and Peyton Manning's 2004 regular season have in common? They're all outrageously efficient.

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Jellyfish are the most efficient swimmers in the ocean. The Dyson AM09 Fan Heater was one of the results that came up when I searched "most efficient space heater" on Google. And Peyton Manning broke the NFL record for Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt in 2004 before losing to Tom Brady in the playoffs.

We want efficiency out of just about everything — it's not specific to sea creatures, space heaters, or quarterbacks. It's true across the board, and sales is no exception. That's why sales efficiency is one of the most important metrics for businesses to understand, track, and ultimately improve.

Here are some explanations, tips, and resources to help you do all three.

Sales efficiency is, in large part, a measure of the speed of your sales operations. It's usually considered within a specific timeframe — often by quarter. It shows how quickly your reps are converting prospects into leads or making hard sales while still generating high returns on your investments.

Sales efficiency can be tricky to calculate in some cases. It might be that not all of your revenue is a direct result of your immediate sales and marketing investments. For instance, if a repeat customer returns to your site and spends more money, is that because of their previous experience or a result of money you spent that quarter to reach them?

The figure isn't always black and white, but finicky as it can be, it's still an important benchmark to consider.

Why Sales Efficiency Matters

It's crucial to keep tabs on sales efficiency. The figure is one of the most straightforward, definitive metrics for understanding whether your sales processes, methodologies, and overall strategy are actually worthwhile. It can expose deeper-rooted, more systemic problems in your sales efforts — revealing if your sales operations are sustainable.,

Let's assume all your sales reps hit their quota one quarter. You hit your revenue target, and everyone is ecstatic, but your business is at a standstill. Your company is barely breaking even, and it's certainly not growing. You're hitting your revenue target, but something else is at play here.

Sales efficiency makes you take a good, hard look at everything that's going into your sales efforts. If you see that your sales are inefficient, you might look to bump up quotas, strip back certain expenses, or adjust any other costs or expectations that could be holding you back.

Ultimately, examining sales efficiency provides a starting point — one from which you can gauge both what you've been doing well and what you can be doing better.

How to Calculate Sales Efficiency

How to calculate sales efficiency

Sales Efficiency Ratio

A sales efficiency ratio provides a high-level overview of how long it takes customer revenue to pay back sales and marketing costs. 

The inverse of sales efficiency is payback period. If sales your team generates $2 million in annual revenue at a cost of $1 million, your sales efficiency would be two — meaning it would take half a year to reimburse sales and marketing costs.

Your sales efficiency also informs how you should invest in and evaluate your sales strategy. According to Tomasz Tunguz of Redpoint Ventures, "When sales efficiency figures fall below one and elongate payback periods, it’s likely time to revisit sales and marketing techniques or explore up-sell and cross-sell. When these figures exceed one, it’s likely time for a business to invest more capital into the sales and marketing efforts."

5 Ways to Improve Sales Efficiency

1. Set clearly defined SMART goals.

Clarity is key when looking to improve sales efficiency. Your reps need to know what you're hoping to achieve before they can really lock in on their objectives and streamline their efforts. That's why you need to set SMART goals — specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based.

With sales efficiency, the "measurable" component might be the most crucial. Having appropriate KPIs to serve as benchmarks for how your reps are selling and what's expected from them. Are they expected to close a minimum number of deals each month? Do they have an individual revenue target?

By establishing clear objectives for your reps, you're giving them the necessary guidance to work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

2. Have a clear picture of who you're selling to.

Again, clarity is key here. Having clearly defined buyer personas gives your reps a better, more comprehensive picture of how they should be conducting their sales efforts. If reps know who they're meant to be targeting, they can have a better picture of what they should be doing to best appeal to them.

You don't want your reps indiscriminately trying to appeal to prospects that are inherently unlikely to take to your product or service. Give your team a solid picture of who they're supposed to be engaging with and, in turn, set them up to know how to best reach them. That kind of clarity can streamline sales efforts and save your company time and resources.

3. Work according to a sales process.

HubSpot defines a sales process as "a repeatable set of steps a sales team takes to move a prospect from an early-stage lead to a closed customer." It's essentially a blueprint your sales team uses as a reference point through their sales efforts.

A sales process typically contains a company's preferred approach to prospecting, connecting and qualifying, researching, presenting, handling objections, and closing. It's generally specific to each company's target audience, that audience's buyer's journey, and that company's reps' strengths and weaknesses.

Efficient sales efforts have structure. They need to have some sort of model that indicates whether their prospects are worth pursuing and how they should be pursued.

If your team has a clearly defined sales process, you'll know what you're reps are getting into and how well they're doing — and you won't unexpectedly waste resources on reps who are figuring everything out as they go.

4. Conduct active and effective sales coaching

Sales coaching is an ongoing effort where sales managers actively support, engage with, and advise reps while reinforcing what they learn in training. It's an iterative, individualized, routine process — focused on improving reps' skills and reinforcing correct behavior.

It could include activities like reviewing calls with sales reps and discussing what went well and where they could improve. Another example would be looking over reps' email conversations with prospects throughout different points in the buyer's journey and providing constructive feedback.

Ultimately, sales coaching is an engaging, productive process that allows you to make the most of your training budget. Organizations that implement sales coaching programs see considerably higher win rates than those that don't. Implementing this strategy will help you get more mileage out of your training investments and improve your sales efficiency as a result.

5. Consider using a sales liaison.

Sales and marketing are inherently connected. Salespeople rely on their marketing departments to feed them qualified leads, and marketers need to know what their sales teams expect in terms of the personas they’re appealing to and the channels through which they’re reaching prospects and customers.

Despite that, many marketing and sales departments are siloed — operating on their own with minimal communication between one another. A sales liaison is an intermediary who relays information on a sales team’s efforts, preferences, and needs to their company's marketing department.

Sales liaisons can help foster cohesion within a company and ensure that its sales and marketing efforts complement each other as effectively as possible. The role lends itself to seamless understanding throughout a business and better-constructed sales and marketing initiatives.

In terms of efficiency, a sales liaison ensures that a sales team is getting the support it needs from its marketing department. The position can help trim costs a sales team might incur as a result of unfocused marketing efforts and save time and effort by putting those reps in touch with more receptive prospects.

How Inside Sales Can Make Your Business More Efficient

Adopting inside sales tactics can provide a quick but significant boost to your sales efficiency by cutting overhead. Since inside sales are conducted remotely, reps don't have to travel to connect with prospects. Naturally, that lowers your budget by slashing direct travel costs and time that could be spent connecting with prospects lost to time on the road.

If there's anything to take away from this article it's this — always keep track of your sales efficiency. It can expose flaws in your sales operations and offer perspective on whether you need to switch things up.

Steve Jobs claimed humans go from being the least to the most efficient animals when given a bicycle. A low sales efficiency ratio will tell you when you need to tighten up your sales operations and take the proper strides to get your business on a bike again.

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Originally published Apr 1, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated April 01 2020