Avoid the “Activity Trap”

If you have managed sales for more than a month, you are familiar with the desire to know about what your salespeople are doing. This desire is most likely bread not of the interest in knowing what your top producers are doing, only the interest confirming your suspicions about what the bottom producers are not doing!

Herein lays the root of the Activity Trap. Peter Drucker cautioned management about this trap. Generally, ineffective sales organizations apply the idea of activity management in the most horrendous way. These sales organizations apply a simple “linear model” to manage selling activity wherein sales results are broken down into a theoretical plan of activity (see the example below) and which management are directed to coach to weekly or worse daily.

Example: Goal is 100 unit sales: 10 prospecting call, results in 3 suspects and 1 sale therefore I need 1,000 prospecting calls or 5 prospecting calls per day over 40 weeks.

Oh, sure, everyone sees a quick upturn, 5% maybe 10%. But for the most part intense pressure on activity gets more activity, not results. And that is because some of the activity, just some, actually gets done effectively. I suspect that the Hawthorne effect is largely responsible for the uplift.

Better decisions about targeting (who to spend time with) and selling strategy (what to do with them) is a more effective sales activity management process. Proof: Top performers always go to the highest potential at the highest probability first. They are effective. We call the model used intuitively by top performers the “GAP Analysis” model. Top sales performers know their goals and where they are in the sales process. This information, updated with maniacal enthusiasm helps them produce an accurate forecast. When their forecast is less than their goal, they kick into gear and produce meaningful activity – which delivers RESULTS! Because most top performers have a healthy paranoia about their forecasts they develop more contingencies and again produce meaningful activity – which delivers RESULTS!

Effective sales activity management must be a self-driven process.

Fine, teach salespeople both models, Linear Planning and GAP Analysis but stay out of the weeds and let people perform. Use the models to guide rather than force activity.

activitytrapBill Reddin’s said that “ effective (sales) managers deliver on what their job really is” (getting sales) and create the conditions that enable the effectiveness of their subordinates. I agree and promote the idea that new salespeople benefit from knowing about the “theory” that “more activity delivers more results” but beware of the “Activity Trap”. Ask for more activity and you will get it but activity for the sake of activity rarely if ever delivers exceptional results.


On the other hand, place emphasis on effective goal setting, targeting, advancing the sales process, closing and forecasting, and teach your salespeople to drive their own activity. Use a monthly conversation to check-in but stay focused on the results. Look for goals met, accurate forecasts and the intelligent application of sales effort.
That’s my take. I use the GAP Analysis model for myself and never feel micro-managed.

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